A twenty-year-long futile drive to buyout a pig farm standing on the site of the former Roma concentration camp in Lety, south Bohemia has received fresh impetus from an unexpected quarter. ANO leader Andrej Babiš who last week insulted the memory of the hundreds of Romanies who died there in inhumane conditions or were sent to their death in Auschwitz, has pledged to visit the site, bow to their memory and find the money needed to buyout the farm and build a dignified memorial.
On a visit to a socially excluded locality with prevailing Roma inhabitants in Varnsdorf, North Bohemia, ANO leader and Finance Minister Andrej Babiš attempted to win support in the upcoming regional elections by addressing one of his favourite topics – work. And, in the heat of debate, he did the unthinkable –claiming that the Lety camp had not been a concentration camp for Romanies, but a labour camp designed for those of them who did not want to work. The statement caused an outcry across the political scene. Although Lety was initially built as a work camp in 1942 it became a concentration camp for Romanies; over 1300 people were interned there, over 300 died in inhumane conditions and 500 were transported to Auschwitz. There were calls for Babiš to step down and the opposition demanded the matter be debated at a session of the lower house. Prime Minister Sobotka called on his partner in government to apologize and distance himself from his unfortunate statement in Parliament as well as make a trip to Lety to bow to the victims of the Holocaust. He also made it clear that the views expressed were not those of the coalition government.
“If we started debating Andrej Babiš’ dismissal from the cabinet we would turn this into a coalition problem; which it is not. Neither the Social Democrats nor the Christian Democrats have anything to do with the said statements.”
“I have now discussed the problem with Culture Minister Daniel Herman and promised to find the money needed to buyout the farm and build a dignified memorial in its place.”
Babiš wrote on Twitter shortly after the storm broke. Whether this form of atonement will be enough remains to be seen. Both Human Rights Minister Jiři Dienstbier and members of the opposition say the matter is not closed. However, it will be voters who will have the last say when they go to the polls in the autumn regional and Senate elections. And so far nothing the controversial ANO leader has said and done has affected his strong lead in popularity ratings.
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