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July 17, 2019
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Commentary: Will the pig farm on the Roma Holocaust site still be part of the Czech reality in 2020?

20.5.2015 8:23
On 13 May 2014, activists began blockading the pig farm at Lety by Písek, which stands on the site of a former forced labor camp for Romani people. (PHOTO:  Czech News Agency).
On 13 May 2014, activists began blockading the pig farm at Lety by Písek, which stands on the site of a former forced labor camp for Romani people. (PHOTO: Czech News Agency).

What takes place around the pig farm in Lety by Písek continues to tell us important, interesting things about Czech society, about the level of our public discussions, about the nature and purpose of protest, about communications inside the Romani community, and about pro-Romani and Romani activists here. Much has already been written about the scandal of this farm, which is located on the site of a former concentration camp where hundreds of Romani people perished and from which others were sent to their deaths at Auschwitz, and the basic arguments about and problems with the farm are absolutely clear.  

The fact that an industrial pig farm is standing on the site of a former concentration camp has been recognized as an international embarrassment and institutions such as the European Parliament and the United Nations regularly criticize the Czech Republic for it. Similarly, it is evident that while most politicians would no longer permit themselves to openly say they do not consider relocating the farm to be important, they obviously do not actually consider it important at all.

This is why there is a constant cycle of talk about the state not having the money to buy out the private firm that owns the farm. That has been said by our last three PMs, Nečas, Rusnok and Sobotka.

Not about the money

Naturally, it is not true that the state does not have the hundreds of millions of crowns it would cost to come to terms (too little and too late) with the commemoration of the Romani victims of the Holocaust and make an important symbolic gesture toward this minority. This is not about money.

This is about the fact that most of society does not consider it embarrassing that politicians are balancing an absolutely elementary relationship toward history against an amount of money which, in that context, is negligible in terms of the state budget. Society is not forcing its politicians to undertake this action.

On the contrary, the politicians might have the feeling that to do so would harm them with the voters - that this would seen as hundreds of millions spent "for Roma". Many people here consider the Roma "parasites" for whom they pay out of "their own wallets" because they rely on state aid and make no effort to improve their own situations.

The dances around the money needed to move the farm will, therefore, continue. More and more politicians will say that they would love to see the farm moved from the site of the former concentration camp during their time in office so that the annual commemorative ceremony is no longer disrupted by the pungent stench of the farm, even as they take no action to make that happen.

Weak governments and a strong farm

The last time a clear pledge to remove the pig farm was made was in the Romani Integration Strategy approved by this administration. In a subsection called "Ensuring the dignified, permanent commemoration of the victims of the Roma Holocaust", it establishes the task of "adopting measures leading to ending the operation of the industrial pig farm in the immediate vicinity of the remembrance site at Lety by Písek" as of 31 December 2018.  

The justification for this is given as follows:  "Despite many attempts to develop proposals for resolving the situation at Lety by Písek, marked progress on the matter of the dishonorable location of the industrial pig farm has yet to be achieved. This situation continues to be perceived very negatively both by Czech Roma, primarily the relatives of those who were imprisoned there, and by part of the Czech and global public and international organizations. Despite the difficulty in finding an appropriate solution, it is essential to attempt to find one because the current situation is unacceptable."  

So we'll see:  The administration writes in its own document that the "situation is unacceptable". Against this strongly formulated claim there stands the existence of a single industrial pig farm whose owners, moreover, are reportedly open to reaching an agreement on the issue - so according to this document it might seem like we have a really self-confident, strong Government!

Protest?

Certainly not everyone approves of this embarrassing, shameful situation, and some politicians may even be serious when they say they actually want to do something to relocate the farm. Other people here are even actively protesting the situation.

Activists around the Konexe association have now held their second "blockade" at Lety. Some people admire them, claiming that they are basically the only ones actively, openly, publicly and repeatedly drawing attention to this "unacceptable situation".  

Others consider Konexe's actions to be poorly planned, useless, or even counterproductive, wanting nothing to do with them. The positions taken on these actions are usually cut and dried, as is usual in our little pond of activists and politics.  

