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Czech firm able to negotiate sale of pig farm on Roma genocide site for first time

31.7.2017 15:40
Čeněk Růžička on 14 July 2017 at the site of the former concentration camp for Roma at Lety u Pisku. In the background is the pig farm owned by the AGPI firm that is now on the site. (PHOTO: František Bikár, Romea.cz)
Čeněk Růžička on 14 July 2017 at the site of the former concentration camp for Roma at Lety u Pisku. In the background is the pig farm owned by the AGPI firm that is now on the site. (PHOTO: František Bikár, Romea.cz)

Czech Radio's Radiožurnál station reports that the AGPI agricultural company has held its general meeting and agreed to transfer the pig farm at Lety to the Czech state. The board will now be entrusted with negotiating the price and other conditions of the sale with the state.

The firm has not yet publicly announced its price. Vice-Chair of the board Jan Čech told the Czech News Agency that will depend on the conditions offered by the state.

The price will be published by AGPI once the company and the Government reach an agreement. "This is good news," Romani activist Jozef Miker told Romea.cz.

"I would like to thank all who have been upset by the fact that there is a pig farm on one of the sites of the Romani Holocaust and all who have fought to get it removed," Miker said, adding that he is convinced the entire matter will now reach a successful conclusion. "Maybe I will finally be able to look Karel Procházka in the eyes and say to him 'Uncle, let's go to Lety, the pig farm is no longer there'."

The news that the company agrees to the transfer was welcomed by Čeněk Růžička, the chair of the Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust (Výbor pro odškodnění obětí romského holocaustu - VPORH) who has been fighting for many long years to see the farm removed. "I am glad that the stockholders made this decision, for those of us whose family members died there this is news we can unequivocally welcome," he told news server Romea.cz.

"That decision will mean that the Government's hands and the owners' hands are freed for further negotiations, but we continue to await a definitive verdict. In that sense, therefore, I am still slightly reserved. In any case, those of us who lost family there are not interested in what the buyout costs," he said.

Czech Culture Minister Daniel Herman sent this statement to news server Romea.cz on the issue through spokesperson Simona Cigánková:  "I welcome this decision by the shareholders. It is another significant step toward resolving this protracted problem around the pig farm at Lety. The Government will probably negotiate this material at the end of August and beginning of September. We are assuming that by the beginning of the new school year the purchase agreement might be concluded. Given the discreet nature of this matter we cannot be more concrete at this time."

The ministry was previously entrusted with commissioning an appraisal of the farm, and the winning firm produced it for CZK 228 690 (EUR 8 463, VAT included. The Government then used that appraisal for its negotiations with the owner.

Most shareholders in favor of the transfer

The Czech News Agency reports that 88 % of the stockholders present at the AGPI general meeting voted in favor of selling the farm to the state, while 11 % were against it. The general meeting in the town of Vrcovice in the Písek district was attended by almost 20 shareholders.

In the justification provided for its resolution, the company stated that it has been negotiating about the situation of the pig farm being located at the site of the former camp for Romani people during the Second World War for more than 20 years and that the Government is now declaring it to be an interest of priority to remove the farm. "All depends on the specific offer, but that has not been made yet," the firm's management told the Czech News Agency.

Čech reportedly said at the meeting that the AGPI management has communicated its idea of the farm's price to the ministers, according to the Czech News Agency. The Government has two appraisals, according to Čech, and AGPI commissioned a study of how much money it would cost to rebuild the farm elsewhere.

The Czech News Agency reports that when asked by one of the stockholders, Čech said the pig farm would probably be bought by the Museum of Romani Culture or by the Office for Government Representation in Property Affairs. "The Government has an eminent interest in resolving this, no other cabinet has ever gotten this far with its proposals. We still do not have either a price or the terms, though," Čech told the meeting.

Čech emphasized that the farm is 7.1 hectares in area with 13 sheds housing 13 000 pigs and said the firm would hand the grounds over to the state without the animals or the employees. "If it comes to that, we will have to sell the animals. The aim is to sell all that is on the grounds. The parameters of the negotiations will not be spoken of until the negotiations are completed, they are happening under a restricted protocol," he told the general meeting, adding that he believed the purchase contract would be concluded with the Museum of Romani Culture.

Almost 20 years of advocacy for the pig farm to be bought out

According to Čech, AGPI was first contacted about the farm by the caretaker government of Josef Tošovský in 1998. Čech has also alleged that in 2006 the state did its best to "extort" the firm into selling.

"We had as many as three inspections a day at Lety," Čech said, adding that Romani activists had blocked the driveway to the Vrcovice headquarters of AGPI and to the pig farm itself over the years. The pig farm was built during communism beginning in 1972.

During the first phase of its construction 10 sheds were created, with three more added during the second phase. From 2013 - 2015 the firm installed new technology in half of the sheds.

"Experts have acknowledged that the sheds are in good repair and could be used for another 60 years. The state never sold us the land beneath the buildings, they hung onto that as a precaution," Čech said.

The municipality of Lety would not be directly affected by the disappearance of the farm, according to Vice-Mayor Miroslava Kuchtová (Independents - NEZ). "There are not that many jobs there for this community, it will affect AGPI more. The municipality owns land that AGPI leases, that will remain the case, this is just about the farm. It seems like a waste of taxpayers' money to us because in the end we will all pay for it, that is what is negative about it," she told the Czech News Agency.

Satisfaction, and not just for Romani organizations

The closure of the farm has long been demanded by several Romani organizations, led by the Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust (VPORH). The Czech Republic has also been called upon by the European Parliament and other international organizations to remove the farm from the remembrance site.

"The AGPI company bought the pig farm from the Praseček firm, which had purchased it from the local authority for CZK 3.5 million [EUR 134 000] and today they are talking about several hundreds of millions here. What is that about? Despite knowing what had happened here, they privatized it for CZK 3.5 million. That's the mess of it. Somebody should be held accountable for that and the nation should hold responsible whoever sold it for CZK 3.5 million here, not us," Růžička emotionally declared to news server Romea.cz in an interview earlier this month.

The AGPI company originally said it preferred to be given a different farm in exchange for the Lety one, but now it is not objecting to its sale. According to estimates, the price could be several hundreds of millions of crowns.

The Government was meant to take action on buying the farm by the end of the summer holidays. The negotiations are being conducted in secret.

adg, ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Lety u Písku, pietní místo, Vláda, Aktivismus



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