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Police clamp down on protest at Culture Ministry

For the first time since the Velvet Revolution in November 1989, government bodies resorted to physical means to break up a protest inside and outside the Culture Ministry in Bratislava on March 10, according to eyewitnesses and a videotape shot at the scene.
The demonstrators, mainly members of Slovakia's artistic community who called a strike in response to the Culture Ministry's edict putting state-financed theaters under regional supervision, moved their protest right under the nose of Culture Minister Ivan Hudec, whom the acting community sees as the villain in the whole affair. Included in the crowd were over a dozen parliamentary deputies from parties opposed to the government, who said they were carrying out an inspection announced last September to investigate the culture ministry's budget spending.

For the first time since the Velvet Revolution in November 1989, government bodies resorted to physical means to break up a protest inside and outside the Culture Ministry in Bratislava on March 10, according to eyewitnesses and a videotape shot at the scene.

The demonstrators, mainly members of Slovakia's artistic community who called a strike in response to the Culture Ministry's edict putting state-financed theaters under regional supervision, moved their protest right under the nose of Culture Minister Ivan Hudec, whom the acting community sees as the villain in the whole affair.

Included in the crowd were over a dozen parliamentary deputies from parties opposed to the government, who said they were carrying out an inspection announced last September to investigate the culture ministry's budget spending.

The MPs, backed by some 200 actors and artists, tried to form a human wall between the protesters and the police but were removed as well, eyewitnesses said.

Several protesters were thereafter dragged out of the building and four were detained. During the raid, the demonstrators yelled at the police: şşGestapo! Gestapo!'' The four detained protesters were released unharmed after two opposition deputies, Jan Čarnogurský (Christian Democratic Movement) and Ľudovít Černak (Democratic Union) intervened. No one, however, was seriously injured during the confrontation.

While no one was seriously injured during the confrontation, two amateur cameramen from the Faculty of Visual and Performing Arts in Bratislava, who filmed the police raid on videotape, were detained.

Since early in the morning. the crowd estimated at staged their protest in front of the ministry, holding up banners and yelling that Hudec should resign. Emilia Vašaryová, an actress and the sister of Magda Vašaryová, a former Czechoslovak ambassador to Austria, explained her feelings this way: şşIt's been enough, enough of everything.''

Many of the nation's actors have been on bad terms with Hudec over a law he supported last summer that introduced a new model of culture administration, with regional superintendents at the helm of theaters' decision-making. They have asked the minister to reverse the law, but he has refused.

On February 28, fifteen out of 21 state-run theaters went on strike during which they will keep rehearsing, but all performances are cancelled until the theaters' demands are met (see strike story, this page). Then they decided to march to the place where Hudec sits.

However, nobody thought that Hudec would steal the show. He first accused the crowd in the building of disturbing his concentration. Later, he left the building through the back door, without meeting with the opposition deputies.

Despite Hudec's departure and the police presence, some demonstrators stayed in the building overnight and on March 11 walked towards the seat of Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar, saying they intended to negotiate with the premier. Čarnogurský said that the MPs will ask Mečiar to investigate the raid and will file a lawsuit Interior Minister Gustav Krajči, who they said ordered the raid.

The last time a peaceful demonstration in Slovakia was stunted by a police force was in March 1988, when protesters demanding freedom of religion and expression were violently attacked by police squads using truncheons and firetrucks donned with water cannons.

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