It is quite possible that the Konexe events include all of these elements simultaneously - both those worthy of admiration and those that are unsuccessful. At first glance they do actually seem to be useless, unprofessional, and completely in vain - about 20 people standing in a field attaching handwritten signs reading "Free Lety" to the farm's fences during their "spontaneous demonstration" in front of the firm's headquarters, then walking with banners to the cemetery in Mirovice where there is a memorial to the child victims of the concentration camp.    

Almost no one is interested in these actions. The press does not cover them.

By now both the media and the public have become used to even more dramatic, massive and original "blockades" or protests in this country. They have seen Greeenpeace actions, the "blockades" in the Šumava forest, and in the past they have seen massive protests against the completion of the Temelín nuclear power plant.

Whatever people might think about such actions, they usually do manage to at least attract attention. That can be the first step toward discussion of and reflection on an issue.

The "blockades" at Lety, in this respect, are actually in vain. Their significance is probably that the protesters feel good about what they are doing, not that what they are doing actually means something to anyone else.

Even a recent protest against the eviction of squatters from a location in Prague managed to attract several hundred demonstrators marching through the capital. On the other hand, at least the activists blockading the Lety farm are not staying silent.

What is everyone else doing? (Besides criticizing everyone, I mean.)

When and where will there be a proper blockade?

Everyone else is doing nothing. They are not interested.

Either that, or they are playing various tactical games, the result of which, after 20 years, is the same as if they had done nothing. Or they are playing various political games, the result of which is not worth talking about.  

Or they are even glad the state will not be investing another crown "into the Roma". How is it possible that during the past two decades we have not managed to organize any actually big, consistent, and systematic protest over Lety?  

Why are there only 20 activists standing around near the pig farm fence, most of whom aren't even Romani? Where are the other "Romani" NGOs, the Romani activists, the Romani politicians?

Where are the other human rights activists? Where are all of the politicians who claim the situation is unacceptable?

Why don't they want to have anything to do with this blockade? Why don't they come forward with an action of their own?

Which is the greater failure? To seriously claim that the Government is incapable of raising the money to buy a single pig farm and that it must be careful so the owners don't start raising the price?

Can anyone believe the owners really haven't noticed by now that something is going on around their farm? Is it the greater failure for those involved to pretend they are terribly important, conspiratorial masters of political strategy and tactics?  

Would it be the greater failure to resign ourselves to this situation and do nothing but curse it? Or even to indulge in antigypsyism?

Is it the greater failure to specialize in our own topics and lose our sense of what is important for all of society? Or is it the greater failure to hold an unsuccessful "blockade" of the farm?

Maybe it is absurd to hold a blockade at Lety. This protest is not primarily aimed against the pig farm owners, but against hypocritical politicians, which is why it probably should take place outside the Office of the Government or on Wenceslas Square.

The inertia of indifference

In any event, I believe that the fact that there has not yet been any actually consistent, mass protest in relation to the existence of the pig farm on the site of the former concentration camp for Roma is a sign of the deficiencies of our activist, "human rights", nonprofit scene. This doesn't just concern the Roma only, not by a long shot.

This is a symptom of the fragmentation of society into tiny little islands, the occupants of which consider just one thing to be fundamentally important, and which means that, whether they want to or not, they lose sight of what is important for others as well. I am not saying that the pig farm at Lety is a bigger problem, for example, than discrimination against children in the schools, or a bigger problem than the breaching of the limits on coal mining, or the waste of energy, or corruption, or children's homes, or our relationship to refugees, or domestic violence.  

All I'm saying is that a fragmented society in which even those who want to change something are unable to agree on almost anything will always be defeated by the inertia of indifference and the interests of the powerful and the wealthy. Wherever the next "blockade" or demonstration takes place, activists from across the interest and NGO sectors should be standing there, and the politicians who are serious about their positions on these issues should be there too.  

I am concerned that the pig farm at Lety will not only survive this Government, it will survive the year 2020. It is a symbol of our relationship to our own history, to politics, to protest, to public discussion, and of the relationships of the majority society here towards the Romani minority, and there is no reason to believe that this symbol is about to undergo any kind of radical or rapid change.  

Michal Komárek, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Tags:  

Konexe, o. s., Lety u Písku, Strategie romské integrace do roku 2020, Demonstrace



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