Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas on Monday attended a commemorative ceremony for the victims of the Romany Holocaust. At the site of a former concentration camp in Lety, Mr Nečas admitted the Czech responsibility for the murder of over 5,000 Romanies during the war. But the official event sparked controversy among the Romany community which says the government should first make sure the victims were giving a dignified memorial.
Petr Nečas became on Monday the first Czech prime minister to pay tribute to victims of the Romany Holocaust at the former concentration camp in Lety, in southern Bohemia. More than 1,300 Romanies were held prisoners in the camp between 1942 and 1943. Over 300 Romanies died there while others were transported to Nazi extermination camps. In total, some 5,500 Czech Romanies were killed during the war. In his speech, the prime minister said that Czechs also played a part in the Romany Holocaust.
“Unlike those Romanies who perished in Auschwitz, the victims here died mainly of typhoid and dysentery, of hunger and exhaustion, as a result of conditions imposed on them by the Nazis.
“But we should also openly admit that these conditions were imposed on them by the local authorities and police, that is, by Czechs. That should be the main lesson for us – we must never allow racial prejudices to dominate our lives.”
For the last 17 years, commemorative events at Lety have been held on May 15. This year, dozens of Romanies including relatives of the survivors came to the memorial service, as well as several ambassadors and cultural dignitaries - but with a notable absence of top level officials. But Prime Minister Nečas chose July 9 to pay tribute to the Romany victims at Lety, 70 years after police in the occupied Czech lands began confining Romanies in concentration camps.
However, several Romany groups including the Committee for the Redress of the Romany Holocaust called for a boycott of the event, arguing the government should first relocate a large pig farm that was established on the site of the camp in the 1970s, and erect a dignified memorial honouring the victims. Historian and human rights activist Markus Pape says the government’s reluctance to pay for the farm’s relocation is a symbol of the society’s negative attitude towards Romanies.
“This represents the general attitude towards Romanies as second-class citizens whose victims do not deserve such care and dignified memorials as others. I’m sad to say this but we know there are problems with anti-Romany discrimination in the fields of education, housing, employment, and so on. And this seems to be another aspect of this problem”.
Some expected Prime Minister Nečas to address the issue in his speech but were disappointed to hear that the government has no plans to remove the farm from the site of the former concentration camp. After the ceremony, Prime Minister Nečas said he was not going make empty promises, noting that the strained state budget could not pay for the removal of the farm.