A Greek tragedy?

I am always suspicious of stories where the news pack are rushing headlong in one direction. The image that springs to mind, in such situations, fans of “Airplane” should remember this, is the one where a stampede of reporters learns a plane is about to crash, and storms a row of old wooden telephone boxes – knocking them on their side in the process.

That’s comedy. Whereas the story of a child allegedly abducted by Roma, in Greece, is meant to be read as uber-serious. And tragic. No doubt a sub-editor somewhere will be salivating at the prospect of inserting that word into a headline sometime soon.

Which is why we all need to stop, briefly, and pause. Because there may well be tragedy here – but its not necessarily the one you think it is.

Balancing act

Let’s start with what we appear to know about the case. A blond child has been found in a Roma family. A spot of instant investigation is all that’s needed to reveal that she is a) not genetically related to the folks she has called parents for the last few years and b) the latter don’t appear to have any official adoption papers for her.

As reporting goes, the BBC report is an outwardly neat piece of balance, juxtaposing claims of the parents with concerns by the authorities.

I say outwardly. For the problem with “balance”, not just here but in much that passes for journalism nowadays is that just saying “on the one hand, this, on the other, that”, can still leave folks with a pretty unbalanced view of what is going on. Because “this” and “that” so often are anything but equally balanced things.

I mean, try this for balance: “John Doe’s cat, Tiddles did not come back last night. Mr Doe thinks she may be lost – but some neighbours suspect him of slitting her throat and using her body as part of a satanic ritual”.

Balance? Er, no.

And some papers manage rather less balance than the Beeb.

Suspicious minds

Meanwhile, the authorities’ fears are encapsulated in this: “the couple are suspected by social workers of kidnapping the girl and sending her out to beg, or involving her in a sex ring”.

Suspected? Am I being just a little picky if I inquire whether those are genuine “suspicions” – which to my mind require a modicum of under-pinning evidence of intent – as opposed to simply a catalogue of speculation. Which is not the same thing at all.

The parents, rooted in a society that does not tend to deal well with bureaucracy and paperwork have taken a child in as their own. The only facts apparently to hand are that the child is not their’s – and that there is no paperwork.

The case emerged, in the first place, for the simple reason that authorities felt a blonde child living in a naturally dark-haired environment was of itself “suspicious” – not because they had any evidence leading them to suspect abuse or involvement in a sex ring, itself a pretty serious allegation.

It’s a classic “gyppoes stole my child” story, without, in this case, any grieving parents to add substance. Not that the press haven’t tried, linking the tale to that of also blonde Ben Needham, who disappeared in Greece, and Madeleine McCann, who, as luck would have it, was in the news all this week as possible new evidence emerged from the UK Police review of her case.

Too good to be true? Not exactly. But it is news managed in the same way that news of dog maulings come and go. For with 4,000-plus recorded episodes of same each year, it’s an absolute cert that dogs attack humans daily. Yet to rely on what is reported in the news is to believe that such attacks wax and wane – perhaps, werewolf-like, with the moon.

An absence of political awareness

Let’s switch focus for a minute. Over the last couple of years, Greece has lurched drastically rightwards. Golden Dawn, a movement, variously described as proto-fascist and neo-Nazi, has made great strides forward. In the polls. Within the ranks of the police.

Some of their gains have been achieved by extreme forms of victim-blaming: if you want to know why your life is shit, they pathetically explain, it’s the gypsies, the homos, the trannies!

They understand well, as the Nazis did in 1930’s Germany, that giving the public a target to hate and to vent their frustration upon serves a useful purpose, both as rallying cry and as bonding exercise.

Over the last year, I have spoken at length to members of the Greek LGBT community, who have spoken of the increasingly violent crackdowns mounted against these groups – often justified, publically, through resort to populist issues. The fight against HIV, in the case of violence against gay and trans individuals.

And Roma? Well, there are so many reasons, aren’t there? But a large well-publicised case spiced with a hefty taint of child abduction and child sexual abuse will do their cause no harm.

Which is why I am suspicious. It may, in the end, turn out that the parents were as evil as some commenters are already sharpening their pens to imply. Or it may be nothing more than an arrangement convenient to birth parents and Roma family has now been blasted into smithereens by a wholly over the top media circus.

We may never know: the press have a habit of teasing, giving us masses of detail around the start of a story…and then never quite concluding it.

Still, I think we all – child, family, Roma community and wider public – deserve better. And a little more investigative journalism would not go amiss.



About janefae

On my way from here to there
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19 Responses to A Greek tragedy?

  1. It would, of course, be far more suspicious to find a dark haired child with blond parents who claimed it was biologically theirs. In the immediate aftermath of Madeleine McCann’s disappearance the myth that dark haired/skinned people couldn’t have blond children led to a number of instances of harassment that must have caused serious upset for innocent families. And yes, the baby-stealing Gypsies line is the thing – children go missing in the UK all the time without (sadly) anything like this kind of fuss.

  2. ciaraleeming says:

    the authorities have been taking Roma children from their parents in many European states for centuries. This whole story stinks, and of course don’t forget it also suits the media agenda in this country at the moment re hoards of Roma supposedly coming from Romania and Bulgaria from January.

  3. deathboyuk says:

    Selling papers rarely involves any need to look for truth. Drama is fine. Drama and fear sell.

  4. Zanna says:

    Thanks so much for writing, I completely agree with you. I sort of wrote about it too

  5. Regarding ‘dog maulings’ and ‘attacks’. I’m grateful you have mentioned managing of news as regards ‘dog maulings’. However, even the notions of ‘attacks’ and ‘maulings’ are themselves highly problematic. The figures merely show injuries – some accidental, some a matter of ‘striking’ (i.e. sometimes dogs inadvertently knock people over), and even if a dog bites deliberately, it is often a single bite used as a form of defense under duress: hardly an ‘attack’ or ‘mauling’ by the dog. The best that can be asserted is that people are injured by dogs daily: but the same can be said of men, vehicles, and possibly other things besides.

  6. You are like a wave of fresh spring air in a smog. Thank you for being a voice of reason!

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  17. Steve Eddy says:

    It seems now that the little girl (as yet unnamed by the press?) is the child of a Bulgarian Roma mother who gave her to a Greek Roma family. So will the poor girl now be sent back to natural parents she doesn’t know, in another country, whose language she won’t understand or speak?

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  19. Pingback: Rassismus Rumänien und anderswo (vorher: Nachrichten über den zivilisierten Rassismus) | cotaru.com

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