Offensive pig farm likely to remain on Romany Holocaust memorial site

Pig farm in Lety, photo: CTK

The UN Human Rights’ Committee has asked the Czech government to close down a pig farm located on the site of a former Nazi concentration camp for Romanies. Built in the 1970s, the farm has been a source of embarrassment to all post-1989 governments, but despite bringing the country international disgrace, it is still there and likely to remain so.

Pig farm in Lety,  photo: CTK
Built in the 1970s by the communist regime the Lety pig farm in south Bohemia stands on the site of a former Nazi concentration camp for the Czech Romany minority which was almost exterminated in the Holocaust. Over 1,300 Romanies were interned there, 300 of them died in the camp and others were transported to Nazi death camps. Every year members of the Roma community gather here for a commemorative ceremony in conditions that are far from dignified. The small stone memorial depicting a broken heart is only sheltered from the offensive farm by a shrub fence and the smell is all-pervasive. The government’s Human Rights’ Commissioner Monika Šimůnková admits it is a major embarrassment.

“I keep saying the farm should not be there. I have attended many commemorative ceremonies at the Lety memorial and can confirm that the smell is quite dreadful. It detracts from the dignity of the event and is really wholly inappropriate.”

Monika Šimůnková,  photo: archive of Radio Prague
The issue of the Lety pig farm first arose soon after the fall of communism and ex-president Vaclav Havel was one of the strongest advocates for its removal. However all that was achieved was that in 2009 the government earmarked 20 million crowns for a dignified memorial for Roma victims of the Holocaust. The memorial was unveiled a year later and despite pressure from the Romany minority and international organizations for the pig farm to be relocated the matter of the Lety farm was shelved indefinitely. Čeněk Růžička, head of the Committee for Romany Holocaust Compensation says there is little more he can add in terms of arguments.

“Pig farms should not be located on the site of concentration camps. And it makes no difference whether it was a camp for Romanies or anyone else. Human beings suffered and died here and I think it is obvious that this is undignified. That should be clear to anyone. We welcome the UN request, but unless it comes with sanctions attached I do not think the Czech government is going to make a move.”

Mr. Růžička’s forecast appears to be extremely accurate. The pig farm is now in private hands and buying and relocating it would cost a lot of money – money that the government is not prepared to spare. In an interview for Czech Radio Culture Minister Jiří Balvín made it perfectly clear that the issue was not a priority.

Lety memorial,  photo: Jana Šustová
“Of course it is a big problem and past governments have tried and failed to address it for over 20 years. If they could not find a solution in the 1990s at a time of economic growth it would be unrealistic to expect us to resolve it at a time of deep economic recession. The owner wants 400 million crowns for it and there is no way we can afford that. There is no point in holding out hope and saying we will consider finding a solution. 400 million crowns is simply an astronomical sum.”

The annual commemorative event at Lety is to take place next Thursday, August 1st. Prime Minister Jiří Rusnok has promised to attend. In addition to the bad smell he will most likely have to face the hostile stares of those who will be there to pay homage to predecessors who died in the Holocaust.