Czech Republic: Romani organizations call for boycott of Monday's Lety ceremony
Seven Romani associations and the Equal Opportunities Party (Strana rovných příležitostí - SRP) are calling on Romani people to boycott Monday's commemorative ceremony at the site of a World War II-era camp for Romani people at Lety by Písek. The ceremony is being organized by the Lidice Memorial (Památník Lidice) and will feature a speech by Czech PM Petr Nečas. It is the second commemoration to be held at Lety this year.
The first commemorative ceremony this year was held in May by the survivors of the camp and the victims' bereaved and was attended by many Romani people. The Prime Minister did not address that ceremony. Čeněk Růžička, head of the Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust in the Czech Republic (Výbor pro odškodnění romského holokaustu v ČR - VPORH v ČR) and vice-chair of the SRP, said today that if the Czech Government wants to honor Romani victims, it should arrange for the acquisition and dismantling of the pig farm that currently stands on the site of the former concentration camp at Lety.
The authors of the declaration calling for a boycott are bothered by the fact that Monday's gathering to honor the Romani victims of Lety has been organized by the Lidice Memorial (Památník Lidice). Růžička believes that particular organization does not have enough experience, sensitivity or understanding to organize a Romani commemoration ceremony. "We don't want a ceremony in the style of the one held at Lidice, with military music. There is no need to organize a 'competing', governmental commemoration of the catastrophe at Lety," the call for the boycott reads. Růžička said the declaration represents the opinion of several Romani associations.
The May commemorative ceremony at Lety was organized by relatives of those who perished at the camp as well as survivors and was attended by ambassadors, clergy, and Jewish representatives. "Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková attended on behalf of the Czech Government. Only one senator and one MP attended on behalf of Parliament," Růžička said.
Human rights activist Markus Pape said today that "the former prisoners of the concentration camp at Lety by Písek and their bereaved around the entire country have been waiting for more than 60 years" for a high governmental official to make a statement about the Lety camp. Pape also said Prime Minister Nečas decided to make his statement this coming Monday morning without ever contacting any of the bereaved. "Compared to other places where Czech victims suffered similar fates as the people at Lety or Lidice did, the Government's procedure is irregular. That decision prompts other, unpleasant questions," he said.
Růžička said today that the main reason he and other Romani groups are calling for a boycott of Monday's commemoration is their dissatisfaction with the fact that the Lidice Memorial is organizing it. Růžička had previously stated that pressure had been put on him to cancel VPORH's May commemoration and to turn the organization of the annual ceremony over to the Lidice Memorial, which now operates the Lety Memorial. Milouš Červencl, director of the Lidice Memorial, said previously that VPORH had never been put under any such pressure and that cooperation with Mr Růžička has been poor from the beginning. News server Romea.cz publishes the call for the boycott in full translation below.
Call to all Romani people: Boycott the 9 July commemorative ceremony at Lety
On Monday, 9 July, near the former site of the Romani concentration camp at Lety, a commemoration organized by the Lidice Memorial will take place. The main speech at the ceremony will be given by Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas.
This gathering is taking place not quite two months after the bereaved and survivors of the Lety concentration camp organized their own commemoration. That gathering was attended by many Romani people, by the direct relatives of victims of the camp, by a large number of ambassadors of foreign states, by church clergy, and by members of the Jewish community. Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková attended on behalf of the Czech Government. Only one senator and one MP attended on behalf of Parliament.
At the gathering organized by those related to the victims of Lety, it is customary for speakers to make realistic assessments sharply criticizing the current state of affairs regarding how the so-called "Romani issue" is being addressed in this country. The occasion has been used to discuss the segregation of Romani children into the "special schools", the forced sterilization of Romani women, anti-Romani marches, the racist rhetoric of politicians seated in Parliament, and the misappropriation of funding intended to assist Romani people. This all usually takes place in the presence of foreign ambassadors, outside the walls of the industrial pig farm that now stands on the site of the former concentration camp.
The Government evidently does not like the commemorations organized by Romani people themselves and has therefore "transferred" the cultural monument at Lety to the management of the Lidice Memorial. That organization takes care of the sites where Czechs were murdered during the war and the memorials to them in the villages of Lidice and Ležáky. We are of the opinion that despite its declared efforts, the Lidice Memorial does not have enough experience, sensitivity or understanding to organize a Romani commemoration ceremony. The bereaved and the survivors do not want the former concentration camp site at Lety to be administered by the Lidice Memorial, for reasons which are already known. We don't want a ceremony in the style of the one held at Lidice, with military music. There is no need to organize a "competing", governmental commemoration of the catastrophe at Lety.
If Prime Minister Petr Nečas wants to honor the memory of the victims of the concentration camp at Lety, he should do it by instructing the Government to acquire and dismantle the pig farm that now covers the places where Romani children perished. He can also end the segregation of Romani children into the "special schools". He can redress the property confiscated from Romani people in the Czech lands during Nazism. He can redress the victims of the sterilization program. As Prime Minister, he can take a stand against the racist rhetoric used by his fellow party members and coalition partners. There is a great deal he can do to aid Romani people. Should the Prime Minister come forward with measures such as these, which will improve the situation of the Romani minority in the Czech Republic, then Romani people will sincerely welcome him to join them at Lety on 13 May.
Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust in the Czech Republic (Výbor pro odškodnění romského holocaustu v ČR)
Equal Opportunities Party (Strana rovných příležitostí)
FORUM CZ, o.s.
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