Memorial services have been taking place at the site of a former concentration camp in the town of Lety. This is the 13th year the Czech Republic has marked the Romany Holocaust. But the site in Lety, still borders a pig farm despite repeated calls by various groups for it to be closed down. Radio Prague’s Rosie Johnston joins us from Lety.
“We’re actually only half way through the day’s events. We are going in a couple of minutes to lay some wreaths at Mirovice, a nearby cemetery where many of the Romany who were interned here at Lety were actually buried. But so far we have had a service and we’ve also witnessed a laying of wreaths here at the Lety memorial. Džamila Stehlíková (Minister for Minorities and Human Rights) represented the government and laid a wreath; there was a representative of the president’s office and Petr Pithart was also there representing the Senate. Quite a few speeches also took place, but maybe the most bombastic one came from Čeněk Růžička who is the head of the Committee for the Compensation of the Romany Holocaust. In that speech, he voiced his frustration that it has been thirteen years since such services began being held in this place – thirteen years of calls for the pig farm next door to us at Lety to be moved. And still absolutely no action on that front. Another very strong speech came from Felix Kolber, who is the head of the International Auschwitz Committee and he called for the Romany Holocaust in the Czech Republic to be viewed as the kind of abomination that he personally believes it was. He said that he was in Auschwitz in the Romany family camp a couple of weeks after Romany families who were staying there were exterminated. He talked of the squalor and the sheer misery of that wing of Auschwitz and he really brought home the message that the Romany Holocaust was a recent and shocking chapter in this country’s and also in Central European history.”
So could you describe to us more generally what makes this particular location so significant in Czech history and in the current political debate as well?
“Lety is a former Romany concentration camp where, sources say, 327 people perished – most of those were children. A real thorny point is that while say Terezín had German guards, Lety was entirely run by Czechs – so that is why this makes it a kind of an uneasy aspect of this country’s history. But the most controversial and contentious thing is that now Lety, the site of the concentration camp is the site of a pig farm. Successive governments have discussed moving it and then decided not to move it, and then in 2005, the European Union gave a non-binding directive for the Czech Republic to move the farm saying that a pig farm was not a fitting monument to be on the site of the graves of the victims of the Romany Holocaust. Successive governments have discussed complying, but there have been various reasons given why they haven’t. The last Social Democrat government said that it would be too expensive to do so; the current government is saying that this would cause a vast amount of unemployment in the region. But I think that the pressure is mounting and all eyes are turning to the Czech Republic as it is going to head the EU in 2009 - and itself have to talk about human rights violations on the European stage.”