Actor and film festival director Vitezslav Jandak tapped for Culture Minister role

Vitezslav Jandak, photo: CTK

Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek has announced his choice to fill the post of culture minister, vacant since the death of Pavel Dostal three weeks ago from pancreatic cancer. From a short-list of three candidates, Mr Paroubek on Monday nominated the popular character actor Vitezslav Jandak. For the past eight years, Mr Jandak has been in the public eye as director of the annual children's film festival held in the city of Zlin. But as Brian Kenety reports, he is seen as something of a political wildcard.

Vitezslav Jandak,  photo: CTK
Vitezslav Jandak was the second of three men to make the prime minister's short list of candidates. The first -- film and opera director Vladimir Darjanin, -- proved to be the most controversial. A group of Czech actors and artists petitioned against his candidacy, deriding Mr Darjanin as an arrogant man and incompetent manager. When Mr Paroubek asked them to come up with their own choice, they suggested instead Jiri Srstka, a former director of the National Theatre.

Jiri Paroubek said that first and foremost he wanted a culture minister with a professional background in the arts. That person must also have hands-on experience raising funds for a cultural institution - and be "close" to the Social Democratic Party of which Mr Paroubek is a member.

In the end, the prime minister went with Vitezslav Jandak, who, he said, "best fulfilled" those criteria. But Mr Jandak is seen as something of a political wildcard, having aligned himself with the right-wing in the early 1990s. He was briefly a councillor for the small and now forgotten right-of-centre Republican Union, as well as for the Civic Democrats, now the main opposition party.

In a recent interview with the Czech daily Mlada fronta Dnes, Mr Jandak said he was a non-party member who stands very much to the right. Days later, the told another newspaper, Pravo, he didn't find the programme of the left-of-centre Social Democrats at all bad, "so we can say that I am close to it".

It is widely expected that Czech president Vaclav Klaus - a founding member of the Civic Democrats - will accept the prime minister's choice and appoint Vitezslav Jandak on Wednesday, in time for him to attend the next Cabinet meeting.

Mr Jandak, 58, has said that his immediate task will be to carry on the work of Pavel Dostal. That includes finding "alternative" ways to support Czech culture. He has also said he will renew dialogue with the church. Mr Jandak's first test in parliament will likely be to push through a bill now in the lower house that would raise funds for the struggling domestic film industry by imposing a tax on television broadcasters.