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June 22, 2018
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Norway Grants to partially finance memorial to Romani genocide victims in Czech Republic

14.2.2018 14:17
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Speaking at a conference yesterday in Prague, Norwegian Ambassador Siri Ellen Sletner said Norway Grants wants to be involved in building the memorial on the site of the former concentration camp at Lety u Písku that will ensure Holocaust victims who are Romani will finally have the dignified commemorative site they deserve. The pig farm now on the site was bought last year by the Czech Government and is being vacated.

Yesterday's Prague conference presented the activities and intentions of the newly-established European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture (ERIAC). The ambassador expressed appreciation for the Czech Government's decision, after 20 years of debate, to buy out the pig farm that was built in the 1970s on the site of the former concentration camp.

In addition to being a remembrance site, Sletner believes the memorial should be a basic element of support for Romani cultural heritage in the Czech Republic. The sale of the pig farm for CZK 450 million (EUR 18 million) will take effect tomorrow.

Demolishing the buildings, redevelopment of the land, and building a remembrance site will cost about another CZK 120 million (EUR 5 million). The director of the Museum of Romani Culture, Jana Horváthová, said today that the pig farm is currently being vacated and will then be demolished.

Jan Čech, vice-chair of the board of the AGPI company, which operates the pig farm, told the Czech News Agency today that the firm has not yet handed the facility over and that there are still animals there. The pigs should leave the farm, according to the plan, by the end of this month and during March the facility should be vacated in full.

The Museum is taking up the administration this year of two essential Holocaust memorials to Romani victims, Hodonín and Lety. The Hodonín u Kunštátu memorial has been operated to date by the National Pedagogical Museum.

Last year the Government approved transferring its administration from the Education Ministry to the Culture Ministry. The memorial there will now take a new form - while the National Pedagogical Museum has designed a new exhibition for it, the Czech Government Council for Romani Minority Affairs has criticized what has been produced in several respects.

The Council was bothered by the fact that originally the name of the remembrance site was meant to include the phrase "Holocaust of the Roma", which has been left out of the materials developed. The new center there was also planning to commemorate the fact that the same facility was also used as an internment center for displaced ethnic Germans and as a forced labor camp, but the Council asked that the "central subject" of the facility remain the history of the Romani people concentrated there.

Horváthová said today that criticism of the exhibition was also expressed by Romani survivors. In August the traditional commemorative ceremony at Hodonín will happen and the new form of the grounds should be temporarily open at that time.

The current symbolic memorial at Lety can already be visited today, including a hiking trail with placards about the history of the camp. "Yesterday the Museum [of Romani Culture] took over the so-called Little Lety, the area around the memorial designed by Zdenek Hůla and the replicas of three barracks - and by the end of March we are meant to take over the area of the pig farm, which will have been removed by then," the director said at yesterday's conference.

The Museum of Romani Culture does not want to determine what the future remembrance site at Lety will look like on its own. "We are interested in the opinions of the survivors, of experts, of Romani people, and of the public," she said yesterday.

"On the Museum's website we will open a public discussion and on 2 March there will be a round table in Prague where the form of the memorial will be discussed," the director said yesterday. The Museum of Romani Culture has, in recent days, joined the criticism of the head of the SPD party, Czech MP Tomio Okamura, who erroneously alleged last month that the camp at Lety had not been fenced and that people had been able to come and go from it freely.

The MP subsequently apologized for making that claim but went on to erroneously allege that nobody had guarded the camp most of the time and that people had been able to move about freely inside it. The Christian Democrats are proposing Okamura be dismissed as vice-chair of the lower house because of his remarks.

ČTK, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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In recent years, in connection with commemorations of the tragic fate of Romani people during the Second World War and the expansion of our awareness of the Holocaust and its Romani victims, a breakthrough event has been in the making. Apparently the most recent example of this in the Czech Republic is the state buyout of the pig farm located on the site of former so-called "Gypsy Camp" at Lety u Písku, which was preceded by years of relentless pressure on the highest state representatives by the relatives of the victims, activists, and experts.
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