Pig farm on a Romani genocide site
The situation of Romani people in the Czech Republic is critical. According to the results of all public opinion polls on this issue, the majority of our country is so saddled with strongly anti-Romani prejudices and sharply anti-Romani attitudes that antigypsyism has become a mainstream opinion here. Romani people are discriminated against in housing, on the labor market, and in other areas of their lives. The Czech school system is segregated.
Romani people in the Czech Republic are facing racially-motivated attacks and violence. During the past few years, Romani communities have been targeted by hateful anti-Romani demonstrations and marches which often become violent and have grown into attempted pogroms on more than one occasion. Not only do the followers of neo-Nazi, ultra-right movements join these demonstrations, but so-called ordinary citizens get involved in them as well. Antigypsyists espousing anti-Romani hatred can be found in every single Czech political party, from the left to the right, and politicians strive to win the electoral support of the majority of voters who are antigypsyist.
Social integration policy and its tools have completely failed. Enormous sums of money designated for solving the problems of Romani poverty and anti-Romani racism and for achieving Romani integration, often coming from European Union funds, have been spent unsuitably and have had no real effect. The situation of Romani communities here is constantly deteriorating day by day, month by month, year by year.
One component of this critical state is the denial – or at a minimum, the depreciation – of the genocide of the Romani people that took place here during the Second World War. Romani people were rounded up by the Czech Police and placed in concentration camps where they were murdered and tortured. The guards of these death camps were not German Nazis, but Czech gendarmes. The headquarters of the Czech Criminal Police administered these camps. The toughest prisoners who managed to survive the hell of the Czech death camps were handed over to the German SS, transported to the extermination camp of Auschwitz II – Birkenau, and gassed to death.
One of the Czech concentration camps for Romani people was located near the village of Lety by Písek in South Bohemia. In 1973, the Communist government of Czechoslovakia built a large-capacity, industrial pig farm precisely on the site of the former camp, i.e., at the site of the genocide of the Roma. That farm stands to this day at this place of Romani genocide and is still in operation. Pigs wallow in their own feces on the spot where Romani people were murdered and tortured.
After the fall of communism, when the conditions would have been ideal, the state-owned pig farm was not torn down, but was sold by the state to a commercial company. During the following years various Czech governments have regularly faced pressure from various international institutions to buy the pig farm, tear it down, clean away the pig feces and erect a dignified memorial to the victims of genocide at this site. Many Czech governments have promised through their ministers – and even their Prime Ministers – to remove the pig farm. That has not yet happened and there never has been the slightest real political will to do so. Such promises, in our opinion, have served only to quiet international human rights institutions. In the end it has always been said that the Czech state does not have the money to buy the pig farm now running on this genocide site. Can something like this be measured in money?
The existence of a pig farm on a Romani genocide site, however, is not just a Czech issue – it is also a European one. The farm receives EU agricultural subsidies for every single pig raised there. The EU even recently co-financed modernization of the farm. We consider that to be truly scandalous. Without EU agricultural subsidies, the farm would soon go bankrupt and have to be closed.
Many people in the past have tried and failed to get the pig farm on this Romani genocide site
closed. The negotiations between pro-Romani activists or Romani ones with the Government have never had any result. Times in which the pig farm is publicly discussed are interspersed with long periods during which the scandal “sleeps” and nothing happens. Several years ago the Czech Government erected a small memorial to the victims of the Romani genocide several dozen meters beyond the pig farm walls, at a site where one of the mass graves for the camp victims is located (i.e., not directly at the genocide site). This sacred place is plagued by the terrible odor of 13 000 pigs. Activists and many Romani people call that place a false memorial.
At the beginning of May, a commemorative ceremony was held at this false memorial and attended by Czech PM Bohuslav Sobotka (Social Democratic Party). He repeated to those present a lie that has been reiterated a thousand times, namely, that there is no money to remove the farm from the Romani genocide site and that the Government would prefer to invest its money into the education of Romani children. This is an absurd claim. Romani children are guaranteed the right to a quality education by the Czech constitution – it’s not some sort of grace the PM might decide to provide as an act of good will.
On 13 May, the anniversary of the day on which the largest transport of prisoners left the camp at Lety for the gas chamber of Auschwitz, activists with the Konexe association and others traveled to the former camp. Activists supporting the Roma from the nearby town of Písek soon joined them. They did not visit the false memorial, but headed straight for the gates of the pig farm. There they erected a tent encampment and affixed a banner to the pig farm gate with the word “Holocaust” crossed out”. That was the beginning of our blockade of the access road to the farm.
The activists announced a list of their demands, asking for an immediate end to the farm’s operations, the removal of the farm buildings, the thorough removal of pig waste from the genocide site, and the provision of jobs elsewhere for the farm workers. The activists offered to erect a new memorial to the victims of genocide themselves.
Whenever a truck drove up to the farm to deliver feed or take pigs away, the activists prevented them from driving to for from the farm with their own bodies by lying down in the road. They also shut the gate to the farm several times using their own locks and massive chains that cost the employees a lot of work to remove. The police intervened against the activists more than once, always very correctly and in moderation.
The weather was not favorable to the blockade, as the average temperature hovered between give and 10 degrees Celsius. It rained 12 hours a day.
On 16 May, on the anniversary of the Romani uprising at Auschwitz-Birkenau, which was participated in by prisoners who were transported there from Lety and who were not immediately gassed to death, the activists blockading the pig farm then escalated their actions radically. They moved from the farm gates to the nearby main highway, number 19, which was built by the prisoners of the camp, and blockaded it. That did not last long. At first the drivers stayed in their lanes and waited for police to arrive and unblock the road. However, the activists made a mistake by starting to hand out leaflets to the drivers explaining why they were blockading the road. All hell broke loose – the drivers began accelerating into the activists, one of whom they even knocked to the ground. The presence of cameras at the scene did nothing to stop them. Out of concern for their personal safety, the activists had to end their blockade of the road. .
The fifth day of the blockade began with the activists negotiating with the owners of the farm. The negotiations produced a surprising finding for the activists. The owners of the farm are not interested in getting rich from this scandal or speculating on it. They are seeking no money from the state. The only thing they are asking for is a substitute plot of land and a building in which to
continue raising their pigs. They are prepared to pay the costs of moving the pigs and equipment themselves. The removal of this farm from a Romani genocide site, therefore, is not a question of a lack of money, but of a lack of political will.
In June a conference was held in Prague by the member organizations of the European Grassroots Antiracist Movement network (EGAM). Konexe is a Czech member of EGAM. On 13 June EGAM activists undertook a field trip to the pig farm at Lety. The activists organized a commemorative ceremony beyond the pig farm fence that was attended by Romani people from 14 European countries. The activists from abroad, who were visiting the site for the first time, were shocked. Strong words were spoken and it was decided that the pigs must disappear at any cost from this Romani genocide site. A Europe-wide mobilization camp will soon be launched to remove the farm, which is basically a memorial to both European and Czech antigypsyism. We will need your support as well! One thing is certain: Until we accept this minority among us, manure will continue