Commemoration of Romany Holocaust victims sparks controversy|
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.