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SND actors call for Hudec to resign

While there's no business like show business, members of Slovakia's artistic community meant business when they called on Culture Minister Ivan Hudec to resign in a heavily-attended protest rally at Bratislava's Charlie Centrum cinema on September 5. The actors, film directors, writers and painters were responding to Hudec's June 28 letter to Peter Mikulík, the director of the drama ensemble at the Slovak National Theater (SND), asking him to surrender his position to long-time SND actor Ľubomír Paulovič. The move was the latest in the Culture Ministry's "restructuring" of Slovak theaters, museums and other cultural institutions that depend on the state for funding. According to a cultural law that took effect last January 1, Hudec's ministry alone is responsible for making both administrative and artistic decisions in the country's cultural institutions.


"The Minister of Culture involving himself without any discussion in the internal organization of the SND is an arrogant act by an uneducated aggressor."

Stano Dančiak, veteran comic actor



Floored by shakeups by the Culture Ministry, National Theater actors such as Jozef Vajda and Anna Javorková threatened not to perform.
Courtesy of the Slovak National Theater

While there's no business like show business, members of Slovakia's artistic community meant business when they called on Culture Minister Ivan Hudec to resign in a heavily-attended protest rally at Bratislava's Charlie Centrum cinema on September 5. The actors, film directors, writers and painters were responding to Hudec's June 28 letter to Peter Mikulík, the director of the drama ensemble at the Slovak National Theater (SND), asking him to surrender his position to long-time SND actor Ľubomír Paulovič.

The move was the latest in the Culture Ministry's "restructuring" of Slovak theaters, museums and other cultural institutions that depend on the state for funding. According to a cultural law that took effect last January 1, Hudec's ministry alone is responsible for making both administrative and artistic decisions in the country's cultural institutions. Since then, several ministry moves in the national and regional theaters have been made unilaterally. In the latest episode, Hudec reportedly dismissed Mikulík without consulting even the SND's general director, Dušan Jamrich.

For many, the battle for Slovakia's moral soul had erupted. "The Minister of Culture involving himself, without any discussion, in the internal organization of the SND is an arrogant act by an uneducated aggressor," bellowed Stano Dančiak, a veteran comic actor. "The theater has political and cultural independence," added director/actor Emil Horváth. "This is not about a law. It's a moral question."

But Hudec refused to bend. "I don't know anything about the idea that the general director or the director of drama should be chosen by the actors," Hudec shot back in the pro-government daily Slovenská Republika. "Maybe that's possible in a private company, but not in an institution financed by the state."

While Mikulík was canned, Paulovič initially informed his fellow actors that he wouldn't sign the contract to be director of the drama ensemble. But then he wavered in the face of further pressure from the Ministry. In the end, Paulovič took the position on July 28. "I accepted the position because I wanted to change things that many actors were not satisfied with within the theater," he said.

Whatever his reasons, the outrage among the actors that followed trumpeted their disapproval with Paulovič's decision. Even Mikulík, who said he considers Paulovič a dear friend, was surprised. "Paulovič never came to me for my opinion or to discuss the situation at all," Mikulík said.

Specter of a strike

Within a week of Mikulík's dismissal, all 37 of the SND's actors signed and sent an official protest notice to the Ministry of Culture stating they would not perform when the season started on September 8. "We will absolutely not perform," said actor Jozef Vajda, lividly shaking his head. "This is outrageous and completely unacceptable. They specifically waited until the summer holidays to do this."

To show their determination, the actors organized a formal rally at Bratislava's P.O. Hviezdoslav Theater on September 2, the first day of rehearsals.

Paulovič didn't attend that morning. Instead, he issued a letter of resignation to the actors and the Ministry of Culture. In the letter, he stated he knew the outcome of the rally and sarcastically thanked his "fellow actors for their moral support in this situation." He also wrote, "Many of you have written me off, calling this a moral failure, without even giving me a chance to defend myself. I don't expect to speak to anyone involved in the theater ever again."

Following the reading of Paulovič's letter, the actors said they would continue performing only if Hudec resigned. They promised continued rallies and to read protest statements after every National Theater performance until Hudec steps down. "If you want to do something good for culture, resign!" yelled a young SND actress, Michaela Čobejová. Cheers and applause followed. "[Hudec] isn't here today because he is afraid," said Juraj Rašla, another sprightly actor. "He doesn't know what to say. He is going to be kicked out."

Hudec stands firm

But there were no indications that Hudec would go anywhere. "The fact that actors are asking for the minister to go away - well, everybody can state their opinion," replied Marta Podhradská, the Ministry's spokeswoman. "But the minister will not consider it."

Hudec himself humorously looked at the matter. "When I read this statement from the actors, I thought it was just a theatrical gesture for the public," Hudec said for Slovenská Republika. "I did not think this was very reasonable thinking."

As for Paulovič, his future is still unknown, even to himself. By accepting what was initially a promotion, his successful career as an actor has come to a sudden end. After a remorseful pause in an interview for The Slovak Spectator, he said, "Now I can see that the politics in theater are just as hazardous as the politics in the Ministry of Culture."

POSS ADDS

"The main point is not Ľubo. Or Peter," said Maroš Kramár, an actor who had expected to return to the theatre after a hiatus in the United States. "It's how Hudec did it. Without consulting anyone, not even Jamrich." Sneeringly he added, "It's deeper- about politics and money."

On Thursday, September 5, the first public rally was held at Charlie's Centrum in a movie theater. The small theater was easily filled to twice its capacity with actors, media, and the general public. The meeting began shortly after 2 pm with various speakers intending to oust Minister of Culture Ivan Hudec. At the closing of the meeting, as the actors encouraged mass petition-signing, a final speaker from the Ministry of Culture boisterously took the stage, apparently drunk due to his scent, slurring and inability to properly balance himself. Milan Ferko, the General Director of the Language and Literature Section, shouted that he "fought against all of these actors in '89" and that he'll "do it again."

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