Czech company accepts state offer to buy pig farm on Roma genocide site
The AGPI company is accepting the Czech Government's offer to buy the pig farm in Lety u Písku that is standing on the site of the Protectorate-era concentration camp for Romani people there. Neither side is publicizing the price.
Vice-chair of the AGPI board Jan Čech told the Czech News Agency today that the company's idea of the price had been significantly higher than what they have now agreed. In his view the state was "very strict" during the negotiations.
Czech Culture Ministry spokesperson Simona Cigánková told the Czech News Agency the Government is meant to convene about the buyout at the end of August and start of September, and that the state might conclude a contract with the firm after the summer vacations. The Government has reportedly been considering the purchase for approximately 20 years, but until now has never able to find enough money to buy the farm.
AGPI originally said they would have preferred that the Government fund the relocation of the farm elsewhere, but finally has agreed to be financially compensated for it. "If all goes according to our assumptions, this entire sale should be closed around the time of the autumn elections," Čech said.
The AGPI vice-chair also said that while each side had different ideas about the price, he considers the negotiations to have been very correct. The Czech Culture Ministry now, according to its spokesperson, is completing its material about the procedure for the purchase, which the Government should discuss at the close of August and start of September.
"We are assuming that already at the beginning of the new school year the purchase agreement might be concluded," Cigánková said. She added that the negotiations are happening under a so-called reserved regime, i.e., with a certain degree of secrecy.
It is not possible for the administration to publicize more precise information for that reason. Several cabinets have discussed buying the farm and tearing it down, but no actual price for that endeavor has ever been announced.
Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD) said previously that his cabinet would like to see the negotiations through to the end. The AGPI company originally preferred the idea of exchanging this farm for another one elsewhere, but now has agreed to financial compensation.
"We consistently stuck to the opinion that if it was absolutely essential to remove the farm, our demand would be the building of a new one at an appropriate site and relocation of our production there," the AGPI vice-chair said. According to research undertaken by former Czech Human Rights Minister Jiří Dienstbier, however, just applying for permits for the operation to relocate could have taken as long as 10 years.
For that reason, the Government's only option is to financially compensate the owners for the farm. Čeněk Růžička, chair of the Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust, told news server Romea.cz today that: "That is the best news I have had all day, news par excellence! It's even stronger because at this exact moment I am here at Lety u Písku with a Jewish delegation. I have hoped to live to see this, and I am extremely happy. If it is all confirmed, I would be glad to raise the money for a celebration for the general public. All judicious citizens of this country will be invited!"
Miroslav Brož of the Konexe organization commented on these most recent developments for news server Romea.cz as follows: "We very much welcome the recent development in the Lety scandal. Finally it has been demonstrated that once work was actually begun on a solution to this scandal, it was not a complex issue and actually it took a relatively brief amount of time to resolve. We hope the raising of pigs on this genocide site will soon end."
"The battle for the dignity of the survivors and victims of the camp at Lety, and basically the dignity of all of us, is not won yet, though," the activist warned. "Now we must ascertain the truth about the camp at Lety. The archeological research underway at the site must be completed, and as many other such surveys as are necessary must be undertaken."
"We are also concerned that what awaits us will be more disputes and petty wars about the fate of this site, or rather, about who will administer the memorial, museum, or whatever will arise on the site of the former camp. The perspective of Konexe is that this should not be done by a state institution, because the state has already lost all of its legitimacy to undertake such an endeavor long ago by virtue of how it has behaved these past few decades with respect to its approach toward the Romani minority and the memory of the victims of the Samudaripen in general. We would like to see the creation of an independent, non-state organization where the important decisions would be made by the relatives of the former prisoners, and that organization would take care of the Lety site of the Romani genocide," Brož said.
Benjamin Abtan, president of the European Grassroots Antiracist Movement, which has protested internationally against the farm, told news server Romea.cz that “Today marks a historical day for the dignity of Roma people, and a historical victory for ... European civil society. Together, activists and political leaders, Roma and non-Roma, Czech[s] and other Europeans, we have turned Lety from a symbol of shame to that of victory and dignity."
The AGPI shareholders agreed last week that the company would sell the farm to the Government. The grounds of the farm cover the site of what was first a forced labor camp and then a "Gypsy camp" during the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.
The farm was first built during communism in 1971. The first phase involved installing 10 sheds for pigs, with another three added during the second phase.
From 2013-2015 the firm installed new technology in half of the sheds. The grounds currently cover 7.1 hectares and house 13 000 pigs in 13 sheds.
The firm will hand the operation over to the state without any of the animals or employees. Cigánková previously told the Czech News Agency that after the Government approves the Culture Ministry's material, the purchase agreement will be signed, the farm will be demolished, the space will be rehabilitated, and project documentation will be elaborated for the realization of another memorial there.
Czech Culture Minister Daniel Herman (Christian Democrats - KDU-ČSL) has since clarified that finishing the grounds will take years. According to estimates, the price to buy the farm could be several hundred million crowns.
In June 1998 then-minister without portfolio Vladimír Mlynář gave an interview to the Zemské noviny newspaper in which he said that a court's assessment of the value of the farm was CZK 50 million [EUR 2 million] and the market value, according to the owners, was CZK 140 million, but that the proprietors were instead demanding CZK 300 million. Czech President Miloš Zeman just said a couple of weeks ago that when he was Prime Minister (1998-2002) he had refused to close the farm because to do so would have cost the taxpayers approximately CZK 400 million.
