Demolition of pig farm on Romani genocide site in Czech Republic could provide jobs for long-term unemployed
On Wednesday, 25 April yet another in the series of discussions on the future of the former camp at Lety u Písku that has been organized by the Museum of Romani Culture and the ROMEA organization was held. This time the discussion happened directly in the community of Lety u Písku in the local authority's auditorium and, as moderator Alica Sigmund Heráková said, it came "not just to the place about which there is discussion, but also to the local reality, the local residents, and the region where the changes related to building the memorial will have the most impact."
The event was opened with a minute of silence to honor the memory of the camp victims. There was great interest in the discussion, with more than 70 people in the audience for the very rich official program on offer.
Relatives of the camp victims were represented on the panel by Mr Jožka Miker, while others in the audience were Mr Zdeněk Daniel, Mr Jan Hauer, Mr Rudolf Murka and Mr Čeněk Růžička, chair of the Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust. The panel was joined for the first time by Czech Deputy Culture Minister René Schreier, who is responsible for the economic management and operations section there.
The Museum of Romani Culture is established by the Czech Culture Ministry. Czech MP Karel Schwarzenberg was originally scheduled to participate but could not do so for health reasons, although he did send a message to those assembled.
The very interesting findings of the archaeological survey that so far has just been undertaken on a part of the territory of the former camp that lies outside the grounds of the former industrial pig farm were presented by Pavel Vařeka of the Archaeology Department of West Bohemian University. Pavel Karous also gave a similarly inspiring presentation about memorials and monuments from the normalization era until the present in the Czech Republic.
Karous pointed out that since 1989 the City of Prague has held competitions for the design and production of public memorials that have not been transparent, and for the only two that were transparently organized, the winning designs have never been realized. He reiterated his hope, expressed during the first discussion about the Lety memorial at the Scouting Institute in Prague earlier this year, that a transparent architectural competition will be held for the Lety memorial and that its outcome will be respected.
Attention then turned to the audience, where the organizers were happy to see many local residents. The meeting was basically their first opportunity to join the discussion despite the fact that, as many of them mentioned, for years they have faced attention from both Czech and foreign activists and journalists that has not always been kind.
It was apparent that all in attendance had taken a long-term interest in the former camp at Lety and in current events, that they have specific questions and suggestions, and that they acknowledge that the Museum of Romani Culture is willing to meet with them about the issue. The questions covered all of the subjects that have previously been raised in the media and through online social networks.
The issues discussed were, naturally, the amount of money paid by the state to buy out the grounds of the pig farm, as well as the polemics about historians' terminology over whether the camp was a "labor camp" or a "concentration camp". An interesting contribution from the audience came from a Mr Sadílek, who presented the information that the parcel of land on which archaeologists and historians say the former "Gypsy Camp" once stood (lot number 995/13) was not bought by the AGPI firm from Lety municipality until 28 September 1999, when a different mayor was in charge.
Sadílek was hinting that the firm's move had been a calculation thanks to which it had increased the likelihood that the state would one day buy out the pig farm. This audience contribution and others demonstrated that the contemporary history of the grounds has largely gone uninvestigated and remains a challenge for researchers.
It is also worth mentioning a question from Romani activist Roman Slivka of České Budějovice, who asked about the opportunities for local firms and Romani workers to participate in the demolition of the farm and building of the memorial. He expressed the wish that unemployed Romani persons from the region might participate in that work.
Deputy Culture Minister Schreier promised that the social aspect of the project can indeed be taken into account when drawing up the terms of the competition and assessing them: "We will announce, probably at the end of January, an open selection procedure, we will apply the rules of the Government that were approved last year with respect to the conditions for qualification, and that's where we are able to define the social aspect, i.e., the group of persons who are disadvantaged on the labor market. We can do that in two different ways: That criterion will be one of the criteria, the social aspect, or directly during the award proceedings the condition will be that a percentage or some number of such persons must participate in this public tender. That means the competition will be opened such that we design the parameters of the technical and qualification conditions with an emphasis on the social aspect."
The third in the series of discussions about Lety being organized by ROMEA, o.ps., will be a collaboration with the Museum of Romani Culture and the Prague Forum for Romani Histories and will take place on Monday, 21 May at 18:00 at Kampus Hybernská in Prague. That discussion will be related not just to Lety, but to the entire Czechoslovak region, and panelists will focus on historical research into the Holocaust and its Romani victims and how such work overlaps with activism and commemoration.
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