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Czech Republic: Equal Opportunities Party calls on politicians not to exploit xenophobia

Lety by Písek, 14.5.2012 20:45, (ROMEA)
Ambassador of the United States of America to the Czech Republic Norman L. Eisen and his spouse, Lindsay Kaplan, laying a wreath at the Lety memorial yesterday. PHOTO:  František Kostlán.

The commemorative ceremony at Lety by Písek this year reflected more societal tensions than it has in the past. At the ceremony, Štefan Tišer, chair of the newly-established Equal Opportunities Party (Strana rovných příležitostí - SRP) read aloud a challenge to political parties not to exploit the exacerbated xenophobic situation in the Czech Republic during their upcoming campaigns.

"Citizens of the Czech Republic who are members of the Romani minority permanently face growing xenophobia and a rising number of anti-Romani demonstrations. The security of Romani families is being confronted with manifestations of hysterical hatred by a significant part of the majority society. Recently, Romani families have been terrorized in the direct vicinity of their homes," Tišer said.

The ceremony was dedicated to the memory of the Romani victims of the Holocaust and was held near the site of one of the Romani concentration camps run during the German occupation. About 250 people attended. Cabinet representatives did not attend, but Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková did, as did Czech Senator Tomáš Tőpfer (Civic Democrats - ODS), Green Party chair Ondřej Liška, and Michaela Marksová Tominová, the Czech Social Democrats' shadow minister for human rights and the family.

Many foreign guests also came. Ambassadors or representatives of the embassies of France, Germany, the USA and other countries came to the microphone to make speeches. All of the speakers, without exception, used the term "concentration camp" to refer to the Lety camp instead of the historical terms officially used to refer to the camp, terms which hid the real intentions of the Protectorate authorities. The participants either demanded the removal of the pig farm established at the site of the former camp in the 1970s, or said they were aghast that such a facility could exist at such a place.

"At a time of economic crisis, there is no money to get rid of the pig farm. No one wants to go into official negotiations with us. The owners of the factory are exploiting the international pressure and media coverage to try to squeeze as much money out of a potential buyout as possible," said Čeněk Růžička, the chair of the Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust in the Czech Republic, who organizes the annual commemorative ceremony at Lety.

The memorial site at Lety was made more accessible to the public in 2010. Amphitheater seating for group events was installed, as were three wooden structures, one of which houses a permanent exhibition describing the life of Romani people in the camp.

The camp at Lety was opened in August 1940 as a disciplinary labor camp. A similar facility also existed in Hodonín by Kunštát. In January 1942, both camps were changed into "collections" camps. By May 1943, a total of 1 308 Romani people had passed through the camp at Lety, 327 of whom perished in the camp and more than 500 of whom were transported to Auschwitz from the camp. The Nazis murdered an estimated 90 % of the Romani population of the Czech lands during the war.

Discrimination against Romani people and violence committed against them is reportedly deeply rooted in the European population, and great differences do not exist between various countries' treatment of them. At a recent conference in Brno, representatives of the European Association for the Defense of Human Rights reported that tensions are rising in the context of the economic crisis as a result of a decline in tolerance.

František Kostlán, Gwendolyn Albert, František Kostlán, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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