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Czech Gov't Roma Council demands apology, Czech Justice Minister disturbed by MP's remarks about Romani genocide site

6.2.2018 16:27
Robert Pelikán and the Czech Government Council for Romani Minority Affairs. (Collage:  Romea.cz)
Robert Pelikán and the Czech Government Council for Romani Minority Affairs. (Collage: Romea.cz)

Civil society members of the Czech Government Council on Romani Minority Affairs have expressed outrage over the remarks made by Czech MP Tomio Okamura (SPD) and his fellow party member Miloslav Rozner and, just like the Museum of Romani Culture, they are demanding an apology from Okamura. Outgoing Czech Justice Minister Robert Pelikán (ANO) has also expressed his unease over the remarks made by Okamura, who is the vice-chair of the lower house.

The minister called on Okamura to stop alleging that the concentration camp at Lety was "not guarded" and to instead join those honoring the memories of all who suffered or died during the Second World War. Okamura said last month that the concentration camp at Lety was not fenced and that people had been free to come and go from it.

The MP later apologized for saying the camp had not been fenced but went on to allege that most of the time it had not been guarded, that people had been free to move about inside it, and that there had been holes in the fence. Those statements were criticized by the Jewish Community of Prague and by the Museum of Romani Culture, both of which consider them Holocaust denial.

The Konexe civic association filed a report of a crime in that vein with the Czech Police identifying Okamura as the perpetrator last week. A declaration sent to news server Romea.cz by the civil society members of the Roma Council who are demanding that Okamura apologize through the public broadcast media reads: "In the year 2018 we must again respond to denials of the Holocaust of the Roma, a sad era in history not just in the Czech Republic, but also in Europe, one that is sufficiently documented, about which factual evidence exists, and one that is absolutely not up for discussion. We are outraged by the fact that once again politicians here are degrading this history and exploiting that degradation in order to get publicity."

"It is more than a week and no apology has been made unless we are to consider the 'fake apology' published by Mr Okamura on social networks to be an actual apology. In the interim other members of the SPD, led by Mr Okamura, have added their own problematic remarks about the camp at Lety," reads the declaration, which news server Romea.cz is publishing in full translation below.

"Tomio Okamura, we are asking that you correct the record inside your party and show the victims sufficient respect by apologizing in the public broadcast media," the declaration reads. For his part, Czech Justice Minister Robert Pelikán said today that Okamura's remarks were based on wrong information but that he does not intend to argue with him.

"It does not matter whether the camp at Lety was fenced, or how difficult it was for prisoners to get through the fence. One way or another, Lety is a place where hundreds of people died unnecessarily due to barbaric treatment in horrible conditions," the minister wrote in an open letter to Okamura.

"For the victims of the wartime machinery who did not die there, the camp was a stopping place on the way to the death factory where annihilation awaited them and where there lives were cut short," the minister wrote. "I emphatically ask you to stop comparing whose tragedy was more tragic, stop competing over who was annihilated in the worst way, and join those of us who honor the memories of those who suffered or died during the war."

"In death there are no distinctions," the minister's letter closes. Okamura's fellow party member, Czech MP Miloslav Rozner (SPD) is also facing criticism over his remarks about the camp at Lety.

Last year at the SPD congress Rozner criticized the Government's approval of the buyout of the pig farm near the current remembrance site at Lety. "There is no doubt that I would never throw half a billion crowns out the window to liquidate a functioning firm because of a non-existent pseudo-concentration camp," Czech Television reports him as saying.

The Social Democratic Youth organization and activist Martin Uhlíř filed a report of a crime on Monday naming Rozner as the perpetrator because of those remarks. In their view the MP has committed the offense of denying or doubting genocide.

The camp at Lety, according to historians, was opened in August 1940 by the Protectorate authorities as a disciplinary labor camp. The camp was first meant for men who could not document their source of income to the authorities.

Those living a traveling lifestyle were also meant to be settled in such places. The same kind of facility also existed at Hodonín u Kunštátu in Moravia.

In January 1942 both camps were changed into internment camps and in August 1942 they both became "Gypsy Camps". From then until May 1943 a total of 1 308 Romani people passed through the Lety camp - children, men and women, 327 of whom died there and more than 500 of whom ended up at Auschwitz.

Less than 600 Romani prisoners returned from the concentration camps after the war. According to estimates by experts the Nazis murdered 90 % of the Bohemian and Moravian Roma.

DECLARATION BY CIVIL SOCIETY MEMBERS OF THE CZECH GOVERNMENT COUNCIL ON ROMANI MINORITY AFFAIRS, PRAGUE, 5 FEBRUARY 2018

We are demanding an apology from Mr Okamura in the public broadcast media.

In the year 2018 we must again respond to denials of the Holocaust of the Roma, a sad era in history not just in the Czech Republic, but also in Europe, one that is sufficiently documented, about which factual evidence exists, and one that is absolutely not up for discussion. We are outraged by the fact that once again politicians here are degrading this history and exploiting that degradation in order to get publicity.

The Museum of Romani Culture, through its director, Jana Horváthová has asked Tomio Okamura, chair of the SPD and vice-chair of the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Republic, for an apology for his remarks, unsubstantiated by any evidence, that were made about the concentration camp at Lety u Písku on 27 January 2018. We consider that request absolutely legitimate and we also support it. We consider these embarrassing arguments about whether the camp was or was not fenced to be an insult to all the men, women and children who perished there and an insult to their relatives and survivors.

It is more than a week and no apology has been made, unless we are to consider the 'fake apology' published by Mr Okamura on social networks to be an actual apology. In the interim other members of the SPD, led by Mr Okamura, have added their own problematic remarks about the camp at Lety.

Tomio Okamura, we are asking that you correct the record inside your party and show the victims sufficient respect by apologizing in the public broadcast media.

For the civil society section of the Czech Government Council on Roma Minority Affairs: 

Martina Horváthová
Lucie Fuková
Michal Mižigár
Lýdia Poláčková
Edita Stejskalová
Čeněk Růžička
Jan Kudry
František Bikár
Renáta Köttnerová

ČTK, ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Okamura - popírání romského holocaustu, omluva, Rada vlády pro záležitosti romské menšiny, Robert Pelikán



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