Culture Minister quits after months of criticism

Alena Hanáková, photo: CTK

Minister of Culture Alena Hanáková has announced that she is to step down at the end of the month. Even though she had come in for much criticism in arts circles, no immediate reason for her departure has been made clear.

Alena Hanáková,  photo: CTK
Alena Hanáková’s concise announcement of her resignation came right after her meeting with the heads of the TOP 09 party and their partner STAN movement of mayors and independents, which had named her to the ministerial post 18 months ago.

Mrs. Hanáková told reporters at the Wednesday press conference that she had achieved almost everything she had set out to do, listing successes like the ground-breaking bill on church restitution.

However, Petr Fischer, head of the cultural section of the Hospodářské noviny daily, says she cannot take much credit for her ministry’s achievements.

“The Church Restitution bill was prepared a long time ago; her predecessor, Jiří Besser, was the one who chose the new conductor for the philharmonic orchestra; the new law on cinematography was also prepared and lobbied for much earlier. She was not the one who got it passed. So, she is actually referring to things that were already in the works, and which simply happened under her watch.”

Ondřej Černý,  photo: archive of Radio Prague
Many people from both the cultural and political spheres accuse Mrs. Hanáková of leading the ministry in a chaotic fashion and having been unable to secure enough money from the state budget for the arts.

She faced staunch opposition and protests when she unexpectedly fired Ondřej Černý, the head of the National Theater, last September without a clear reason. Her dismissal of the head of the National Gallery, Vladimír Rösel, two months ago did not elicit as much anger, but the failure to install a permanent replacement has irked the gallery’s employees and politicians.

Architecture historian Zdeněk Lukeš told Czech Television that Mrs. Hanáková did not contribute to any systematic changes in the cultural sphere, and that her lack of experience was one of her biggest handicaps:

“Additionally, I think that at the head of this agenda should be someone with a strong personality, who is respected by artists in this country, which is difficult, because they are people full of emotions.”

Although many, especially from artistic circles, are happy to see Mrs. Hanáková go, even her opponents, like the former director of the national theater, Ondřej Černý, are wary of a hasty decision over the naming of her successor:

Jiří Hlaváč,  photo: archive of Radio Prague
“Minister Hanáková has made many mistakes, but she has been able to learn from them. And her quick replacement will not really solve anything.”

The Ministry of Culture has been a hot potato for most post-communist cabinets in this country, with 12 people having led it in the last 20 years. Choosing a new minister will be a balancing act between satisfying the cultural community and politicians. The current frontrunner is an award-winning composer Jiří Hlaváč, who unlike Alena Hanáková, comes from the world of culture and has never had a political affiliation.