Czech Republic: Protest against pig farm on Roma Holocaust site blocks highway
For five days, activists have been blockading access to the pig farm at Lety by Písek. They object to the fact that the farm is standing on the site of a former forced labor camp for Romani people.
On Friday a commemorative ceremony took place and activists also blockaded the highway that leads past the pig farm. They have called this Saturday and Sunday the Weekend of Solidarity.
During Friday several activists blockaded feed trucks trying to access the pig farm complex. Activists used chains to close and lock the access gates more than once during the blockade.
On Friday afternoon, two women who lost family members during the Roma Holocaust laid flowers at the pig farm gates and several activists commemorated the Romani uprising in the Auschwitz death camp 70 years ago. "We are monitoring the situation and prepared to intervene if need be," Jiří Matzner, spokesperson for the South Bohemian Regional Police, told the daily Písecký deník on Friday.
"We didn't want to escalate it, they said they would be there until Friday and if they don't damage anything we'll let it be. However, if it lasts longer, we will begin to seriously address it with the police," Jan Čech, first vice-chair of the board of the AGPI company, which owns the farm, told the daily.
At around 17:00, activists took the radical step of blockading Highway 19, which leads past the pig farm to the town of Tábor. "In the beginning the cars stopped and stayed in the lane, and while the activists waited for police to arrive, they made the mistake of starting to explain to the drivers the reason for their presence, which is that they disagree with there being a pig farm on the site of Romani genocide. All hell broke loose, drivers began aggressively accelerating directly into the activists, one of whom was scooped up onto the hood of a car. The presence of cameras did nothing to deter them from their aggression. The activists, in fear for their lives, ended their action and returned to the pig farm gates," the activists have posted on Facebook.
As part of what activists are calling the Weekend of Solidarity there will be a guided tour of the hiking path that marks the "Death Trail" once walked by the prisoners of the Lety camp. In the evening there will be a screening of a Hungarian film, "It's Only the Wind", about a present-day series of murderous attacks by neo-Nazis on Romani families there, as well as a documentary film about Lety.
On Sunday at 14:00, Romani Studies student Michal Mižigár will give a lecture about Romani people during the Nazi era. The weekend will also feature periodic readings of testimonies by prisoners who survived and those who lost loved ones at Lety.
The activists' demands were previously stated by Miroslav Brož of the Konexe association. "Our demands are the immediate closure of the pig farm, the removal of the pigs, demolition of the buildings and cleanup of the pig excrement on the site. Then we want a dignified memorial to the victims of the Holocaust built here, but we aren't seeking any money for that, we will arrange it ourselves if they just prepare the site for us," Brož said.
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 it, 327 of whom perished there and more than 500 of whom were transported to Auschwitz.
After the war, fewer than 600 Romani concentration camp prisoners returned to Bohemia and Moravia. According to estimates, the Nazis murdered 90 % of the Czech Roma.
The remembrance site at Lety was made publicly accessible in 2010. It is located on the edge of a mature forest and can be reached by an asphalted road.
The remembrance site features a model of the camp and a mockup of one of its barracks. The state, through the Lidice Memorial (Památník Lidice), spends CZK 1 mlllion annually on maintaining the site, according to Lidice Memorial director Milouš Červencl.
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