US ambassador on Prague Jewish cemetery

The United States ambassador to Prague John Shattuck advised the Czech Culture Minister Pavel Dostal on Monday that unless Jewish demands are respected in the dispute over Prague's medieval Jewish cemetery, the case could have unfavorable political and economic consequences for the Czech Republic. Olga Szantova has the story.

The former Jewish cemetery in Prague's Vladislavova Street is yet again in the headlines. The cemetery, closed in 1478, is now the property of the Ceska Pojistovna insurance company, and the company is building an office complex on it. Orthodox Jews from around the world are protesting that the graves discovered on the site are being violated and that construction should be stopped. American Orthodox Jews have been among the most vocal on the issue, so much so that Ambassador Shattuck found it appropriate to visit the Czech minister of culture to draw his attention to the matter. A rather unusual step, and Foreign Minister Jan Kavan has already responded by saying that while the Czech government acknowledges the attitude of the United States of America, this is an internal affair.

As for the Ministry of Culture itself, its spokesperson Dita Fuchsova told Radio Prague:

"Minister Dostal is bound by the Czech government's decision from March and without the cabinet's consent he cannot take any further action. Even if he did meet representatives of the Jewish community, as suggested by the American ambassador, he would have nothing to offer them. In Minister Dostal's view Ceska pojistovna has not violated the laws of this country and he respects the cabinet's decision. The minister cannot tell the company what it can and cannot build on its own property, as Ceska Pojistovna is a private firm. The Czech government considers the ancient Jewish cemetery a cultural monument and has allocated 45 million crowns from the state budget to preserve the site. This has been decided with the agreement of the Czech Jewish community."

So, what is the attitude of the Jewish community to the latest developments around the medieval Jewish cemetery and Ambassador Shattuck's warning? I asked the secretary of the Federation of Jewish Communities, Tomas Kraus.

Author: Olga Szantová
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