Czech Republic: Pig farm on Holocaust site allegorized in parade
On 17 November, the Czech state holiday celebrating democracy and freedom, the Slave of Race (Otrokem Rasy) initiative participated in an event in Prague called the Velvet Fair (Sametové posvícení). Our particular topic was the Romani Holocaust at Lety by Písek and our contribution was appropriately called "SOMETHING STINKS HERE".
At this satirical carnival of masked allegorical figures our topic stood out for its authenticity, its rawness, and the degree to which the concept was elaborated. The idea of the Velvet Fair was brought to the Czech Republic from Basel by Olga Cieslarová, a doctoral student at the Academy of Performing Arts (DAMU) in Prague.
Czechs have never been able to deny their weakness for political humor and satire, which is why the Velvet Fair has now taken place for a second year in a row here. Each of the initiatives participating in the carnival was called a "crew", and each was tasked with bringing hot-button social topics to life in a creative, playful way.
This year the carnival featured a total of 11 such crews: Nadace Via (The Via Foundation), Člověk v tísni (People in Need), Tosara, Fórum Věda žije! (the Science Lives! Forum), Asistence, Greenpeace Czech Republic, Vyšší hrádek, Hnutí za aktivní mateřství (the Active Motherhood Movement), Studentský spolek FHS UK (the Student Club of the Faculty of Humanities, Charles University), Komunita pro lidský rozvoj (Community for Human Development), Nadace Brücke/Most (The Bridge Foundation), Divadlo na Kocourkách (Tomcat Theater Company) and the Slave of Race initiative. The carnival as a whole was organized by the FOR_UM platform and the rules were clear: Everyone had to wear a mask about current affairs in society and include plenty of humor and hyperbole!
Masks, music and a pig burned in effigy
We saw 250 masked figures accompanied by allegorical floats and music pass through the center of Prague. Roughly 1 000 spectators watched the carnival circle past them.
Each crew collaborated with a professional artist on its own concept and music. Slave of Race worked with the sculptor Josefína Jonášová-Šimková, who designed a large pig whose nose was sealed shut with a clothespin and masks depicting deceased Romani people.
Our crew was led by figures dressed in black wearing white masks with question marks on them. They were pushing a carriage carrying a sound system broadcasting a political speech accompanied by the sound of pigs grunting and squealing.
These figures represented our "unnamed obligation" and the fact that there is no answer to the question: "Who is responsible for the fact that pigs are being raised on a Romani Holocaust site?" Immediately following this "unnamed obligation" came the figures of "deceased Romani people".
Some of these figures played musical instruments and their singing was was also amplified by the sound system, alternating with the grunting and the speech. We heard a drum set the pace accompanied by guitar and violin.
The song "Ajgele Roma", which talks about Romani people traveling the world in search of cheer and happiness, rose like hope above these depictions of suffering. The inclusion of this song, which was not composed by Czech Roma, also added a more general international aspect to the allegory.
It must never be forgotten that fascism and its effect on the Romani nation have significantly impacted other European countries. The problem of the concentration camp at Lety is not just a problem of the Czech Republic, but has a Europe-wide dimension.
Ham from Lety? No thanks
The last two Romani figures in the parade carried a pig in effigy on their shoulders, while others offered the spectators packaged ham on paper plates reading "Our meat for your plates". Most of the passers-by politely refused with comments like "Ham from Lety? No thanks."
As one viewer of the procession remarked, "It was a very provocative spectacle which clearly showed that something is not right here. It reflected the burden of injustice, the absurdity of the existence of a pig farm on a place where such murder was committed, and also an admirable sense of the joy of life, which Romani people have preserved despite centuries of oppression."
Speaking as the person who designed the concept, I can add that the composition of this spectacle was stimulating, its morbidity was provocative, and it made appropriate use of theatrical shortcuts to express the insanity of the entire scandal. As the masks passed through Kampa Park, spectators were also able to witness the ritual of burning the pig in effigy.
The fire, symbolizing transformation, destroyed the paper exterior, but the skeleton of the pig remained, just as the stench of the pig farm is still present at the sites of the small temporary monument at Lety. A dignified memorial site has not been completed there yet.
What is left of the pig is now standing in front of the monument to 17 November on National Avenue. Removable figures of post-war PMs are line his backbone and the masks of the "deceased Roma" are lying in front of his snout.
Throwing down the gauntlet
Today, when the fascisization of society is gaining strength and becoming a real danger to us once more, we must stop trampling on Romani people and instead uphold their dignity. The relationship of the governmental and non-governmental actors to the pig farm at Lety is a direct reflection of the everyday relationship of the broader society to its Romani members.
As long as a pig farm stands on a Romani Holocaust site, we should not be surprised when some Czechs today give the Nazi salute in front of Romani homes, transformed into human beings full of hatred and incomprehension under the leadership of neo-Fascist fanatics. The Lety pig farm is a gauntlet thrown into the main square of Czech society, which must now take it up!
Resolving this issue is an opportunity for all of society to face up to this tortured history with bravery and dignity. Once it is resolved, we will be able to turn over a new leaf on questions of coexistence in this country.
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- Květoslava Podhradská: Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution as seen by an ordinary Romani woman
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- Documentary film LETY captures the despair and the hopes of those who fought to remove the industrial pig farm from the site of the former concentration camp for Roma
- Czech Republic's Museum of Romani Culture announces competition to design the memorial at the site of the former concentration camp for Romani people at Lety
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