Lety pig farm removal on the back-burner

The pig farm in Lety

Lety in south Bohemia is once again in the news - after previously promising to buy a pig farm on the site of a concentration camp where over 300 Romanies died during the war, Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek said this week it will be a task for the next government. But why this change of policy?

Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek, photo: CTK
For months now, the Czech Social Democratic Prime Minister, Jiri Paroubek, has spoken in favour of his government spending 800 million crowns to buy a pig farm in Lety. The reason being that the farm sits on a portion of land where there was a WWII concentration camp in which 326 Roma died. The Social Democrats proposed to buy the farm, close it, and construct a memorial to the Roma victims of the Holocaust in Lety. However, this week Prime Minister Paroubek announced that the Lety case will not be resolved prior to the June elections. Jan Bures, a political scientist from Charles University, comments on the sudden agenda shift:

"I think that the cause is the pre-election campaign. The polling research shows that the majority of the Czech population doesn't see this as a rational solution. People think that it's an absurd way of dealing with the situation of the pig farm. So I have the feeling that Prime Minister Paroubek thinks that his position until now—which supported the government's purchase of the pig farm, its liquidation, and the building of a memorial—could actually hurt the Social Democratic Party in its election campaign."

Early polls show that the Social Democrats will be in a very tight race with the right-of-centre Civic Democrats in the spring election campaign, and the long-standing issue of the Lety camp site is too sensitive for politicians to take a concrete stand. Jan Bures explains when we might expect the pig farm at Lety to be dealt with:

"There is a basic trend visible here. The solution on the table—that means the purchase of the pig farm and its closure—is from the viewpoint of the Czech population quite problematic. This is an issue that every government will have to battle. Of course it's true that at the beginning of a term, unpopular measures are much easier to take than at the end, because then the ruling party is focussed on re-election. So it's much more realistic to expect that whatever post-June government will be in power in the Czech Republic, it will have an easier time of implementing changes—though it will still have to deal with public criticism regarding the Lety pig farm removal. But during the pre-election campaign, voters are really tuned-in and they best remember the political decisions of 2 or 3 months prior to the election. They watch the politicians closely."

Although Prime Minister Paroubek has abandoned the purchase and closure of the Lety pig farm, the government commission continues its official negotiations. Katerina Jacques is a member of the special commission:

"I can't comment on when there will be a political decision that will usher in a new phase. The working group commissioned by the government in December 2005 is working according to the instructions it has. Now we'll probably have to re-define for ourselves what a solution means—whether it really involves removing the pig farm, or whether other options are on the table."

The pig farm at Lety has also attracted attention from the EU in recent months, and I asked Jan Bures what external pressure may do to change Jiri Paroubek's position:

"Czechs are also very sensitive to whatever pressures are exerted on our politicians from abroad. I think that if Prime Minister Paroubek were to act according to suggestions from foreign politicians and cave-in to the existing pro-Roma lobby, he would actually discredit himself even further in the eyes of the population. Czech public opinion wants this issue to be resolved by Czech politicians, according to domestic interests. So long as polls show that a majority of people don't think it's vital to buy the pig farm and spend 800 million crowns, to close the farm and build a memorial, then I think we can't expect Czech politicians to bring this up in the election campaign."

Although Prime Minister Paroubek has distanced himself from spending the 800 million crowns to buy the Lety pig farm, he now proposes that the money be invested in the education of Roma youth.