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Commentary: Czech Green Party leader calls on government to remove pig farm from Lety

Lety u Písku, 20.5.2011 21:56, (ROMEA)

Czech Green Party leader Ondřej Liška gave the following speech on the occasion of the commemoration ceremony at Lety by Písek in memory of the Roma victims of the Holocaust at the site of the former concentration camp on 13 May 2011.

Every commemoration such as this one is essentially sad, and Lety is no exception. This is not just because so many people suffered and died at this place, but also because a large part of Czech society either does not know how to admit their share of historical blame for the fate of the Roma people here, or does not want to admit it. I remind you that the guards here - sometimes very brutal guards - were recruited from the Protectorate Police, which means they were Czechs. Unlike the Poles, who today openly discuss the culpability of their predecessors for the fate of Polish Jews during WWII, we Czechs are incapable of doing anything similar in relation to our Roma.

I call this cowardice. Yes, we are cowards. There are two reasons for this cowardice. One has been with us for a long time, and the other has escalated only now, during the past few months.

The long-term reason for our cowardice stems from the fact that when we evaluate the historical events of 60 years ago, we are incapable of setting aside the complicated present-day coexistence of Czechs and Roma when we look back on Protectorate-era Lety. Coexistence today is complicated and no one intelligent would claim otherwise. Today I am not addressing who bears what share of the blame for this, there are various opinions on that and it is legitimate to discuss them. Here I am merely stating the fact that the majority-Czech society is incapable of viewing the suffering of the Roma at Lety by Písek objectively. We view the deaths that occurred in this Protectorate concentration camp through the lens of today's disputes between Czech and Roma neighbors. This is neither dignified nor just.

Our society is rich enough to afford to honor, in a dignified way, the memories of those who were tortured and who perished here. That means getting rid of the nearby pig farm, which is an insult to all of the dead and the living who preserve these memories. This message is for the members of the Government of the Czech Republic present here.

The second reason for our cowardice is the behavior of political elites. I am certainly not the only one who perceives the unfortunate shift toward racism, tinged with populism, on our political scene. This was started by Čunek, Řápková, and Janáčková. Thanks to the pandering done by these ordinary municipal populists to the most primitive of herd instincts - and, according to well-documented newspaper articles, their skill at adroitly enriching themselves while administering public property - they have risen to the level of national politics. They have inundated the entire political scene with their opinions, and ever since we have encountered open manifestations of racism and xenophobia in all - I repeat, in all - of the parties currently seated in Parliament. Naturally these concern the opinions of individuals, and many times they remain rather covert. However, they are no less dangerous because of that.

This unholy trinity of Čunek, Řápková, and Janáčková was really a sort of refined replacement for the role once played by Miroslav Sládek. Their xenophobic populism also fell on fertile ground because for quite some time, no one had been airing latent racist and xenophobic stereotypes in Parliament. These stereotypes lie in the minds of many citizens and politicians, most of them can't even help them, many are unaware of them. What I am undertaking here is rather an amateur diagnosis than a leveling of charges, but the fact remains that Řápková and Co. have begun awakening this hidden evil in people.

The situation is not improving - on the contrary. We are living in a country where the head of state uses his authority to shield crackpot nationalists with xenophobic tendencies, to advocate for would-be neo-fascists from "Akce D.O.S.T." to take up high, influential public functions. This trend, this Bátora-fying of Czech politics, is unfortunately the work of President Klaus. I do not want to compare him with those on the level of Čunek or Řápková, but he is no less dexterous a populist - if not more so. His hangers-on are the ones who commit the dirtiest work on his behalf while he himself seems to stand above it all, with the wise expression of the father of the nation on his kind face.

I would like to make it clear that President Klaus is definitely neither a racist nor a xenophobe. However, he uses his authority to cover up racist tendencies and facilitate their entry by stealth into public life. This is why I insist that the greatest danger to our minorities is not posed by skinheads, but by these apparently innocuous men of distinguished age who speak with such fervor about the allegedly multicultural socialists in Brussels, the nation, and the nation-state. Some of these men may even turn up at Roma balls or similar events in order to be photographed there and show their "tolerance". Let's not be misled by that. They, through their public activities, are contributing to the sad fact that a large part of Czech society does not consider 13 May and the Lety concentration camp worth commemorating in any way whatsoever.

There is something to commemorate here: A sad past, and a sad present. Not quite four years after the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled against the Czech Republic for the segregation of Roma children in education, these children still do not enjoy equal, fair access to education or opportunity in life.

Is there any point to commemorating the suffering that took place here at all? Yes, if our commemoration can make the present better and more just for everyone, irrespective of our origins. I would like to thank everyone who keeps these memories alive.

Gwendolyn Albert, Ondřej Liška, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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