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Life in a Roma Camp; Lawyer Fighting for Roma Rights; Middle East Peace Talks Moving Ahead; Imagine a World

Aired October 23, 2013 - 14:00:00   ET


HALA GORANI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Good evening and welcome to the program. I'm Hala Gorani, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.

The mysterious case of a little girl known as Blonde Angel Maria has captured the attention of authorities and parents and all of us, really, around the world. It's also bringing into sharp focus the life of Roma communities across Europe.

Interpol is now helping Greek authorities conduct a worldwide search to find Maria's biological parents. You'll remember she was picked up last week during a raid on a Roma camp near the city of Larissa in Greece. Police became suspicious because, well, quite simply, she's blonde and blue-eyed while the couple who said they were her parents had darker complexions.

That couple has now been charged with child abduction. They deny that. They insist she was adopted. The cases of missing children around the world are now being closely looked at.

On Wednesday, police in Ireland removed another girl who was blonde from a Roma couple. They suspected perhaps she was not their own. They tell CNN they hope she'll be returned to them now that they've given DNA samples to authorities.

Two similar cases, raising some difficult questions about the dangers of racial profiling. Human rights groups say discrimination against the Roma is widespread across Europe. Some fear these cases stigmatize them as child traffickers and reignite old prejudices.

Many from the Roma community say they are already considered to be social outcasts, sometimes thieves, living in isolated communities as they battle, they say, just to make a living.

Today one in three Roma in Europe is out of work. Many continue to live in camps or caravans. But it's hard to say how many actually just prefer that lifestyle and how many simply can't find a way to settle down. CNN correspondent Karl Penhaul is at the camp in Farsala, Greece, where little Maria was found. I spoke to him earlier about life in that Roma community.


GORANI: You're right there on the ground. What are the conditions in that particular camp, Karl?

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this Roma camp is on the edge of town. And it's home to about 70 or 80 Roma families. The conditions are very basic. These homes, set up with the help of the European Union funding, are metal prefabricated structures. They were only ever intended as temporary housing, but now people have been living in them now for about 10 years.

In most cases, there's no running water inside, and there are also no toilets inside, either.

So conditions certainly are basic. And the people who live in these homes say that in the summer they're very hot; in the winter, they are very cold as well. But of course the real hardship here comes when you consider that a lot of the families here either the male or the female of the family are unemployed.

There's very little income coming here, yes sometimes they get odd jobs picking fruit in the fields, other times collecting scrap metal. But it really is the low income that forces most of these families to live below the poverty line, Hala.

GORANI: And what's been the reaction to this story of Maria, which is of course brought the spotlight back on the Roma community and parts of Europe, including Greece? You've spoken to people who knew the couple who were looking after her.

What did they say about these, quote, "parents" of Maria?

PENHAUL: Well, absolutely. I would say across the border that the Roma community here in Farsala has been incensed by these media reports, because they believe that there are overtones of racism, overtones of prejudice. I just want to take you inside, into the home of Basiliki (ph). And we were talking to her earlier.

And she, like a lot of the families here, her family knew the couple that were look after Maria and also knew Maria personally. She said she was a normal little girl. She always came along to the fiestas.

She often came to this house herself and was playing here. And she says that the child was a normal child and that the couple who were looking after her were loving substitute parents. She says, yes, from her understanding, the mother, the biological mother was Bulgarian, who simply couldn't look after Maria any longer and left her here in this community.

But Basiliki (ph) says she's now 50 years old, and she says she's grown up in different Roma camps . And she says, in her experience, she hasn't heard of the first case of child trafficking in any of the camps that she's grown up in, Hala.

GORANI: All right, Karl, finally the wider question of Roma communities all across Europe who face very tough issues and who say they are targets of racism and discrimination, what are they telling you as this story has made headlines around the world?

PENHAUL: Well, marginalization is a very real problem. And in some cases, it's a bit of a dichotomy. Because the Roma families that we've spoken to say that they do prefer to live alongside other Roma families within a Roma community because they say that they share similar values, similar culture.