Selected events about the former concentration camp for Romani people at Lety u Písku
- The camp was situated two kilometers east of Lety municipality. In August 1940 the Protectorate designated it a labor camp, then in 1942 it became an internment camp, and then in August 1943 a "Gypsy camp".
- The fenced part of the camp was 66 ares (0.66 hectares) in area, with 11.2 ares of unfenced farmland included as part of it. In 1942 and 1943 the camp was a prison for "Gypsies, Gypsy half-breeds, and persons living the Gypsy way of life".
- As many as 326 prisoners awaited their deaths in the camp's inhuman conditions, 241 of them children aged 14 or younger. Another 540 prisoners were sent to their deaths in the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp.
- In the year 1971 an industrial pig farm was built on the site of the former camp. In 1995 a memorial was unveiled to the victims of the camp not far from the pig farm grounds, and the building of a more dignified remembrance site on the actual grounds of the former camp began to be discussed.
- In 1997 ministers Jan Bratinka (Civic Democratic Alliance - ODA) and Jan Ruml (Civic Democratic Party - ODS) declared they would propose the Government buy the farm, tear it down, and have a dignified memorial to the Romani victims of the Holocaust built at the site. The AGPI company, to which the farm belongs, said later it was willing to relocate the farm in exchange for "adequate compensation", which was estimated to cost hundreds of millions of crowns.
- Ever since, the problem has been kicked down the road, even though bureaucrats and Governments have frequently made statements about it: The cabinets of Václav Klaus (ODS), Josef Tošovský (independent) and Jiří Paroubek (ČSSD) reported they would be solving the problem, while in 1999 Czech President Václav Havel and Czech Human Rights Minister Michael Kocáb (for the Green Party) said removing the farm and building a dignified remembrance site was a crucial matter, and the Czech Goverment's Human Rights Commissioners have frequently negotiated about the situation. In April 2005 the European Palriament approved a call for the farm at Lety to be closed as part of its resolution condemning discrimination against Romani people.
- Shortly thereafter, Czech President Klaus exasperated many by saying that Lety had not been a "concentration camp in the proper sense of the term", adding that it had not been designated for Romani people, but "for those who refused to work". His opinion caused a stir among politicians and Romani organizations.
- In April 2007, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek (ODS) said the Government could not afford to relocate the farm. In June 2010 the existing memorial was extended to include an amphitheater for events, a partking lot, new access roads, and two replicas of the original wooden sleeping-huts from the camp housing an exhibition about the Romani victims of Nazism.
- Czech Culture Minister Václav Riedlbauch said at the time of the improvements that the credit for them primarily went to Czech Human Rights Minister Michael Kocáb. The Government spent CZK 21.4 million on the project.
- At that time, the remembrance site was transferred to the Lidice Memorial for administration. In 2012, Czech PM Petr Nečas (ODS) announced that the Government could not afford to move the farm.
- In July 2013 the UN Committee for Human Rights called on the Czech Republic to close the farm. Czech Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková said that while she supported moving the farm, the decision as to its fate lay with the new Government.
- In May 2014, Czech PM Bohuslav Sobotka (ČSSD) said that the tens of millions of Czech crowns necessary to destroying the pig farm and rebuilding a new one would be better spent on "educating Romani children" and improving social conditions in the country's socially excluded localities, for which he was criticized. In August 2014, Czech MP Tomio Okamura (Dawn - Úsvit) made remarks about Lety similar to those made by Klaus in 2005, causing Romani activists to ask police to investigate, which they declined to do, finding that his remarks had not been unlawful.
- Last May, Czech Human Rights Minister Jiří Dienstbier (ČSSD) said the pig farm would apparently remain in place on the site of the former camp. He held several negotiations with the owner, but no concrete conclusion of the dialogue was ever reported.
- Last August, Czech Culture Minister Daniel Herman (KDU-ČSL) announced that the Government was close to agreeing to buy the farm. He said he believed the cabinet would manage to resolve the entire matter before the 2017 elections.
- At the beginning of last September, then-Czech Finance Minister and head of the ANO movement, Andrej Babiš, became a target of criticism because of remarks he made about the camp. According to a photojournalist for the Aktuálně.cz news server, Babiš said the assertion that Lety had been a concentration camp was a "lie".
- "It was a labor camp, Whoever didn't work, bam! - he was there," the Finance Minister was alleged to have said. Babiš subsequently apologized, distanced himself from his remarks, and visited the camp together with Czech Culture Minister Herman and Czech Justice Minister Robert Pelikán.
- During that visit Babiš said he wanted to find money to build a memorial and arrange for the farm to be bought out. Also at the beginning of last September, Dienstbier published a previoulsy-unreleased cabinet resolution from April 2016 stating that the Government would prefer to buy the farm.
- Last November the Government decided to commission an appraisal of the land and the technical equipment at the farm. The AGPI company has its own appraisal, but neither party has revealed the values they arrived at.
- This year, on 13 July, representatives of the AGPI company and the Government exchanged offers about an eventual sale. The firm's general meeting then expressed agreement with transferring the farm to the state.It is not yet known how much the state has agreed to pay.
- On 7 August 2017 the AGPI company announced that it had officially accepted the Government's offer to buy the farm at Lety.
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