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EDITORIAL

Chmel's culture clash

"The days when intellectuals turned to philosophers to get their political bearings and the public turned to intellectuals are all but over."
- Jacques Derrida
WHENEVER intellectuals enter politics they risk failing to live up to the ideals that they have been fiercely propagating. They always walk on thin ice. Surface cracks contribute to the devaluation of their intellectual ideals, and sometimes those ideals fall right through the icy waters into darkness.
Before taking the post of Culture Minister, literary historian Rudolf Chmel said he never wanted to enter politics and that nothing was more alien to him than administrative work.

"The days when intellectuals turned to philosophers to get their political bearings and the public turned to intellectuals are all but over."

- Jacques Derrida

WHENEVER intellectuals enter politics they risk failing to live up to the ideals that they have been fiercely propagating. They always walk on thin ice. Surface cracks contribute to the devaluation of their intellectual ideals, and sometimes those ideals fall right through the icy waters into darkness.

Before taking the post of Culture Minister, literary historian Rudolf Chmel said he never wanted to enter politics and that nothing was more alien to him than administrative work.

Despite this, politics ensnared him and he entered on the side of Pavol Rusko, the founder of New Citizens Alliance (ANO), a party designed by Rusko to carry him to the top floor of the political arena - or so people say.

"Ignorance of culture is colossal; society is commercial, consumer-oriented and kitschy, and it seems this trend cannot be stopped," Chmel sighed a couple of months ago. Now it seems he is going to give up the good fight, too tired, perhaps, to revert the trend from an official position.

Chmel is likely stepping down as Culture Minister. Though the real reasons for his prospective departure have been concealed from the public, Economy Minsiter Rusko could not keep his unhappiness with the Culture Minister's performance behind the ANO walls.

Most likely, neither ideas nor cultural concepts stand between Rusko and Chmel, but rather money.

The Slovak media has been speculating that the Culture Minister's decision to spend Sk100 million (€250,000) on the restoration of cultural historical monuments might be one of the seeds of conflict.

The daily SME has information that the ANO has different ideas of how the money (a gift from Slovakia's gas utility company, SPP) should be spent.

Over the past decade, the culture minister position has been degraded in many aspects even though Slovaks currently consider culture to be one of the most neglected spheres in the country.

Many were apathetic about Chmel's crusade to elevate the status of culture in society, partly because of his age. At 65, Chmel is the oldest minister of the Dzurinda cabinet, and perceived as out of touch.

Chmel has dismissed age-based worries, saying that age should play no role in politics. He once noted that the Culture Minister of Hungary is ten years his senior.

While serving as the Slovak ambassador to Hungary, Chmel demonstrated that his true interests rested in foreign affairs. At one time he must have thought that Foreign Affairs Minister Eduard Kukan was his closest ally. Any cooperation between Kukan and Chmel, however, has not yet taken a visible form.

Analysts say that being a nominee of the ANO boss Pavol Rusko was the worst recommendation Chmel could have received. Many viewed Chmel's placement as a strategic move by Rusko to further strengthen the media empire he had started to build with private television station Markíza.

Shortly after assuming the role of Culture Minister, Chmel said that despite holding a political position he considered himself an independent intellectual, and that his ultimate goal would be freeing culture from political and ideological influences.

Chmel said that representatives from all parties put pressure on him to accept the post.

As for the Culture Ministry falling into the ANO's hand, Chmel explained that other parties were not interested.

It is highly probable that when accepting the chair, Chmel had no idea how fragmented and terribly underfinanced the Slovak Culture Ministry found itself. The administrative machinery powering the organization was likely a mystery to Chmel as well.

Rusko and Chmel have had conflicts in the past. Last year, Chmel was reluctant to support the recall of Ján Mojžiš, the former head of the National Security Office, although the ANO appealed to its ministers to do so. Chmel finally yielded to Rusko's demands and lifted his hand for Mojžiš's fall, albeit reluctantly. In another instance, he remained steadfast and defied the ANO party line relating to changes in the country's court system.

Chmel's ambition was to triple the state's spending in the cultural sector by 2010 from the current level of 0.6 percent of GDP, although he was never able to disclose how he intended to finance such a lofty goal.

In fact, Chmel's management of the ministry was rocky from the very beginning.

In 2002, the cabinet decided that the Culture Minister should be a coordinator for the Roma agenda. Chmel fiercely opposed the plan, arguing that it was an attempt by Deputy Prime Minister for National Minorities Pál Csáky to rid himself of complicated, contentious tasks.

The ANO itself claimed to have comprehensive solutions to the issue of Roma integration and seemed to mind the responsibility of managing the Roma issue less than Culture Minister Chmel.

Political analysts and sociologists tended to take Chmel's side on the issue, and Roma organizations protested the ANO's plans to "cure" the Roma problems.

One of the greatest challenges for Chmel was resolving complications within state media policies, namely, getting to the bottom of mounting debts generated by public service Slovak Television (STV) and deciding on the future of state-run news wire TASR.

While the STV was granted a new director to free the public broadcaster from its debts, the TASR news wire remains a relic of the communist regime - a parasite feeding on state money.

If Chmel resigns January 1, it will be up to a new Culture Minister to set things right (Arena Theater Director Juraj Kukura's name is being whispered backstage).

The post needs a minister with a radical vision for Slovak culture and the energy to follow that vision aggressively. Otherwise, it will not make much difference to Slovak culture whether Chmel stays or goes.


By Beata Balogová

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