Saturday, September 5, 2009


Several nights ago the BBC aired a documentary as part of their THE WORLD series. The documentary is GYPSY CHILD THIEVES, by Liviu Tipurita.
I've tried several times to see the movie on the internet but the BBC is not releasing beyond Britian. That's pretty interesting. One can easily access England's Got Talent.

From what I've read about the movie it reminds me of TIME OF THE GYPSIES. While a very interesting film I always hesitate to include it in my film series because it only presents Roma as exploiters of children. The things portrayed in both these films do happen, but by a small number of Roma. Focusing on them without presenting the intolerable conditions in which MOST Roma live in Europe is exploitative and likely to fuel the anti Roma sentiments already rampant throughout Europe and in England.

People with severly limited options will often pursue the only paths available to them.


Oliver Twist is alive and well and living in mainland Europe. OK, maybe not well, because he lives in squalor, but he is just about alive. Or rather they are alive, because there are lots of them: Artful Dodgers, Charley Bateses, Oliver Twists, Olivia Twists (many are girls). They're the kids in This World: Gypsy Child Thieves (BBC2), young Romanian Roma, living in camps on the fringes of Madrid, Milan and society in general. They're sent into town by their controllers, their Fagins (often their parents) to thieve. Sometimes they're beaten, locked up or sold. It's extraordinary and terrifying that such Dickensian scenes can be happening today, in Europe.

And there's no nice Mr Brownlow to rescue them. Well, in Madrid there's a residential centre that's supposed to assess the family situation of every child that ends up there. But often they're handed back to the same adults, who send them out to steal and sell off their daughters to be married at 13, because no one really cares. In Milan, there's a charity that offers shelter to Roma whose shacks have been bulldozed; it tries to integrate them into Italian life. But Milan also has a deputy mayor, the one who orders in the bulldozers, who says Roma don't understand the concept of work. And one charming Milan citizen says: "These people should be killed, but we're not allowed to." Perhaps it's not surprising that so few Roma take up the charity's offer.

Their best hope may be Liviu Tipurita, whose excellent film this is. Not that it's his job to help; he's just a journalist, investigating a story. But highlighting the Roma's plight has to be a good thing. And he obviously cares passionately about these kids. The film is not hand-wringing or heart-bleeding, though; it's not too charidee, or sociedee. As well as highlighting the extreme prejudice these people have faced for centuries, Tipurita is not afraid to point out their serious faults – sending their kids out to go thieving on the streets of European cities, for a start.

It's not boring or worthy either, which a film about Romanian Gypsies could so easily have been. You know the type: it's important, you should watch it, you know you should; but it's been a hard day and you really just fancy a bit of Location Location Location. But this gives films about underprivileged people a good name. There's lots of covert filming, lots of staking out places, even a car chase; it's practically a thriller. There's some excellent Gypsy music, too, and I like the gangstery accent of the actor doing the English interpretations.

There's even room for humour. Tipurita goes to Romania to see the fruits of some of all this crime. In a Romany village, among the shacks, the dirt streets and the donkey carts, are the residences of some of the big shots who've done so well they've come home to retire. These houses are fabulous neoclassical palaces of tackiness; it's like that film Lucky Break but Gypsy style, and shows that you may be able to steal wealth, but you can't steal taste. Tipurita's guide, who drives him around in a Mercedes 4x4, says it's all got a bit out of hand, the stealing. Which is a bit rich coming from a guy who wears a black fedora, who is head of a clan called the Thieves, and whose ringtone is the theme from The Godfather.

Quite amusing, then, as well as exciting. None of which hides that fact that it's also a fabulously thorough piece of investigative journalism, about a story that is both barely comprehensible and desperately sad. Good work.


Dear friends and colleagues,

Last night, the BBC broadcast a film made by Romanian journalist Liviu Tipurita about "Romanian Gypsy child thieves" in Spain and Italy. As I know that many of you have done important work and extensive field research in Spain and Italy, which has been published by OSI and ERRC, I would like to encourage you to watch it if you can (please see the links below). It is, in my view, a very alarming, unbalanced and racist account which contains some hard-core stereotypical views about Romanian Roma, especially in connection with child exploitation. Very misleading, racist and potentially very dangerous, especially in the current political, economic and social climate.

Today, I have have conversations with several people here in the UK who watched it last night. Most of the people I have spoken to are really enraged, upset and frustrated by this: they want to generate debate around the quality of the programme that BBC has produced. Mr Tipurita made sure that he interviewed only certain types of people and professions, policemen in the main. He did not refrain from asking "rhetoric" questions such as "is child exploitation inherent to Roma culture?" or from quoting a right-wing Italian senior voter who said that all Gypsies are disgusting and they should be killed. No critical note or explanation was provided by the journalist; as a result, the statement came across very strongly, as the racist person had originally meant it. In the sixty minutes of the programme, only one NGO was interviewed (Case de la Caritas, I believe); no reference to the work of OSI and ERRC, or the Fundacion Secretariado Gitano.

I would be happy to know what you reckon and whether you think there is a chance of us taking a joint initiative.

Kind regards,

Lucie Fremlova


ruthie said...

i have come across your site whilst doing research for a subject i have long been interested in, the roma of scotland, and it breaks my heart to read some of these posts here. i watched the programme you mention & agree it was a terrible representation, so very biased. *ruthie*

Morgan said...

Ruthie, thanks so much for your comments.
If we can ever help you with any research just let us know.
We're going to start a review blog you might be interested. review movies books, and music. Will be able to navigate to it from Lolo Diklo.
Thanks again

Joel said...

I came across your site while doing research on Romania and Liviu Tipurita. Nice site, very well put together. Keep up your work, it seems your doing a great job. :)

Morgan said...

Joel, thanks for your message.
Same as to Ruthie, please don't ever hesitate to get research help from us. It's what we do.

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