They also have their own language, the Roma language. They party (ph) in the same way. They hold the same fiestas and also there's a very broad family and clan structure that makes them feel at home. So on the one hand, they feel marginalized by society. But they do prefer to live on their own.

But they also feel discriminated against, because they say as soon as anything goes wrong in the wider community, whether it's a robbery, possibly a drug problem or in this case, the case of Maria, they say that they feel society points the finger at them and says, oh, this is the Gypsies once again.

And so they do feel like discrimination.

GORANI: Karl Penhaul there in a Roma camp, where that little girl, Maria, was found just a few days ago. Once again, as we were saying, placing the spotlight on the Roma community, which has spread far and wide by the way across Europe, we'll see that in a moment.

Now many in the Roma community feel this incident simply demonstrates how their community is mistrusted, misrepresented and criminalized just for their lifestyle.

Is that view justified? Joining me now is Dezideriu Gergely, a lawyer and the executive director of the European Roma Rights Center, which works to stop anti-Romani racism in Europe.

Thanks very much for joining us.

So how has the community reacted to these high-profile incidents?

And particularly the case of little Maria?

DEZIDERIU GERGELY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, EUROPEAN ROMA RIGHTS CENTER: Thank you very much for giving me the space to present our position.

Definitely there's a -- there's a lot of concern among Roma communities in Europe because the way this case was placed into the public discussion and was, in a way, framed, raises a number of concerns.

First of all, as you just said before, it create, produces a need for such prejudice which already exists in the society related to the fact that Roma engage in criminal behavior, in a way this case says Roma are stealing babies.

On the other hand, the way the authorities are handling this case also raises concerns for Roma that they might be subject to racial profiling. And the problem here is that among the Roma communities, we have a diversity of groups and not all of the Roma are that extreme.

So what and how would authorities handle this situation with authorities and according to Roma settlements and identify children which don't have the same features as the parents and consequently they will have to put in place DNA tests, also this case raises concerns in terms of how non-state actors would react.

We had some instances, for example, in Serbia where some far-right groups, entered into Roma communities to identify children, which you don't have the same skin color as their parents. We just saw in Italy a member of the Parliament saying that Roma communities should be stripped in Italy. And today we saw large police raids in Greece taking place.

So in a way, there is a concern that now communities are pointed out and as a matter of fact, pinpointed as a result of this case.

GORANI: Right. But how would you respond -- and those in the Roma community as well respond -- to the fact that in Europe, in Western Europe especially, where you have one of these Roma communities, you have high- level politicians but also very much ordinary people saying, look, the Roma come; they stay in camps.

UNICEF Greece, for instance, says there are instances of criminalization of child trafficking. They don't assimilate. They don't integrate.

How do you respond to that, as a Roma yourself, by the way?

GERGELY: Absolutely. There are many statements which we are seeing in this -- in the same regard and sometimes they are coming from high state level officials, which are saying that Roma are not sharing the same values. And therefore there is no place for them in the respected societies.

And I think it depends very much on how we are looking into accomodating diversity or imposing our own values as long as someone don't share -- doesn't share the same values, that means that he or she doesn't belong to the society?

So I think we have to look not only into the -- we have to look at the causes as well, you know, not only on the effects.

Speaking about this case, it is extremely important to say that, yes, it is something wrong about it. And state authorities need to react.

But the responsibility in this case, it's individual. It's not collective. This case puts into discussion a case, an incident which relates to someone's responsibility not to the responsibility of an entire community. And we have to make the distinction when we talk about this case.

GORANI: But do you think that authorities and Western Europeans, when they say that Roma communities don't assimilate, that they stay isolated willingly, do you think they have a point? Or are they simply essentially stigmatizing and racially profiling an entire community?

GERGELY: In the European Union, both Roma and the Roma communities and member states agreed to the fact that the policy which should be put in place in order to address the challenges which the Roma face are social inclusion. Everyone agreed on that. Roma as well and governments as well.

The problem is that we have double standards and we have a double standard discourse because on one hand governments are speaking about including Roma, about making sure that the social inclusion. On the other hand, that is not taking place.

