Czech Republic: Activists blockading pig farm at Lety where WWII-era camp for Roma once stood
In Lety by Písek today, activists began a blockade of the pig farm standing on the site of what once was a forced labor camp for Romani people. The surviving relatives of the victims of the Romani Holocaust have long been calling for the pig farm to be removed and its location has also been criticized by the UN.
The Czech Government says it does not have the money to purchase and removed the agricultural complex. The blockade is set to last until Friday at the latest.
Shortly after 15:00 CET, activists blocked two trucks from accessing the farm and police intervened. A group of eight people from northern Bohemian and from Germany unfolded banners at noon there in front of the driveway to the AGPI company's farm reading "Romani Pride" and "Opre Roma!"
The activists attached a sign to the gate featuring the word "Holocaust" crossed out. They anticipate their numbers will grow and are planning a nonviolent protest.
In the view of the demonstrators, an industrial pig farm on a genocide site is a disgrace to everyone in the country. Their protest sparked no response until 15:00 today.
A worker at the farm who wanted to retrieve something from his car parked in front of the farm walked past the activists almost without noticing them and returned to the complex without any problems. The worker then told the Czech News Agency that farm workers had adapted to the protest and are working in a different section of the complex.
He also said he was not afraid of the activists and had experienced similar events before. Shortly after 15:00 the activists blocked two trucks, refusing to let them onto the farm.
Jan Čech, Vice-Chair of the board of AGPI, told the Czech News Agency that the farm receives deliveries daily, which is why AGPI decided to address the situation with its lawyers and police. He pointed out that the animals must be regularly fed and watered, otherwise it would be an abuse of their welfare.
"If you stop production at the car plant in Mladá Boleslav then the cars won't be produced, they'll be delivered a week late, but animals are living things," he pointed out. Police arrived after 15:30 and began to monitor the protesters, calling on them to clear the road.
The activists obeyed the police and let the trucks pass. Kamila Ingrišová, spokesperson for the police in Písek, told the Czech News Agency that officers had renewed operations on the scene and vehicles were now accessing the campus.
Ingrišová said the intervention was not dramatic and no one was arrested. According to Čech, a total of 13 halls in which AGPI raises 13 000 pigs now stand not far from the Lety monument.
The farm was built after 1970 on barren plots of land owned by the municipality. Čech said he has been informed that at the time, no one knew precisely where the forced labor camp for Romani people had once stood.
It wasn't until later, according to those who recall the efforts, that authorities did their best to map the situation using airborne technology. That investigation allegedly concluded the pig farm is not now located on the site of the former camp.
"One edge, however, does overlap with a place where one of the camp buildings once stood," Čech told the Czech News Agency. He went on to say that the situation with protests has been unchanging for several years.
No one has ever contacted AGPI about the issue and the company itself has never estimated how much it would cost to remove the farm and build a new one somewhere else. The company also says it is doing everything it can to reduce the concentration of ammonia in the local air.
Activists sent a press release to the media this morning signed by the "Initiative for Removing the Lety Pig Farm" (Iniciativa za zbourání prasečí farmy v Letech). The press release includes an anonymous statement from one of the activists.
"An industrial pig farm on a genocide site is a disgrace to us all. We demand its removal. We reject the absurd argument that lack of money is an obstacle. It is scandalous that in a country where hundreds of millions of crowns are wasted on corrupt scandals like Opencard, financing cannot be found for something like this, the value of which goes quite beyond money," an activist who is not named says in the press release.
Miroslav Brož of the Konexe association repeated those same arguments to the Czech News Agency. "Our demands are the immediate closure of the pig farm, the removal of the pigs, the destruction of these buildings and the cleanup of pig excrement from the site. Then we want the erection of a dignified memorial to the victims of the Holocaust - for that we are not seeking any money, we would arrange it ourselves if the site were to be prepared," Brož said.
In his view, the jobs of people working on the farm should be preserved. He also pointed out that today is the anniversary of the date on which the biggest transport of prisoners were sent from Lety to the gas chambers.
This coming Friday marks Romani Resistance Day. "We would like to draw attention to that date," he said.
Brož refused to tell news server Romea.cz any details about who is behind the protest. "Konexe is just one of the organizations involved in the protest. The other organizations do not want their names published. This is a spontaneous action and each activist is representing himself or herself. There are about five activists from Germany here," he said.
"One activist was asked by a family who lost loved ones at Lety and who now lives in Canada to light a candle for them at the commemorative ceremony we will be holding later this afternoon. They want the candle to be lit at the actual site of the concentration camp, not at the memorial outside it," Brož told Romea.cz.
"We feel it is legitimate to fight for the closure of the pig farm even without representatives of the victims' loved ones here - our predecessors built it," Brož said. Czech PM Bohuslav Sobotka (Czech Social Democrats - ČSSD) said several days ago at a commemorative ceremony at Lety that the tens of millions of crowns needed to tear down the pig farm and rebuild it elsewhere should instead be used to educate Romani children or to improve social conditions in socially excluded localities.
The "gypsy camp" at Lety was opened in August 1940 as a disciplinary labor camp. By May 1943, 1 308 Romani people had passed through the camp, 327 of whom perished there and more than 500 of whom were transported to Auschwitz.
Fewer than 600 Romani prisoners from Bohemia and Moravia returned there from the concentration camps after the war. According to estimates, the Nazis murdered 90 % of Czech Roma.
The memorial site at Lety was made more accessible in 2010. The current memorial is located on the edge of a mature forest of many different trees with a modified asphalt road leading to it.
There is a model of the camp and a mock-up of what housing conditions were like there at the memorial site. The state, through the Lidice Memorial, spends a million crowns annually to maintain the current memorial, according to director Milouš Červencl.
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