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Outgoing Czech PM backs MP who doubted Romani Holocaust, says he has apologized and his words have been "misinterpreted"

7.2.2018 16:32
Andrej Babiš (PHOTO: Czech Television)
Andrej Babiš (PHOTO: Czech Television)

Outgoing Czech PM Andrej Babiš (ANO) says that he believes the chair of the SPD movement, Tomio Okamura, has already apologized for his remarks about the Protectorate-era concentration camp at Lety u Písku, a site of the genocide of the Roma during the Second World War. When asked today whether he supports removing Okamura from his post as vice-chair of the lower house, as the Christian Democrats propose, the PM said he considers Okamura's apology to have been sufficient.

The head of the SPD said last month that the camp at Lety had not been fenced and that people had been free to come and go from it. He later apologized for alleging the camp had no fence but went on to allege that it had not been guarded most of the time and that people had been free to move about inside it.

The Jewish Community of Prague and the Museum of Romani Culture criticized his remarks as Holocaust denial. The Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL) want him removed from his post as vice-chair of the lower house because of the remarks.

That plan is supported by the STAN and TOP 09 parties, as well as by some representatives of the Civic Democrats and Czech Social Democrats. "I saw Mr Okamura last night on TV and he claims this is a misinterpretation of his remarks,"  the PM said today.

"Basically he denied saying that and more or less also apologized. I was not not there when he said what he said, but on the basis of how he has expressed himself since, I believe it's enough," the PM said when asked whether he would support removing Okamura from his post.

Okamura asserted at a press conference yesterday that the SPD does not doubt that people suffered in the Protectorate-era camp at Lety u Písku. "The SPD movement does not doubt the objective, historical fact of the suffering of the people who passed through the labor and internment camp of Lety during the Second World War, " the SPD chair said.

"The planned murder of Jews, Slavs and what was then referred to as the Gypsy population was a component of the criminal plans of the Nazis for their so-called Final Solution to the racial question. That is an indubitable fact," he said.

The SPD, according to Okamura, objects to how the state is addressing the remembrance arrangements at the sites of the former camp. "We reject the secretive way in which the negotiations about the purchase of the farm for CZK 450 million that partially lies on the former territory of the camp, and we consider the approach to this matter to be a risk with respect to state expenditures and the overall property settlement regarding the site," he said.

Okamura labeled the objections that have been raised against him and other SPD politicians because of his remarks a media campaign and political competition. "The aim is to push the SPD to the fringe of politics and to prevent the SPD's direct and indirect participation in forming a Government," he said.

"It is no accident that this campaign has gained strength after the re-election of Miloš Zeman as President of the Czech Republic," Okamura said. "This campaign is meant to prevent the programmatic collaboration between the SPD, the President, and the ANO movement."

Babiš himself has previously faced criticism for his own remarks about the camp at Lety. In 2016, on a visit to a socially excluded locality in the North Bohemian town of Varnsdorf, a photojournalist for news server Aktuálně.cz overheard him say that it was a lie to say Lety had been a concentration camp.

"It was a labor camp. Whoever didn't work, bam! - he was there," Babiš is alleged to have said.

Babiš later apologized for his remarks and said they had been taken out of context. He then visited the camp along with then-Czech Culture Minister Daniel Herman (KDU-ČSL) and Czech Justice Minister Robert Pelikán (ANO).

ČTK, ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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