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STUDENTS ALSO GO BACK TO CLASSES DESPITE DEMANDS NOT BEING MET

Strike withers as actors decide to return back to stage

After spending almost four weeks on strike against culture minister Ivan Hudec, all but one Slovak theater restarted performances on March 26, failing once again to make the minister listen. Taking a page out of an old Homer manuscript, Hudec plugged his ears to resist the Thalian sirens' luring voices, bringing the odyssey to a non-heroic end.
Strike committee representatives for the thirteen theaters that had joined together to protest the ministry's placing of state-sponsored cultural entities under regional supervision said that President Michal Kováč's March 21 appeal to end the strike played a major part in their decision. In a written appeal, Kováč stated: "Theater is a living art that can only exist when in real contact with the audience. Therefore, for the audience's sake, I appeal to all theater actors to reestablish their performances.


"We are reestablishing performances because audiences must not be punished for the government's unwillingness to listen to us."

Matej Landl, strike committee spokesman



University students, seen here protesting at the Culture Ministry, halted their strike after their leadership met with officials such as Parliamentary Speaker Ivan Gašparovič.
Vladimír Hák

After spending almost four weeks on strike against culture minister Ivan Hudec, all but one Slovak theater restarted performances on March 26, failing once again to make the minister listen. Taking a page out of an old Homer manuscript, Hudec plugged his ears to resist the Thalian sirens' luring voices, bringing the odyssey to a non-heroic end.

Strike committee representatives for the thirteen theaters that had joined together to protest the ministry's placing of state-sponsored cultural entities under regional supervision said that President Michal Kováč's March 21 appeal to end the strike played a major part in their decision. In a written appeal, Kováč stated: "Theater is a living art that can only exist when in real contact with the audience. Therefore, for the audience's sake, I appeal to all theater actors to reestablish their performances.

Stock excuses

Hearing this appeal, the Actors' Union decided to change the strike's form to a "warning strike," a notch lower from the so-called "key strike" that had been in effect since February 28. During that period theater performers kept rehearsing, but cancelled all performances.

Opening the gates again doesn't mean succumbing to the ministry but merely sending forth negotiators according to Štefan Bučko, an actor with the Slovak National Theater. "Our move is to show goodwill, so that a dialogue can be established and our problems can be solved," he said, almost copying his own words from October 1996 when he justified suspension of the first strike.

"We are reestablishing performances also because audiences must not be punished for the government's unwillingness to listen to us," added Matej Landl, the strike committee's spokesman.

Lonesome crusade

The only theater that remained on a crusade against Hudec is the same one which ignited the whole strike after its director was yanked in February. The Nitra Puppet Theater decided to march onward with their work stoppage, mainly because none of their original demands was respected. "Our two main requirements - regaining legal subjectivity and the reinstatement of Karol Spišák as our director - have still not been met," said Ivan Gontko, head of the theaters' strike committee.

According to Gontko, the wider theater strike withered rather than just suddenly died out. "Look, we are on strike for almost two months," he said. "Most of our 42 employees who joined the strike depend solely on income they receive here. If after two months you don't bring home a single crown and you have a family to feed, you are inevitably pressured to ponder the appropriate length of the strike, especially when a final solution seems remote and is hard to predict."

Students follow

At about the same time, the students' flamboyance faded away too. After students' representatives were granted audiences by Parliament Speaker Ivan Gašparovič and at the Education Ministry, the sharpness of the students' demands dulled and then became non-existent.

Although Gašparovič did promise that students' representatives will be invited to take part in the legislative process to amend the university law, many observers do not believe the students' demands will get anywhere eventually.

According to one source who was in the middle of the strike, student leaders succumbed to the delusion of grandeur. "At the time when the strike was at its peak with regard to the number of students, they [student leaders] thought that it was only the beginning and began to worry that it would grow too big, causing Mečiar's administration to resign," the source, who requested anonymity, said. "They didn't want this, because they were afraid of Mečiar's third comeback."

Daniel Bradáč, the students' strike committee spokesman, confirmed that the main reason for both actors and students' stoppages losing steam was that they didn't want to link their boiler to an overheated engine. "Of course, no one wants the government to resign now," said Bradáč. "Everybody would rather let them to stew in their own juices until the elections. What we want to achieve is a normal, democratic dialogue."

Epilogue

Instead of a dialogue, observers eventually got an epilogue. The last, somewhat lukewarm display of the previous flaming strike was a march from the Culture Ministry to the Slovak National Theater in Bratislava one day before the actors returned to their respective stages. About 200 actors and students, joined by several bystanders, grabbed each others' hands and created a live chain.

Marián Labuda, an actor who walked as the second link in the chain, told Czech TV that despite the fact that the current strike faded away, he had not lost hope. "We must not give up," he said. "Just like a parent bringing up his kid has to ask him a thousand times 'Have you washed your hands? Have you brushed your teeth?', we actors also have to raise [the public's] consciousness about democratic values again and again before people finally realize they are important."

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