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SARCOPHAGUS OR SHRINE? DEBATE ON THE SLOVAK NATIONAL THEATRE BUILDING CONTINUES

Parliament mulls over SND fate

THE parliament hotly debated cabinet plans to sell the unfinished Slovak National Theatre (SND) building to American company Truthheim Invest. The discussion took place January 18 in a special session.
So far, the planned sale is postponed until March, when a committee charged with developing an acceptable plan for the SND's future reveals its proposal.
The committee met for the first time on January 19.

THE parliament hotly debated cabinet plans to sell the unfinished Slovak National Theatre (SND) building to American company Truthheim Invest. The discussion took place January 18 in a special session.

So far, the planned sale is postponed until March, when a committee charged with developing an acceptable plan for the SND's future reveals its proposal.

The committee met for the first time on January 19.

The January 18 parliamentary session took place at the behest of opposition politicians, activists and artists, after they challenged the process by which Economy Minister Pavol Rusko selected Truthheim as the site's investor.

Even Finance Minister Ivan Mikloš, who previously supported the transfer of the SND to Truthheim, admitted that the potential sale should have been subject to an official public tender.

"If there are any doubts about the selection of the investor, the matter should be settled in a public tender," Mikloš said January 18.

In a response to parliament on January 20, Rusko said that he would propose that the cabinet cancel its signed agreement with Truthheim Invest regarding the completion of the SND building.

Over the course of two decades, the state has spent Sk3.5 billion (€90 million) trying to complete the SND building. An additional hundreds of millions of crowns are required to complete the large-scale project and support ongoing maintenance

After cabinet ministers agreed last year that the state could no longer afford the project, Economy Minister Rusko entered negotiations with Truthheim.

Rusko's plans to sell the SND to Truthheim rankled both public and private citizens on two accounts. First, Rusko had sidestepped the public tender process, which would have opened the sale to numerous potential investors. Second, Truthheim's plans included turning the theatre into a congress and business centre, angering those who favoured the establishment of a purely cultural arena.

President Ivan Gašparovič has called the SND building a "shop window into Slovak national culture".

The press reports that Truthheim is not the only company interested in the SND project. Dividend Group from Slovakia has been named among several others.

The SND building's future seems to have divided people into those who support the completion of the building for purely cultural purposes, and those who think that the project is an outdated, costly example of Communist megalomania.

In its recent editorial, the respected business weekly Trend labelled the building a "sarcophagus on the Danube River". (The SND building is situated on a lucrative site close to the Danube River in Bratislava's old town.)

In their parliamentary session, politicians embraced the topic.

Opposition MP Dušan Čaplovič from the left-wing party Smer accused the Economy Ministry of trying to turn the SND building into a "cultural supermarket", adding that Minister Rusko's "gigantic tsunami waves have already affected Slovak culture".

Dušan Jariabek, another opposition member of parliament, this time from the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, appealed to politicians to think about the position of culture in Slovakia.

He wondered aloud what had transpired to suddenly make the SND building "an unwanted burden, a white elephant that needs to be gotten rid of".

The parliamentary debate on the SND did not finish January 18. Discussion will continue after the scheduled session is completed.

At a press conference January 17, Eric Assimakopoulos from Truthheim said that his company would wait patiently until March when the working group is scheduled to present their alternative plan of the SND building.

He also restated Truthheim's plans: to invest €85 million into the project, of which €20 to €25 million would go to finishing the SND and the rest would be used to build a nearby hotel and develop the new building's surroundings.

Slovakia's president Gašparovič reiterated that the SND building is a "cultural venue that Slovaks deserve".

He said: "It should be completed and it should belong to the citizens rather than one person."

Artists from regional theatres joined the debate, warning that any state spending toward completing the SND building could affect the financing of regional theatres.

Jozef Horváth of the State Theatre in Košice is also the head of the local theatre labour union. He said January 13 that his organization is not against the completion of the SND building, but that it should be set apart from the Culture Ministry's budget.

"[The SND] should not be completed with money dedicated to theatre production and operation of all Slovak theatres," he said.

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