Czech legislators attack state's buyout of pig farm on Roma genocide site
The chair of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM), Vojtěch Filip, and the chair of the "Freedom and Direct Democracy" party (SPD), Tomio Okamura, have questioned whether the state should buy the pig farm in Lety u Písku that stands on the site of a former concentration camp for Romani people during discussion in the lower house on 5 December. The state has concluded a purchase contract with the owner of the farm.
Czech MP Karel Schwarzenberg (TOP 09) reminded the lower house that the Lety camp was run not under direct German management but under Czech management and that it is, therefore, a Czech scandal. "We should not be stingy about eliminating something that is to our discredit. This has disgraced the image of the Czech country and nation for many long years, including after the Velvet Revolution. It is high time the pig farm be removed," he emphasized.
Okamura pointed out that the future plans for the facility involve costs. Cleaning up the grounds and adapting them, including the creation of a remembrance site, could cost as much as CZK 120 million [EUR 4.7 million].
"For what? I don't understand, because for more than CZK 21 million a memorial was already installed at the site of the internment and labor camp," Okamura said. The SPD chair went to allege that in "most of the locations" where Nazi concentration camps used to be there frequently "is not even a memorial plaque worth CZK 500".
"The only Nazi camp that has been structurally preserved, in Brněnec near Svitavy, has been deteriorating for decades without any aid," Okamura alleged. For his part, Communist Party chair Filip said he cannot image the Czech state would use taxpayer money to buy a business in order to demolish it.
Filip said he does not believe the farm is located on any of the same plots of land where the camp once was. He also said he believes the existing memorial at the location is dignified.
"That is a dignified place, it has been modified in a dignified way, and I am convinced the state should not buy a production facility to demolish it," Filip said. He also told Schwarzenberg that his call for the country to "compensate Roma" was "out of touch with reality".
Filip also urged Czech Finance Minister Ivan Pilný (ANO) to at least ask the court to render the contract invalid. Czech Culture Minister Daniel Herman responded to Filip and Okamura by tweeting: "T. Okamura and V. Filip are doubting Lety. No surprise, since the Fascists established the Romani concentration camp and the Communists set up the pig farm at that same site."
Pilný said he comprehends why a pig farm should not be near a memorial and said it is good that something has been about the matter. As in the past, however, he said the price paid to the company for the property was extremely high.
"I don't get why we did that, the negotiations with the owners could have been tougher," the outgoing Finance Minister said. He reminded the lower house that he abstained from voting on the expenditure when the cabinet did, but said he must fulfill the signed contract and pay the money.
TRANSCRIPT OF 5 DECEMBER SPEECHES IN THE CZECH LOWER HOUSE ABOUT LETY U PÍSKU
Tomio Okamura: "Understandably, for some politicians, the bribes paid to them by the so-called nonprofit sector are advantageous. This is closely connected with the media and some artists and they are paying for their own PR with state money, which they are actually buying with everybody's - excuse me, with our - money. Speaking of paying big money to buy something, let's recall other Government proposals. Let's recall the buyout of the pig farm at Lety u Písku for more than half a billion crowns, which is on the conscience of the Government of the ANO movement, the Czech Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats, while the state has plans to spend hundreds of millions more there. For what? I don't understand, because for more than CZK 21 million a memorial was already installed at the site of the internment and labor camp. Meanwhile on the vast majority of places where there were Nazi concentration camps, of which there were about 40 just on our territory alone, there is frequently not even a memorial plaque worth CZK 500. The only Nazi camp that has been structurally preserved, in Brněnec near Svitavy, has been deteriorating for decades without any aid."
Karel Schwarzenberg: "Mr Chair, esteemed members, in the preceding speech Mr MP Okamura criticized the expenditure of CZK 400 million to buy out the pig farm at Lety. He noted that there were more than 40 similar camps like Lety around the Czech Republic. I am not an expert on appraising pig farms, but I do know one thing, and that is that just two concentration camps, the one at Lety and the one in Moravia, served for the annihilation of Romani people in our country. They were not under German management, but they were under Czech management. Lety was established by the Protectorate Government and guarded by Czech gendarmes, who unfortunately were comparable, in the performance of their duties, to German concentration camp guards. That is our scandal, if we are speaking about Lety! That is not to the discredit of the Germans, but of us. We should not be stingy about eliminating something that is to our discredit. This has disgraced the image of the Czech country and nation for many long years, including after the Velvet Revolution. It is high time the pig farm be removed. Thank God that is happening. However, primarily, I remember that unlike the various branches of the German concentration camps in our country, this one and the one at Hodonín were the only ones that were actually Czech concentration camps, and that is our shame. Thank you for your attention."
