Czech Holocaust commemoration will appeal against anti-Semitism and extremism - Romani victims forgotten?
This coming Monday, Prague Castle will be the venue for an international forum that aims to draw attention to rising anti-Semitism and extremism in the world and to seek solutions to the most burning problems linked to religious intolerance; it will be attended by 30 heads of national legislatures from around the world as well as 500 additional guests. The conference is part of a two-day commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp and the end of the Holocaust.
On Tuesday a commemorative ceremony will be held at Terezín. The sites where it will be held are anticipating extensive security measures involving hundreds of Czech Police officers.
Some pro-Romani and Romani activists are criticizing the fact that Tuesday's commemoration ceremony at Terezín and Monday's conference are only about the Jewish victims of the Holocaust and that the Romani victims are being completely forgotten. According to the European Jewish Congress (EJC), the main organizer of the forum, the main focus of the event is more topical and urgent than ever after the recent bloody attacks in France.
"Attacks targeting European Jews are currently common, deadly and unrelenting. What is worse, however, is that various communities, media outlets and public officials around Europe are beginning to justify them. We must dedicate due attention to this challenge and face it," ECJ President Moshe Kantor said.
Czech Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD) said "the past is reaching out to touch what is going on around us." Speaking to the Czech News Agency, he said: "Unfortunately, we are witnessing in Europe today what may be a similar ostracizing of a certain group of people. It is as if the mechanisms that launched the Holocaust have been set in motion again. Finding a way to face evil while not increasing hatred is our difficult task today."
On Monday those attending the "Let My People Live!" forum will attempt to respond to this challenge; the event will open with speeches by Kantor, Czech PM Bohuslav Sobotka (ČSSD), and the chairs of both houses of the Czech Parliament. Three panel discussions will then follow.
American historian Timothy Snyder and French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy will discuss the role of the media in influencing the public's judgments and opinions about extremism. Legislative measures against intolerance will also be discussed by legal experts such as the American lawyer Alan Dershowitz and EU Justice Commissioner Věra Jourová.
The role of politicians will then be debated by the heads of legislatures from the Czech Republic, Israel, Romania and Turkey. That first day of the commemoration will finally culminate in a grand reception at Prague's Municipal House for 500 invitees moderated by the Oscar-winning British actor Ben Kingsley, where speeches will be made by Czech President Miloš Zeman, the First Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, and Czech Foreign Minister Zaorálek.
Karel Holomek: Romani victims of the Holocaust are being neglected
Karel Holomek, the chair of the Romani Society of Moravia (Společenství Romů na Moravě) has noted that Moshe Kantor, the President of the EJC, is a Russian oligarch. "It is appropriate to mention that most of the cost of the conference will be covered by him. That is certainly worth appreciating, even though in other respects we shouldn't be cheering about it at any cost," Holomek posted to his blog, where he primarily criticized the neglect of Romani victims of the Holocaust by those preparing the conference.
"The entire event is dedicated - and I hasten to add, completely justifiably - only to Jewish victims, of whom there were so many that their losses cannot be compared with anyone else's. There were, of course, also other victims who died for exactly the same reasons the Jewish victims did, for example, Romani victims. There is not one word mentioned about that in the entire conference preparations! Who are the 'people' mentioned in the conference's name supposed to be?" Holomek asked.
Holomek then reminds his readers of the shameful pig farm that now occupies the site of the former "gypsy camp" at Lety by Písek. "I understand rather well what a bitter pill it might be for the Czech Government, on this occasion, to hear mention of the 'gypsy camp' at Lety and the pig farm that is there now. Sticking our head in the sand, however, will not rid us of this problem. In this case, I consider it much more inappropriate that the Roma are not being considered part of the 'people'," he said.
Terezín ceremony to also lack Romani victims of the Holocaust?
On Tuesday, the day on which the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz falls, the heads of national legislatures will gather in closed session to harmonize the forum's message to the global public. According to the EJC, their joint statement should declare zero tolerance for criminal activity motivated by intolerance.
After that, Zeman will give a speech at Prague Castle, as will his Bulgarian counterpart, Rosen Plevneliev, the chair of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, and other eminent guests. The speeches will end with a European minute of silence, which will be joined by those gathering at Auschwitz and at another Nazi death camp site, Bergen-Belsen.
That afternoon, the commemorative ceremony at Terezín will be attended by the chair of the Czech lower house, Jana Hamáčka (ČSSD), Ben Kingsley, and more than 90 Czech Holocaust survivors to honor the memory of the victims of the Nazi murder of the Jews. Six million Jewish people lost their lives during the Second World War, more than a million of whom died at Auschwitz, where on Tuesday afternoon there will also be a commemorative ceremony attended by leading European politicians and survivors.
The Czech delegation to the anniversary in Poland will be led by Prime Minister Sobotka. The Presidents of Austria, France, Germany and Poland will also be there and will not attend the Czech event.
Slovak President Andrej Kiska will lay a wreath with Zeman at Terezín on Monday and then attend the ceremony at Auschwitz the next day. Neither of the highest representatives of the victorious powers in the Second World War, Russian President Vladimir Putin or US President Barack Obama, will attend the Czech event.
Russia will be represented at the Czech event by the Vice-Chair of its upper house, Ilyas Umakhanov. Lastly, the Konexe association is planning to go to Terezín on Tuesday to commemorate the Romani victims of the Holocaust as well there.
"Not just the commemorative ceremony at Terezín, but the entire atmosphere around it does not assure us that the Romani people who were murdered will also be remembered in a dignified way," Miroslav Brož of the Konexe organization told news server Romea.cz. "For example, Czech Television is preparing to broadcast a whole slate of films and other programs to mark the anniversary, including programs about the Czech resistance and about Jewish people, but not one program is about Romani people."
On its Facebook profile, the Konexe association is criticizing officials of the Terezín municipal authority, alleging that they are placing absurd bureaucratic obstacles in the way of their organizing their own commemorative ceremony. "As a result of this pressure from local officials and politicians we are stopping, from our end, our heretofore helpful communication with the Terezín municipal authority. Our assembly honoring the memories of the Romani victims of the Holocaust will take place as a religious gathering. Such gatherings are not subject to the provisions of the law on assembly and do not require any 'permission' to be held. This is not unfairness on our part, we are not taking advantage of a loophole in the law - from the very beginning we always counted on a prayer for the souls of the murdered Roma to be the main component of our assembly's program. There will be a parson at our gathering," Konexe posted to its Facebook profile.
Romani people were among the various groups to fall victim to the Nazi's policy of slaughter. The number of Romani victims is customarily estimated at between 300 000 and 500 000, but some historians say there may have been more than one million Romani victims of the Holocaust; only 10 % of the Roma living in the Czech lands survived the Nazi terror.
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