It seemed to start with Maria. She is the very blonde, four-year-old girl taken by a Greek police officer from her very dusky, very Romany-in-appearance parents on the grounds that, well, looking like that she simply couldn’t be theirs. This was over 10 days ago.
Last week in Ireland, recent history repeated itself. First, Irish police took a very blonde seven-year-old girl from her Roma family because, like Maria in Greece, she didn’t really look like her swarthier relatives. And then, no sooner had this happened, then the police intervened again. This time they took a two-year-old boy from his Roma family because, you guessed it, he was very blonde, and the rest of his family were considerably darker.
The fact that it is entirely possible for two parents with jet-black hair to produce blonde offspring, providing someone along the congenital line had blonde hair, seemed to have been ignorantly dismissed by the authorities. Instead, outlandish theories, replete in dodgy speculation about Gypsies, proliferated. Child trafficking was mentioned. So was abduction, After all, why else would these blonde children be in the care of people to whom they bore so little resemblance? To add a plume of insinuating smoke to the pyres of rumour and innuendo, it emerged that Maria’s nominal parents had no shortage of fraudulent documentation plus a few other criminal charges hanging over them. For some, that sealed the deal: the tip of a child-stealing iceberg had been glimpsed.
Sadly for the conspiratorially minded, the facts soon caught up with the child-trafficking fantasies: DNA tests carried out on the two Irish children - yes, it went that far - revealed that they were in fact living with their biological parents. The police were promptly forced to return the children to their understandably distraught families.
In Greece, matters are little less clear cut. Maria is not biologically related to Christos Salis and Eleftheria Dimopoulou, but neither is it clear that she’s the victim of what Greek police are characterising as a case of child abduction. As it turns out, her biological parents – Sasha and Atanas Ruseva, a Bulgarian couple – claim that they were forced to leave Greece four years ago, and not being able to look after the new-born Maria in addition to their other children, agreed that Salis and Dimopoulou could take care of Maria in their stead. As one commentator pointed out, ‘this is not entirely implausible – informal adoption and foster care is not unusual within the Romany population’.