Activists from the Czech Republic and abroad met at Lety, South Bohemia, on Saturday, the site of a labour and later concentration camp where Roma were interned and died during WWII. They were aiming to keep pressure on the government to finally remove a pig farm at the site which has been an insult to the victims and their families for decades.
Past Czech governments and human rights ministers have frequently pledged to remove the pig farm at Lety and failed. Now, many are hoping that a deal can be reached at last to compensate the firm in question, AGPI, for the land and property so it can be closed. The Social Democrat-led government agreed to resolve the matter its road map to 2020, valuation of the property was commissioned, and talks are currently underway.
At the same time, the government has only a very limited shelf life remaining – some four months before the next lower house elections, leaving many worried the clock will run out before an agreement can be reached.
Benjamin Abtan, the head of EGAM (the European Grassroots Antiracist Movement) which organised Saturday’s event, said now is the time to keep the pressure on.
“We will be watching to make sure that the ones who form the next government take action. It has taken EGAM a lot of time to raise awareness, to convince political leaders, to mobilise Czech society. But now we feel the movement has gained steam and that there is huge pressure.
“The pressure comes because there is an important principle at stake: respect for the victims. It is important for Europe and especially the Czech Republic to address this shared history and for the Roma community today to at last have their dignity respected and for discrimination and social exclusion of Roma to end.”
The meeting in Lety on Saturday was attended by around 300 people from 15 countries; Czech Justice Minister Robert Pelikan also attended. He told the Czech News Agency that a memorial and nothing else, certainly not a pig farm, should stand at the site. The justice minister, as member of the ANO party, is one who could conceivably play a role in the next government which has been slated to win the autumn election to the lower house.
More than 1,300 Roma men, women and children were held at the camp at Lety: an estimated 327 of them died at the site, largely due to disease; more than 500 were sent on and died at the Auschwitz death camp in Poland. A small memorial site was opened in Lety in 2010.
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