Roma Stereotypes: How Racist Assumptions Fueled ‘Maria’ Fiasco

Little Maria's neighborhood and house

Emanuela Delibsi wants to quickly return the things to the cupboard, otherwise Nikos will start crying again. Her little 12-year-old brother has been upset and not sleeping well since Maria was taken away — along with their parents. Sometimes he starts sobbing for no apparent reason. But Maria’s things are still lying on the bed with the turquoise sheets: a Barbie and a baby doll, two stuffed animals, coloring pens and a small plastic dragon. Delibsi — 17 years old, yet already married — sits down on the bed’s pillow. She is wearing a scrunchie on her ring finger.

Delibsi is Maria’s sister, the small blond girl whose picture was disseminated by media around the world last week. She’s not the biological sister, though, because Delibsi’s mother, Eleftheria Dimopoulou, is not Maria’s biological mother, as a DNA comparison with the parents has shown. “But does that give them the right to just take her away from us?” asks Delibsi. It’s Maria’s scrunchie that she has wrapped around her finger.

For over a week, the image of Maria — a small girl with pigtails, blond hair, light skin and blue-green eyes standing in front of a red wall — was widely interpreted as an example of all the terrible things that can happen to a child. Ever since police discovered little Maria during a raid on the Roma community in the Greek town of Farsala, there has been speculation about what may have been done to this girl.

Police were actually looking for drugs and weapons, but then they caught sight of this girl who looks so different than the rest of the family — and that alone sparked suspicions and fueled speculation: Maria could have been abducted or sold to a Roma family that kept the girl as an attraction, just as dancing bears were once led on chains through the towns of Europe. They could have forced her to beg or work for them, it was thought.

Fears Fed by Stereotypes

The medieval myth of the Gypsy who steals light-skinned children — the subject of countless copperplate prints — was suddenly revived in people’s minds. Here was a small blond girl, “alone among Gypsies,” as a Greek tabloid wrote. Maria’s tale is also the story of the racism and discrimination that the Roma experience on a daily basis.

(Read the full report on the Spiegel’s International website:


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