Current Affairs EP urges Prague to remove pig farm from the site of a WWII concentration camp

29-04-2005 15:22 | Daniela Lazarová, Jan Velinger

The European Parliament on Thursday passed a resolution condemning the discrimination of Romanies on the European continent. It called on EU governments to take active steps to improve the position of Romanies, who make up Europe's largest single ethnic minority. The Czech government in particular was urged to remove as fast as possible a large pig farm at Lety, in south Bohemia, the site of a concentration camp for Roma during the Second World War.

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The pig farm in LetyThe pig farm in Lety Lety is a name that older Romanies recall with grief. Although present day visitors to Lety will see only a pig farm, for the Roma it is a mass graveyard. A total of 1,256 Romani men, women and children were interned there in inhumane conditions. Over three hundred are thought to have died just in one typhus epidemic. Those who survived were sent to Auschwitz, Treblinka and other extermination camps. Historians are divided over what actually happened at Lety between 1942 and 1945 but there is no doubt that for Czechs the camp raises a number of uncomfortable questions. The camp, where more than half of the Roma population in the Czech lands were held, was staffed solely by Czech guards and was initially set up by the Czech puppet government early in the Nazi occupation.

Miloslav RansdorfMiloslav Ransdorf The pig farm was erected at the site 30 years later under the communist regime and although the matter was repeatedly brought up after the 1989 revolution, post-communist governments have so far failed to get the farm relocated, mainly because it would cost millions of crowns.

Czech politicians themselves remain divided over the issue. Czech MEP Miloslav Ransdorf, a Communist party deputy, claims that what happened in Lety is not a crime on the same level as the genocide in the camps in Poland, Germany and Austria. He says that although there are problems to be solved in helping to integrate the Roma minority, Lety is not one of them.

"Bringing up the Lety camp was a provocation. There was no concentration camp in the real sense of the word in Lety, there were no gas chambers in Lety. So the fact that Mr. Horacek from the Greens introduced this item into the debate of the European parliament was a provocation, from my point of view."

Roma concentration camp in LetyRoma concentration camp in Lety The right wing Civic Democratic Party also voted against the EP resolution. When the Civic Democratic Party was in government it built a memorial to Roma camp victims close to the farm, in a vain effort to close that sensitive chapter of the country's history.

The ruling Social Democrats came closest to relocating the pig farm a few years ago but in the end they decided that the 100 million crowns or 4 million dollars this would cost would be put to better use serving the needs of the Roma minority in the present day. However at Thursday's vote in the European Parliament Czech Social Democrat MEPs raised their hands in favour of the resolution calling for the farm to be removed.

So once again the Czech Republic is left having to consider whether recognizing the wrongs of the past may not be the first step to dealing with the wrongs of the present.

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