Of course, there's a lot of efforts needed from the Roma community in itself, because the Roma community also has to overcome its own problems. But there is need for support in that regard.

GORANI: And what are some of its own problem? I mean, what needs to be done here?

We put up a map. I'm going to put up an interesting map here of the Roma population. And I understand there's diversity there among the Roma, this is not sort of one single bloc. But in France, 400,000; in Spain, 725,000. Most -- the largest Roma community in Turkey, about 2.5 million, 2.7 million.

What needs to be done there to overcome some of the issues and in order for these Roma communities to integrate themselves in the wider country where they've essentially established themselves?

GERGELY: You previously just discussed a case in Greece, where there was a description of the living conditions of that Roma community. Well, please expand that situation to 10 -- almost 10 million to 12 million Roma living in the E.U. There's -- the crux of the problem lies in poverty and racism. So there's a need to address both these two issues.

But of course this cannot be easily addressed. It's a complex issue. And everyone agrees that in order to address one problem, you have to tackle it from different angles. And that is ensuring that someone, for example, make sure that these children goes to school.

But in the same time to make sure that that family has its means, you know, to provide for the children a space to study, to provide food in order to go to school, clothing to go to school, to have an income, not to rely on something which is informal but rather formal.

GORANI: Right. Thank you very much for joining us on this, Dezideriu Gergely, is the executive director of the European Roma Rights Center. He was mentioning some of the root causes, some people talk about lack of opportunity in Romania and Bulgaria, where some of these Roma community members come from.

And that's of course going to be one of the stories and one of the angles we'll be looking at more.

And in a history of suspicion and discrimination, the Roma people have also faced, one must remember, extermination. An estimated 500,000 were killed in the same death camps that gassed millions of Jews in the Nazi Holocaust.

And while the Roma remain stateless, the cry of "never again" helped found the state of Israel and continues to shape its policy. We'll hear from a hawk who sits on the shoulder of Prime Minister Netanyahu when we come back. Stay with us.




GORANI: Welcome back to the program, everyone.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Rome today. It was a unusually long meeting, seven hours, ostensibly devoted to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

But Iran's nuclear program of course was a critical focus. Israel is not a party to the ongoing Iran nuclear negotiations. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is doing what he can to influence the outcome.

For instance, at the United Nations earlier this month, he compared Iran's current president, Hassan Rouhani, to his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: Now I know (inaudible) Ahmadinejad. But when it comes to Iran's nuclear weapons program, the only difference between them is this: Ahmadinejad was a wolf in wolf's clothing; Rouhani is a wolf in sheep's clothing, a wolf who thinks he can pull the eyes -- the wool over the eyes of the international community.


GORANI: Dore Gold was Israel's ambassador to the U.N. during Netanyahu's first term as prime minister. Gold is a forceful advocate for Israel's security and he joins me now from Jerusalem.

Thanks for being with us.

So Israel seems unhappy, very publicly unhappy, with the idea that the United States in the current sort of setting is negotiating with Iran on its nuclear program and that there's some sort of maybe even a friendly tone between the two countries since President Rouhani came into power.

DORE GOLD, FORMER ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: I don't think Israel's concerned with atmospherics.

Negotiations are fine if you remember what your goal is. You know, people forget this, but back in 2006, you had the beginning of six U.N. Security Council resolutions under Chapter 7 of the U.N. charter that said Iran must suspend all uranium enrichment activity as well as its activity at the heavy water complex in Arak where plutonium is going to be manufactured.

Now those are binding international obligations. And we would expect that the international community would stick to those original concepts, those original resolutions and not start thinking about, well, how can we get Iran off the hook --


GORANI: (Inaudible) I was going to say, if Iran can provide evidence that its nuclear program is for a civilian purposes, that it's not building a nuclear bomb and the U.S. is fine with that and western countries are fine with that. And you are, for instance, are provided with this evidence, you wouldn't be happy with that? You would still want a complete suspension?

GOLD: Well, you know, we read the reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna like everybody else. And it's really hard to believe that this is a civilian program when the IAEA reports say that the Iranians have been busy working on developing warheads for their Shahab 3 missiles that can strike Israel, strike Saudi Arabia and western allies in the Gulf.

