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Romani activists tell Czech TV the pig farm at Lety must go

Prague/Lety by Písek, 10.7.2012 23:27, (ROMEA)

Yesterday's "News and Commentary" (Události komentáře) program on Czech Television discussed the topic of the former concentration camp at Lety by Písek. The Government of Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas will not be acquiring the pig farm located there in order to demolish it any time soon, as the PM claims the state budget does not have enough money available. Speaking yesterday at a commemoration of the victims of the Romani Holocaust at Lety, the PM confirmed once again that the state will be leaving the farm where it is. Representatives of several Romani organizations distanced themselves from yesterday's ceremony.

Why did Romani people boycott yesterday's commemoration of Romani suffering? Why did the Prime Minister travel to Lety today when the relatives of the victims held a commemorative ceremony in May? Why is the Czech Government unable to put together the funds to acquire and demolish the pig farm? Those topics were discussed by the chair of the Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust, (Výbor pro odškodnění romského holocaustu - VPORH), Čeněk Růžička, and by David Beňák, a member of the Czech Government Inter-ministerial Commission for Romani Community Affairs. Video of the discussion (in Czech only) can be seen online (starting at minute 16) at http://www.ceskatelevize.cz/porady/1096898594-udalosti-komentare/212411000370709/video/ .

Růžička said the Romani boycott of yesterday's event should not be considered an unnecessary exacerbation of the situation. "We are involved in a particular dispute with the Lidice Memorial. It concerns the fact that the victims' bereaved have been manipulated and scammed," said Růžička.

Růžička said the consent of the VPORH was necessary for the Lidice Memorial to be able to administer the memorial at Lety by Písek. Prior to the Government making its final decision on the matter, the VPORH told Lidice that it would only give its consent to their administration under certain conditions.

"We agreed to a collaboration that consisted, for example, of agreeing that the labor of the additions to the memorial would be done by Romani people living in the region. You know what Romani unemployment is like there. We also had a gentleman's agreement that the memorial would support the presentation of our exhibition about Lety called 'A Vanished World' [ Zaniklý svět]. We also agreed that the victims' bereaved would continue to organize the commemorations. After the Government decided to put the Lidice Memorial in charge, its management did an about-face and has not fulfilled a single part of our agreement.... We will not cooperate with people who deceive us. We have our pride," Růžička said.

David Beňák sees the connection between Lety and the Lidice Memorial as consisting in the fact that both memorials commemorate suffering during the Second World War. "The Lidice Memorial is professionally managed, so I understand there could be pragmatic reasons for it," Beňák answered when asked why the Government had decided to administer the Lety memorial site in this way.

Responding to Mr Růžička's arguments that the Lidice Memorial management had not upheld what was agreed, Beňák said: "I must say, with regret, that it is a bit sad to hear what Mr Růžička has just said. I was not present when those agreements were allegedly made, so it's hard for me to say. If that really is what has happened, I am sorry to hear it."

However, Beňák does not consider the management aspect of the Lety memorial to be the most fundamental, saying he considers the first priority to be the fact that a pig farm remains in place on the territory of the former camp: "Even though several governments have taken an interest in this, the pig farm has never been removed. Today the Prime Minister made a very clear statement about it. On the one hand, as a member of the Commission which Mr Nečas chairs, I appreciate his position, but on the other hand the question of whether the money exists is not a question of numbers, but of political decisions."

Beňák said the Inter-ministerial Commission does not like the fact that the pig farm remains intact so close to the memorial site and will discuss the issue in future: "If I get the opportunity, there is no doubt that I will open this topic again. In the past there were projects all ready to go on this issue and an idea for financing it...."

Růžička, who has spent more than a decade advocating removal of the pig farm, expressed agreement with Beňák: "Take a look at how today's commemoration went. You are well aware that the Lety concentration camp has two burial sites. The director of the Lidice Memorial accompanied the Prime Minister only to the burial site near the pig farm, even though he knows that another burial site is located in the nearby town of Mirovice, where children, mostly, were laid to rest. That is clear proof of how the Lidice Memorial feels about this whole matter - this is the organization administering Lety. If we had brought the Prime Minister to the memorial sites, such a mistake would never have been made, and he would have received all of the information relevant to commemorating them."

František Kostlán, Gwendolyn Albert, František Kostlán, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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