Commentary: The pigs at Lety and Babiš shooting himself in the foot
From 2007-2009 I served as Czech Education Minister, and together with [Human Rights Minister] Michael Kocáb we attempted, among other things, to advocate for the removal of the pig farm from the site at Lety u Písku. We were not concerned with just that location, but also with the site at Hodonín u Kunštátu, where a similar camp ran during the war, one that is remembered even less than Lety is.
Hundreds of Romani men and women died at Hodonín and almost 1 400 Romani people passed through the camp. The negotiations about rectifying the situation were not easy ones.
Czech Finance Minister Kalousek was immovable on the issue. The economic crisis had just happened, and that served as a valid argument against all of our requests.
Kocáb and I attempted to convince both the Finance Minister and the Prime Minister that we were terribly behind when it came to commemorating this tragedy in a dignified way. This is not just a matter of the dead and our remembrance of them, but it is also about the present.
That was precisely the time when tensions in society had begun to escalate once more, especially vis-a-vis Roma - two years later the anti-Romani protests erupted in the Šluknov district and elsewhere. In the end, the Finance Minister was willing to negotiate about doing something, but he did not want to release money for buying out the pig farm.
Just to illustrate the situation: Not long after, I managed to negotiate a 10 % raise for teachers (a total expenditure of CZK 4.5 billion), but of course money was missing elsewhere in the school system and in the public sector in general (and still is), so the Government has always been able to say "Why, instad of moving the pig farm, shouldn't we send that money somewhere else?" It wasn't the best starting position from which to make more demands on the budget.
Moreover, the quiet revolution in the form of inclusive education, which I brought to the Government and the ministry itself, began to encounter resistance. Similarly, the newly-established Agency for Social Inclusion, which had been advocated for by the Green Party and was administered by Kocáb, was facing mistrust.
It looked like we two ministers were bothering the rest of the Government with Roma issues too much. Nevertheless, after several months of strenuous negotiations, we ultimately succeeded in pushing through at least something, the maximum possible - basically, everything we asked for but one thing: The Government would allocate money to improve the remembrance site at Lety, under the condition that the Education Minister would take the Hodonín site under its management, and the Government would allocate money to transform that site into an education center about the Roma Holocaust.
That was the cabinet's ultimate decision. However, the Government never agreed to buy out the pig farm (as was reported at the time by the Novinky media outlet).
In 2014, at the commemorative ceremony at Lety, I spoke for the nth time about why the Czech Government's stance was embarrassing, not just in relation to the dead, but primarily in relation to our current state of coexistence. That was the first time that Czech Prime Minister Sobotka heard that message (available here).
Today, the state of the site at Lety is twice as sickening. Physically, one feels sick there because of the stench of the pigs that wafts around the site, and spiritually one feels sick there because of the awareness that a place where hundreds of Romani people suffered and died because of monstrous Nazism - and the diligence of many Czech people - is still not being given a proper place in our common memory.
Similarly - and maybe even precisely because of that lack of common memory - many Czech Roma have no place in our society today. We don't want to think about those who perished there, because they remind us too much of those who live here today.
When [Czech Vice PM and Finance Minister] Andrej Babiš recently shot himself in the foot with his confused, petty-Czech racist remarks and drew attention to the shameful fact of modern Czch history that is the pig farm, I silently thanked him and began to hope that it would turn out just as brilliantly as when [Czech President] Zeman declared that "children with disabilities don't belong among healthy children". Babiš later declared that the pig farm is to be dealt with by [Czech Human Rights Minister] Dienstbier and [Czech Culture Minister] Herman, but as usual, that's not exactly true.
The final stance on the issue is the one that he himself, as Czech Finance Minister, will take: Will he release money from the budget, or not? Kalousek didn't in our day.
What about Andrej Babiš? In the context of the state budget it will be an absurdly small amount of money.
Moving the farm would be a real milestone. It won't turn Babiš into an angel, but since he's already shot himself in the foot, let's at least get something out of it.
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