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Czech Vice PM pays his respects at the Lety memorial to Romani Holocaust victims - but no Roma are invited

6.9.2016 12:45
Czech Vice Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (second from the left), Czech Culture Minister Daniel Herman (front right) and Czech Justice Minister Robert Pelikán (third from the left) visited the former concentration camp for Romani people at Lety by Písek on 6 September 2016. (PHOTO:  Czech News Agency)
Czech Vice Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (second from the left), Czech Culture Minister Daniel Herman (front right) and Czech Justice Minister Robert Pelikán (third from the left) visited the former concentration camp for Romani people at Lety by Písek on 6 September 2016. (PHOTO: Czech News Agency)

Czech Vice Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, the chair of the ANO movement, paid his respects today at the site of the former WWII-era concentration camp for Romani people at Lety in the Písek district and once again rejected allegations that he denied the Holocaust in remarks he made last week. He visited the site after a photojournalist for Aktuálně.cz stated last week that he overheard the Vice PM telling locals that it was a "lie" to call Lety a concentration camp.

Babiš apologized for the remarks and also promised funding for building a memorial at the site. He was accompanied on his visit to Lety today by Czech Culture Minister Daniel Herman (Christian Democrats) and Czech Justice Minister Robert Pelikán (ANO).

No Romani people were invited to meet the Vice PM at Lety, not even the chair of the Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust, Čeněk Růžička, who attempted to get a meeting. Babiš reiterated today that his words had been taken out of context and politicized.

"My aim [in Varnsdorf] was not to speak negatively. I have unequivocally expressed my position on the Holocaust by befriending Arnošt Lustig - we went to dinner together and I sponsored his books," the Vice PM said.

The current memorial to victims of the former camp at Lety is located very near a pig farm that covers the site of the former camp. The Government has failed to find a resolution to that situation for the last 18 years.

For the time being the Government has not allocated money for buying the farm from its current owners, having it demolished, and creating a place of reverence there instead. Babiš told the press today that he will not be addressing the question of the eventual purchase of the farm.

"[Czech Human Rights Minister] Dienstbier was tasked with tohat by the Government in March of this year, so I believe he will resolve it," the Vice PM said. "Politicians have been dealing with Lety for more than 18 years already, fr the time being without results. Yesterday evening I met with Jan Čech, vice-chair of the board of the AGPI company, which owns the farm at Lety. I've known him 25 years, we had a chat about it. However, it's not my task. Mr Dienstbier was tasked with this, so he should resolve it."

Czech Culture Minister Herman said a month ago that he believed the Government would manage to close the question of the pig farm at Lety by the end of its time in office. He indicated that a real option exists for raising money to buy the farm.

Nobody has calculated the price of the farm yet. Babiš said he has a certain idea of how much it might cost.

"I don't want to comment on that, however, because it's not my task to do so," the Vice PM, who is also the Finance Minister, said today. The three ministers also visited the pig farm today.

Herman said nobody discussed the further developments in the negotiations about the eventual sale during that visit. "We have been in negotiations since the spring and we have actually made more progress than ever before. However, this is a very sensitive topic, and therefore we don't want to release any more details," the Czech Culture Minister told the Czech News Agency.

The ministers toured the farm with vice-chair of the AGPI board Jan Čech. He repeated that he has not discussed a precise purchase price with anybody.

The owners do not yet have a specific idea about what the facility is worth. Yesterday the Government confirmed its determination to close the industrial pig farm at the remembrance site.

According to Dienstbier, the cabinet prefers the option of buying the farm to the option of building the company a new one elsewhere. AGPI's owners say they are open to selling and also willing to negotiate to exchange the farm for a different facility appropriate for the rearing of pigs.  

Babiš tours memorial without Romani input, Čeněk Růžička was not invited

Čeněk Růžička, chair of the Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust, wanted to visit the memorial at Lety together with Czech Finance Minister Andrej Babiš. In the end, however, he was not invited to join the group.

"I spoke twice with the assistant to Mr Babiš, but I was told that a closed group was heading there. I was promised a meeting with Andrej Babiš," Růžička told news server

Růžička does not like the fact that the Vice PM was accompanied on his visit to the Lety memorial by the director of the Lidice Memorial, which currently administers Lety, Milouš Červencl. "Andrej Babiš cannot have received objective information. That was not a good choice. Who else besides a member of the Romani community, specifically me, should have accompanied the Vice Premier?" Růžička said to news server

The camp at Lety was first created as a labor camp, but later during the Second World War served for the internment of Romani people, whom the German Nazi regime considered equivalent to Jewish people. Just like the Jews, the Roma interned at Lety were sent to the extermination camp at Auschwitz, where hundreds of them died.

ČTK, ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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