Therefore, we have a very solid basis for being concerned about any plan to sort of let Iran off the hook, remove sanctions, when you have to remember, it's the sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table to begin with.

GORANI: Right. But the U.S. isn't saying that it's getting ready to suspend any sanctions. Right now it's talking. Isn't that better than the alternative, do you think?

GOLD: Well, OK, talking and negotiating are fine if you remember what our goals are. And our goals are to make sure that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program, that it dismantle th

e enrichment program on uranium and that it dismantle also its plutonium production facilities. We've already seen too many times where the West has been enchanted by negotiations with North Korea, signs an agreement and then you have a nuclear test in two years.


GORANI: But the U.S. shares your goal. It doesn't want Iran to have a nuclear weapons program, either.

So what is wrong with the current process?

GOLD: So, again, all we're saying is we have to remember what the goals should be of negotiations. You know, there's just one thing I'd like to remind all of us of, 30 years ago today was the famous attack by Hezbollah on the Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, where 241 U.S. service men were killed and many French commandos were also killed.

We now know from National Security Agency intercepts that that was ordered by Iran. Iran is behind international terrorism (ph) --


GORANI: -- I take your point --

GOLD: -- if you -

GORANI: -- so this was a -- this was several decades ago.

But right now, the process -- and by the way, if we could talk also about the Middle East peace process, this is something that's important to the U.S. as well. The prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu's counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, wanting to press the two sides to get something accomplished in the next few months.

But it seems as though the prime minister is not budging and not being flexible on certain issues.

Is that going to go anywhere?

GOLD: Well, let me just complete the idea, and then I'll answer your question, because it isn't old history that 30 years ago the Marine Corps barracks were attacked in Beirut. The commander of the Revolutionary Guards in Balbeck (ph) in the area of al-Baida (ph) of Lebanon, 30 years ago, is today the defense minister or Iran under Hassan Rouhani. So what happened then is connected to that, to today.

We have got to see a change in Iranian behavior. Iranian forces are still in Syria killing Sunni Arabs. Iranian forces are active in Iraq. And they're supplying an insurgency in Yemen. All that has to come to an end for not only Israel to be reassured, but for Saudi Arabia, for the United Arab Emirates, for Bahrain and Jordan to also be assured.

GORANI: All right. We know these Sunni monarchies certainly are on your side of the equation on this one.

Thanks very much. And of course we'll be following as far as the talks are concerned what, if any progress is made there.

Dore Gold, thanks very much for joining us from Jerusalem.

And complicating politics inside Israel is the question of the separation of synagogue and state. A similar controversy is going on in Germany, where the state finances the churches, which are also the country's largest employers. Critics of that cozy relationship can point to a priest who lived like a prince, that is, until today. A fall from grace, when we come back.




GORANI: A final thought tonight, imagine a world where a medieval message of humility and reform is delivered five centuries later. From the moment he first appeared on the Vatican balcony, Pope Francis has challenged his fellow priests to put aside the trappings of wealth and power.

Whether washing feet at Eastertide or carrying his own bag and driving his own little car, the pope has walked the talk. Today he made another kind of statement by suspending a German bishop whose personal excesses had earned him the nickname, "The Bishop of Bling."

Bishop Tebartz-van Elst has been under fire not only in Rome but in his own diocese of Limburg, a place famous for its redolent cheese. This time the stink in Limburg emanated from the $42 million the bishop spent renovating his palatial residence.

To protest their bishop's lavish lifestyle, angry parishioners linked arms outside his door and even posted a reminder of another German priest, this one from the 16th century, who railed against the church of his day.

In 1517, Martin Luther launched the Protestant Reformation when he nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, condemning the excesses of Rome and the corruption of the priesthood.

Well, almost 500 years later, Pope Francis has emphatically delivered his own message that he and his church want priests, not princes.

That's it for our program tonight. And remember, you can always contact us at and follow me on Twitter @halagorani. Thanks for watching and goodbye from CNN Center.