Saturday, July 14, 2012


A VISIT by the Czech prime minister this week to a Roma Holocaust site turned into a pig farm has rekindled outrage among Czech Roma at the state's failure to shut it down.   


PHOTO A visit by the Czech prime minister Petr Necas to a Roma Holocaust site turned into a pig farm has reignited anger. Picture: AP Source: AP

Between 1940-43, Nazi Germany and its Czech collaborators imprisoned close to 1300 Czech Roma at the Lety camp, about 70 kilometres south of the capital Prague.

Alongside European Jews, the continent's smaller Roma minority was also a target of Nazi genocide during World War II.

Some 327 Roma, including 241 children, died at the camp staffed by an ethnic Czech commander and guards, while more than 500 were sent to Nazi Germany's infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in occupied southern Poland.

In 1972-76, Communists ruling the former Czechoslovakia thought nothing of building a pig farm on the site, subsequently taken over by a private company after regime's collapse in 1989.
Tensions between Czech Roma and authorities have flared over the sensitive issue for well over a decade, with the deeply marginalised Czech minority insisting the state purchase the farm, tear it down and build a fitting memorial.

The European Parliament also urged Prague to remove it in 2005 and again in 2008, but local Roma insist Czech politicians are loathe to tackle the issue due to deep social prejudices across the republic against their community.

"The (Roma) minority ranks permanently among those perceived as the worst and most problematic, which is reflected in attitudes of the politicians," Roma journalist Jarmila Balazova said.
Bitter Roma boycotted memorial ceremonies at the site on Monday with right-wing Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas.

"Our primary goal is to see the pig farm removed from the place where our people died because of their race," said Cenek Ruzicka, head of an action committee on the Roma Holocaust.

"You won't find an absurd thing like that anywhere in the world. People don't build pig farms in such places," he fumed, while pointing to a string of empty promises made by successive Czech governments to settle the issue.

Late Czech president Vaclav Havel unveiled a Roma memorial in Lety in 1995, but Czech leaders have since tiptoed around the site until Mr Necas's recent visit, making him the first leader to go there in 17 years.

While Mr Necas slammed what happened to Roma at Lety as genocide, he insisted there was no cash to buy the pig farm.

According to Mr Ruzicka, 300-500 million koruna ($14.5-24 million) would be enough to purchase and tear it down or to build another elsewhere, but the associated political risk would be high.
"Of course politicians know any government seeking to remove it (the farm), will fail in the next elections. The sum is unacceptable for the public," Mr Ruzicka said, insisting no action was taken on a Roma proposal that a long-term government fund be created to save-up for a buyout.

Jiri Leskovec, head of the Agpi company that runs the pig farm, alleges it was built on a green field immediately adjacent to the former concentration camp which was razed at the end of the war.
Historians, however, contend the two sites overlap.

Now with 13,000 pigs and a staff of 12, the farm was originally built at the camp site during the 1970s by a communist state-run company that was privatised as Agpi after the 1989 transition to democracy and capitalism.

"We're terribly sorry we have to remind people of this obvious truth, and of the historic context - that our people died there under supervision from Czech guards," Mr Ruzicka said.

Of the 9500 Czech Roma registered before World War II, fewer than 600 returned home after the Holocaust.

An EU country of 10.5 million, the Czech Republic's Roma community is currently estimated to number between 250,000 and 300,000.

Of the roughly one million Roma who lived in Europe prior to WWII, historians believe the Nazis exterminated over half.

Today, it is estimated that over eight million Roma live in Europe.

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