Prague, Dec 8 (CTK) – U.S. ambassador to Prague Steve King bestowed on Friday the embassy’s Alice Garrigue Masaryk Prize for contributions to human rights on Czech Roma activist Cenek Ruzicka in appreciation of his effort to have a Roma Holocaust memorial built at a site where a pig farm is situated now.
King said the annual prize goes to Ruzicka for his support for the Roma Holocaust victims and his long-lasting struggle for building a dignified memorial on the site of a wartime Roma concentration camp in Lety, south Bohemia.
Ruzicka heads the Committee for the compensation of the Roma Holocaust victims, which has been pushing for the removal of the pig farm from the site where hundreds of people died in wartime.
Two years ago, Ruzicka and his aides staged a travelling exhibition “Lety – a forgotten genocide’s story,” whose main aim was to open a public debate on the systematic liquidation of Roma people by the Nazis.
Answering the call from Ruzicka and other activists, the Czech government in November signed a contract with the pig farm’s owners on its removal. The state will pay 450.8 million crowns, tax included, for the pig farm and the surrounding plot.
Debates on the pig farm’s purchase lasted for more than 20 years. The previous governments repeatedly postponed solving the issue.
Apart from domestic critics, the Czech Republic faced foreign appeals for the pig farm to be removed. Foreign diplomats, including King’s predecessor Andrew Schapiro, attended commemorative meetings at a site next to the pig farm in recent years.
The presentation of the prize to Ruzicka was one of the first steps King took in his capacity as the ambassador to Prague, after handing over his credentials to President Milos Zeman on Wednesday.
The U.S. embassy launched the annual Alice Garrigue Masaryk prize, named after a daughter of the first Czechoslovak president Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, in 2004.
Awarded annually around December 10, which is the international Human Rights Day, the prize goes to personalities or organisations that significantly contributed to human rights development in the Czech Republic and that create an open civic society by supporting social justice and defending democratic freedoms.
Last year, the prize went to volunteers from the We Help People On the Run NGO for their assistance along the Balkan Route which hundreds of thousands of refugees used to proceed further to Europe.