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SPEECH: US Ambassador Stephen King on the 2017 Alice Garrigue Masaryk Award

8.12.2017 15:20
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On the occasion of International Human Rights Day (10 December), US Ambassador Stephen King gave the Alice Garrigue Masaryk Award to the chair of the Committee for the Redress of the Romani Holocaust (VPORH), Čeněk Růžička, as his first official act in office. Romea.cz publishes his speech here in full.

VIDEO

Dobrý večer, dámy a pánové,

Good evening, and welcome to beautiful Petschek Villa. Thank you for coming tonight to recognize those who dedicate their careers to the advancement of human rights.

In three days, we will celebrate International Human Rights Day. December 10, 1948, was the day when the international community came together to sign the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Since 2004, the U.S. Embassy in Prague has marked the occasion of International Human Rights Day by recognizing individuals or organizations that have worked to advance human rights for people in the Czech Republic.

Please note: it is no coincidence that this event is my first official activity in the role of the Ambassador.

The award is named for a great Czech-American, Alice Garrigue Masaryk (GARE-ig MAHS-ar-ik), who was a dedicated social worker and founder of the Czech Red Cross. The daughter of President Tomas Garrigue Masaryk and Charlotta Garrigue Masaryk, Alice demonstrated courage while unjustly imprisoned by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. She also showed determination to achieve equal rights for women, and publicly declared her belief that a democracy truly concerned about the welfare of all people would be more stable economically and more humane politically.

This award is a tribute to these ideals, and to Alice’s personal commitment to human rights. The award also is a symbol of American and Czech joint concern for promoting and protecting human rights.

Now more than ever, it is crucial that the Czech Republic not waver from its long-standing commitment to these ideals, both at home and abroad.

Last year, we honored the NGO Czech Refugee Help for its dedication and commitment to helping people fleeing war-torn countries.

Other past recipients, some of whom are here tonight, have fought for equal rights for the Roma and LGBT communities, for free press, and for the human dignity of refugees. We are grateful for their work and inspired by their bravery. The Czech Republic is fortunate to have so many human rights advocates who put their principles into action.

Our recipient this year is no exception.

Cenek Ruzicka (CHEH-nyeck ROO-zitchka) is the recipient of the 2017 Alice G. Masaryk Award for his tireless advocacy for Roma Holocaust victims and his decades-long struggle for a dignified memorial on the site of the Lety concentration camp.

For more than 20 years, he has dedicated himself to advocacy on behalf of Roma formerly imprisoned in concentration camps. In particular, he has endeavored to commemorate the suffering of the Czech Roma who were interned at Lety .

Today is the 76th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the event that brought the United States into World War II. By that time, Lety was already an operating camp and shortly thereafter it held over one thousand Roma men, women, and children. Over 90 percent of Czech Roma died during World War II, many of whom were interned at Lety before they were sent on to Auschwitz. Under Communist rule, the land was sold and an industrial pig farm built on the site. Mr. Ruzicka led the effort for a dignified memorial at the site of the Lety camp, and through his work he educated the public about the history of Lety and the importance of respecting the memory of those who were imprisoned there.

In 2015 Mr. Ruzicka and his colleagues created a unique exhibition project called "Lety - Story of a Forgotten Genocide.” The exhibition raised awareness among legislators and the general public, and created a dialogue on the sensitive topic of Czech society coming to terms with the historical trauma of the Roma Holocaust. As a part of these education efforts, Mr. Ruzicka also regularly speaks to students about Roma history.

Mr. Ruzicka is the personification of the tireless fight to achieve dignity for victims of the Roma Holocaust. It is thanks to him and his activities, along with the hard work of so many other activists including Minister Herman and former Minister Dienstbier (DEENST-beer) that the current Czech government has finally, after more than 20 years, come to an agreement with the owners of the pig farm to remove it and build instead a dignified monument to the Roma victims who suffered and died at Lety.

Ladies and gentlemen, this year we present the Alice G. Masaryk Award to Cenek Ruzicka “for his tireless efforts for more than 20 years on behalf of the victims of the Romani Holocaust, and for his persistent advocacy for a dignified memorial on the site of the Lety concentration camp.

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