Little Girl Rescued From Gypsy Camp Shines Light On Troubled History Of Europe's Wandering Roma People

Kalderash Rom Maria 'Mercedes' Chiciu, 3, shows off her belly dancing skills as her grandmother Exspertiza Dumitru (sitting) looks on at the field near the Bistrita monastery where thousands of mostly Kalderash Roma have gathered on September 8, 2013 in Bistrita, Romania.Sean Gallup/Getty ImagesA Roma girl dances at a gypsy gathering.

The Roma people, better known as Gypsies, have been in the news recently after two separate instances in which blonde-haired, blue-eyed girls were seized by authorities with accusations that the children were abducted.

Investigations are ongoing into where the “Blonde Angel” from Greece and the little girl from Dublin are actually from.

The Roma are the largest ethnic minority in Europe, with between 8 and 12 million people. They tend to be darker skinned with dark hair and eyes, which is why Maria stood out so drastically when she was spotted.

Throughout their history, they have been subject to intense oppression, slavery and persecution. During the Holocaust, approximately 1.5 million Roma were killed. Their wandering born of necessity, is now a way of life.

Discrimination against Roma continues to be an ongoing problem in Europe, and current events won’t help their image throughout the region. In recent years, a number of anti-Roma nationalist parties have enjoyed electoral success in Hungary, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Greece.

Due to the intense racism they have faced, gypsies tend to be extremely hostile to outsiders, or gaje, and often ostracise those Roma that choose to assimilate into the countries they adopt as their homes.

The little girl Maria, dubbed by European media as 'The Blonde Angel' was found in a raid on a Roma camp in Greece by police looking for drugs and guns.

In this undated photo released by Greek Police shows a four-year-old girl, known as 'Maria,' at an unknown location.

This is the Roma camp in Farsala, Greece where 'The Blonde Angel' was found. It is typical of Roma settlements -- impoverished, makeshift and crowded.

Most Roma live in huts clustered together or at encampments filled with car trailers.

Roma typically set up illegal camps on the outskirts of towns. In recent years, France has been active at evicting Roma from these camps.

Roma camps lack electricity and running water.

Roma place a huge emphasis on their own family. Many live in households that have numerous generations under the same roof.

They rarely allow their children to learn foreign ways and most only attend school until they are 10 or 11.

Everything in Roma life is divided into wuzho (pure) or marime (defiled). For example, the upper half of the body is considered wuzho while the lower is considered marime.

Because Roma often build their houses and shacks illegally, government authorities often evict them and demolish the houses.

In many countries, including Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia, unemployment is as high as 70% among Roma.

Because of the difficulty getting work, they've adopted a mobile lifestyle to find work or sell their wares.

This man is handmaking a broom which he will sell at a market for 1.7 Euros. Gypsies tend to work jobs that they can perform independently.

Many Roma in Hungary make their living by selling items that others throw away.

For many Roma in Romania, horse-drawn carriages are the most elaborate transportation they can afford.

Marking the beginning of spring, St. George's Day is one of the biggest holidays of the year for Roma. One of the traditional rituals is cracking boiled eggs on family members' heads (pictured)

Every year, thousands of Roma gather in Costesti, Romania for the birthday of St. Mary.

Every year in Romania, Roma women compete to become Miss Piranada, the gypsy equivalent of Miss America.

This is the new International King of the Gypsies, Dorin Cioaba (right). He inherited the title from his father Florin, who died this past August.

At an annual gathering for the Kalderdash clan, three-year-old Maria shows off her belly-dancing skills. The Kalderash were once coppersmiths but now deal scrap metal.

The Dignity March in Romania (pictured) is meant to encourage Roma to declare their ethnicity in the census. Roma are extremely wary of censuses because they see it as a way to persecute them.

Roma have begun to lead peaceful protests, demanding jobs and an end to discrimination.

Despite the problems, many Roma have begun to assimilate, like Zuzana Balazova (pictured), a Romani lecturer at the University of Central Europe. They have begun to buy houses, go to school and even marry non-Roma.

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