Vojtěch Filip: "Do you all know what bothers me the most? We do not have enough money in the budget to give more to hospitals or schools. We are speaking here about this as if it were something special. The state has found enough money to buy something in order to demolish it. I could not respond directly before to Mr MP Schwarzenberg, so I will allow myself to do so now. You know, I know the situation at Lety very well. After all, I am elected in the South Bohemian Region, I travel there regularly, and I don't have a problem visiting the site, unlike others who like to talk about it but whom I have never seen there on any occasion, to say nothing of the 9th or 8th of May. The facility of the AGPI firm is not on any land where that labor camp originally was. If there has been a call here for us to somehow compensate what the Czechs have done to the Roma, then don't be angry with me, but that seems to me to be a call that is out of touch with reality. I will not in any way actually exacerbate the negotiations of the state budget of the Czech Republic for 2018 about this, because the purchase is meant to be undertaken this year. For the time being it has not even been approved by 100 % of the shareholders. I would most prefer it if the registration of that property were blocked, not by the minority shareholders, but by a Finance Minister deciding not to sign the contract, or even if he will have to sign it because he must respect the Government resolution, that he will at least ask the courts to declare the contract relatively invalid. Do you know why? Because I cannot imagine that from my money - and that is not the money of the Government of the Czech Republic, it's the money of the taxpayers, those who honestly had to contribute their taxes - that we would be demolishing... that at a cost of CZK 450 million, we are buying a business so we can destroy it at the cost of another CZK 200 million. So, I don't know if we have CZK 650 million to waste. I would want to see that money spent, for example, on modernizing a hospital, or giving that money, for example, to innovation and research. The lies I have heard here really bother me. I actually would recommend that all of the people who are speaking here travel there and take a look at it. That is a dignified place, it has been modified in a dignified way. We have invested a lot of money into it, and I am convinced the state should not buy a production facility to demolish it. If the state is buying something, then it should be something the state will be able to use and that can give back in the form of some actual state obligation to the citizens. I am deeply convinced of this, because somebody will have to replace that production capacity. Maybe willing hands will be found in neighboring Bavaria, in the Federal Republic of Germany, they will be glad to export us their pork. Who will keep producing it in our country, then? Will we complain that we are just a fitting shop? What will we do? I consider this an immoral move. It's not a moral step, it's an immoral one. I cannot imagine the state would ever do anything like it. I really cannot imagine that in order for the state to get rid of some business that is important, the state would privatize it and then buy back the production capacity to close it down - the state should either keep running it or sell it because the state is not convinced that it would be the best organizer of the work there - but to buy something just to demolish it actually crosses the line of what the state should allow itself to do. So I will permit myself to undertake a minor challenge here. Please, let's return to some of the promises made here. For example, we should have the bank in state hands. Among other matters, that was a promise, a public one. There was even an excellent chance for that when the Post Office Savings Bank let the deadline elapse on leasing for the ČSOB bank. I do not comprehend why we let that lapse without taking advantage of it. It's like with the tolls. What has the Government of the Czech Republic done to replace that lost revenue? We could have, without the slightest risk of the ČSOB bank resorting to international arbitration, acquired back the opportunity for the state to hold its own banking institution in regular competition with other banks."
Czech Finance Minister Ivan Pilný: "Thank you for the floor Mr Chair. Esteemed colleagues, because I have again been called upon to undertake some activity, I must respond. As far as the camp at Lety goes, I have been there more than once. The site is in rather good repair and it is visited mostly by politicians on the occasions when they speak there. A pig farm in the vicinity is naturally bad, and it is good that something has been done about that. On the other hand, it is also necessary to state that the price we are paying for it - and not just the price that we are paying directly in the contract but the price of cleaning up the grounds - is just extremely high. When it was discussed in the cabinet, it was said that this is in the public interest, and that when party has a great interest in something happening, then the other party to a negotiation always gets some bonus out of that. I don't get why we did that, the negotiations with the owners could have been tougher. The court appraisal is much lower than the amount we are paying. I warned the cabinet about this, I said that this may be something in the public interest, but it is also in the public interest to take care of public money. I left the cabinet session when the vote on Lety was taken, I did not cast a vote. Naturally, the Finance Minister must fulfill what is in the contracts. The matter was done under a classified regime as far as the amounts were concerned, because it was prior to the elections, and then the amount was revealed and the contract has simply been signed. Now the Finance Minister cannot do anything else but pay the money, which has also happened. However, I stated my objections to the cabinet and as Finance Minister, I defended our public monies. Thank you."
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