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EDITORIAL

Culture clash over SND

SOME intellectuals call the theatre a reflection of life, a chronicle we live, the past we should preserve, and the future we either hope for or try to avoid.
One wonders what reflection of society intellectuals see when they look at the unfinished building that is the Slovak National Theatre (SND)?
Although the ruling coalition decided that Economy Minister Pavol Rusko would no longer have an exclusive say over the future of the SND, Rusko seems reluctant to let his authority in the matter be downplayed, especially by the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH).

SOME intellectuals call the theatre a reflection of life, a chronicle we live, the past we should preserve, and the future we either hope for or try to avoid.

One wonders what reflection of society intellectuals see when they look at the unfinished building that is the Slovak National Theatre (SND)?

Although the ruling coalition decided that Economy Minister Pavol Rusko would no longer have an exclusive say over the future of the SND, Rusko seems reluctant to let his authority in the matter be downplayed, especially by the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH).

When KDH boss Pavol Hrušovský informed the media of the coalition's decision to bring in Chmel, he framed it by saying that Rusko would no longer control the SND affair. The Ecnomy Minister fired back saying that he would, in fact, remain in charge of the economic side of the SND deal. According to Rusko, very little has changed.

The fact that the KDH and Rusko have different interpretations of the ruling coalition's decision will likely elevate tensions.

One thing is certain: the coalition government asked Culture Minister Rudolf Chmel to get involved in future negotiations regarding the SND. But as a nominee of Chairman Rusko's New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) party, Chmel might find it difficult to eliminate the influence of the man who gave him the minister's seat to begin with.

The unfinished SND building hungers for an additional Sk800 million (€19.8 million) in order to serve Slovak culture - or whatever deity the new investor decides to serve. And yet this is the core of the problem: Slovakia's community of artists does not trust the Economy Minister to act in culture's best interests.

Artists feel that if the SND building is sold to US firm Truthheim Invest, a company that intends to turn the theatre building into a conference and business centre, they will depend on the goodwill or [bad] of the investor.

The fact that Truthheim has promised to rent a portion of the SND premises for performances to the country's artistic organizations does not carry much weight.

Another thorn in the side of those against the sale of the SND to the US investor is that Minister Rusko chose Truthheim Invest directly, without announcing a public tender.

The SND construction project, which, according to many, has taken on megalomaniac proportions, should have become the SND's home in 2005, the year the SND would celebrate its 85th anniversary.

SND General Director Dušan Jamrich wrote in an essay that he considers it his ultimate task to reject the notion that culture is just another commercial product for consumption.

His plight is particularly sympathetic when he points out that Slovak culture is truly in a desperate position when the fate of its national theatre is in the hands of the minister of economy.

If artists continue to find a deaf ear in the ruling coalition, they will be more likely to seek support in opposition politicians. Ironically, actors and artists were among those who openly supported Mikuláš Dzurinda and the current ruling coalition parties during the Vladimir Mečiar regime.

The ruling coalition claims that a pragmatic approach to the theatre is needed because the state cannot keep bleeding money it does not have to pay for construction and routine maintenance. They argue that protests will not generate the money to finish the SND building.

There have been some feeble attempts to start a nationwide collection for the SND. The Civil Initiative of Slovak Intelligentsia gathered slightly more than Sk3 million (€70,000) in its decade-long effort, an amount that, in all likelihood, would barely cover the theatre's operational costs for a month or two.

In mid December, Eric Assimakopoulos, an executive from Truthheim Invest, tried to explain his investment plans to the theatre community with the hope of building a rapport with them. Unfortunately, the group remains unwilling to trust him, perhaps because of the lack of a public tender they perceive the selection process as unfair. Rusko's bad luck is that his name has never been associated with high culture. Because he built the country's biggest private television station, TV Markíza, he is associated with being a disseminator of cheap entertainment, not a protector of the Arts.

Rusko's own ANO colleague, Culture Minister Chmel, once complained that the "ignorance of culture is colossal; society is commercial, consumer-oriented and kitschy, and it seems this trend cannot be stopped".

The odds are against him, and it is likely that Chmel will fail to revert these developments while managing the SND case.


Beata Balogová

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