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Government plans to acquire Lety site
26-05-2005 - Daniela Lazarova

Sixty years after the end of the German occupation, the Czech Republic's Roma community finally has hope that a concentration camp where several hundred Romanies died, will be turned into a proper memorial site. Following pressure from the European Parliament and activists here in the Czech Republic, the Czech government has announced that it will take steps to acquire the site and secure the relocation of a pig farm that has become a deep international embarrassment to the country.

The pig farm built on the Lety camp site Moving the offensive pig farm from the site of a former concentration camp for Roma has proved a serious problem for a succession of post-communist Czech governments. When the existence of the wartime camp attracted media attention over a decade ago, the then government of Vaclav Klaus built a memorial close by, while the Social Democrat Cabinet of Milos Zeman actually attempted to buy the farm for 150 million crowns or over 6 million US dollars. The owners refused the deal on the grounds that relocating the farm would cost over five times that amount, a figure that the Zeman cabinet said that it simply didn't have available.

So Lety has remained an ethical problem and it is obviously not just a question of money. As some commentators point out, had this been a concentration camp for Jews the pig farm would have been removed long ago. There is little public interest in having the farm removed, and the Roma minority itself is clearly not strong enough to enforce such a move on its own.

The concentration camp Lety u Pisku Moreover a European Parliament resolution approved just a month ago threatened to complicate the matter further, when it called on the Czech authorities to do something about Lety. Many Czech MEPs were hostile to what they saw as interference from Brussels and said that Prague would not be ordered around. Czech MEP Miloslav Ransdorf even argued that Lety was never a concentration camp in the true sense of the word and that what happened there was not a crime on the same level as the genocide in the camps in Poland, Germany and Austria. This view was recently supported by President Vaclav Klaus, adding more fuel to the fire of the ongoing Lety debate.

The government now hopes to put an end to the squabbles. The Prime Minister has said he is resolved to find some way of acquiring the property. What is still less than clear, is where the money is going to come from.

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