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20,000 rally against Culture Ministry

Dozens of actors, artists, trade union officials and politicians addressed a rally of an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 people in Bratislava's Námestie SNP on October 2 to announce that the Slovak National Theater's (SND) actors were going on strike. The civic forum "Let's Save Culture" told the crowd that a nationwide petition had been signed by 32,000 people protesting what many at the rally saw as Culture Minister Ivan Hudec's attempt to convert Slovakia's cultural institutions into partisan showpieces for the ruling government coalition. The rally marked the climax of months of private and public feuding pitting many in Slovakia's artistic community against the Culture Ministry, which has seized upon a legislative mandate passed at the beginning of the year granting it wide-ranging powers to make both administrative and cultural decisions in Slovakia's artistic institutions.


"Let's save culture" read the banner behind protesters Ingrid Timková and Stano Dančiak on Bratislava's Nám. SNP.
Vladimír Hák

Dozens of actors, artists, trade union officials and politicians addressed a rally of an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 people in Bratislava's Námestie SNP on October 2 to announce that the Slovak National Theater's (SND) actors were going on strike. The civic forum "Let's Save Culture" told the crowd that a nationwide petition had been signed by 32,000 people protesting what many at the rally saw as Culture Minister Ivan Hudec's attempt to convert Slovakia's cultural institutions into partisan showpieces for the ruling government coalition.

The rally marked the climax of months of private and public feuding pitting many in Slovakia's artistic community against the Culture Ministry, which has seized upon a legislative mandate passed at the beginning of the year granting it wide-ranging powers to make both administrative and cultural decisions in Slovakia's artistic institutions.

"The main point of the petition is to halt the transformation of Slovak culture - in theater, museums, galleries and libraries," said Martin Šmatlák, a film critic and spokesman for the civic forum. "This transformation was never discussed with the people who were intimate with these cultural institutions. We know it's necessary to reorganize the structure of cultural institutions and cultural life, but we want to discuss it seriously and openly."

The final straw

Over the past several months, the Ministry has merged the state theaters in Košice and Prešov, replaced the directors of seven of the country's 18 state-run art galleries, and dismissed the SND's director, Dušan Jamrich.

Before Jamrich's dismissal, however, the event that triggered public outcry was the abrupt replacement of the artistic director of the SND's drama ensemble, Peter Mikulík, with Ľubomír Paulovič, a long-time SND actor. This was the final straw in a haystack of personnel and artistic changes.

A packed meeting of SND actors, supported by a variety of state-run cultural organizations, at Charlie Centrum in downtown Bratislava in early September created "Let's Save Culture" and initiated the petition drive.

The new civic forum also demanded that Hudec resign, brazenly saying they would strike if the Culture Minister did not step down. Hudec laughingly wrote the demand off, saying "When I read this statement from the actors, I thought it was just a theatrical gesture for the public," the daily Slovenská Republika reported.

But opposition deputies in Parliament were not joking. On September 17 and 19, they forced two no-confidence votes against the minister. Hudec survived both.

Two-day strike

Perhaps fortified by Parliament's votes supporting him, Hudec then removed Jamrich on October 1. Though the protest rally had been planned before Jamrich's firing, the move only threw fuel on the already passionately blazing fire of the "Let's Save Culture" movement.

The resistance group announced that they would strike, effectively immediately. The day after the rally, SND's new director, Milan Fischer, sent a letter to the actor's strike committee chairman, Richard Stanke, stating that Jamrich was removed for allegedly absconding with state funds, worsening a "very tense situation" between the Ministry and the National Theater by encouraging the actors to defy the Ministry, and taking personal control over the SND's drama ensemble after Paulovič stepped down under public pressure.

"This letter made us happy," said one strike committee member, Darina Porubjaková, "because it's so easy to refute."

The strike lasted one day after that. The actors agreed to go back to work after Fischer reinstated Mikulík as artistic director in SND's drama ensemble on October 3, though the actors had also demanded an explanation for Jamrich's dismissal.

Asked why they relented even though all their demands had not been met, Porubjaková said it was "to preserve a dialogue" between SND and the Culture Ministry.

Special reporting by Jana Dorotková

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