Culture Minister Vitezslav Jandak to mark 100 days in office

Even in his youth, Vitezslav Jandak was a character actor, resigned to playing second fiddle to the leading man. In the immensely popular film "Tri Orisky Pro Popelku" (1973) - the Czechs' take on Cinderella -- Jandak plays a bumbling fool attending the handsome prince on a hunting trip. Thirty years later and just shy of 100 days into his role as Culture Minister, Jandak -- with his bulbous nose, protruding belly and receding hairline -- has become the nation's most popular politician.

Actor-turned-politician Vitezslav Jandak has overtaken his boss, Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek, as the most popular politician in the Czech Republic. Nearly two out of three Czechs think Jandak has shined in his role as Culture Minister, according to the latest poll by the STEM agency.

Jandak is a likeable enough fellow. He has made a point of turning out for regional cultural events outside the limelight and seems to have the common touch. He is also a political independent, and unlike those politicians named most unpopular in the poll - the ministers of Labour and Health - is not in a position to take decisions that affect the livelihood of John Q Public.

Commenting on Jandak's 64 percent approval rating, political scientist Rudolf Kucera told the newspaper Lidove noviny the STEM poll merely proved "the public knows nothing about the problematic state of Czech culture" and that "they only voted according to his face."

Before his appointment in late August, Jandak - then director of a popular children's film festival in Zlin -- promised to find innovative ways to boost the state cultural budget. With this Thursday marking his 100th day as Culture Minister, what has he achieved thus far?

The Ministry will have about 3.5 million US dollars more to spend next year than it did in 2005. But in terms of the percentage of overall state spending, the ministry actually will have less to spend. With funds scarce, cultural organisations have criticised Jandak for allocating less in annual grants than will go towards adding an additional stage at the National Theatre in Prague - this when many theatres in the Czech capital are underattended and in need of repair.

Church dignitaries, on the other hand, have praised Jandak for reaching out to them with promises of funding the repair of church properties seen as cultural landmarks. He further entered their good graces by indirectly raising priests' salaries.

Jandak has won praise across-the-board for making the allocation of Culture Ministry funds more transparent. But his most important tests as a politician are yet to come - these include pushing through a new law on cinematography to support the struggling film industry, and an amendment to laws governing church- state relations.

In the meantime, Vitezslav Jandak - the character actor - is certain to remain a popular figure, as the curtain rises for his second act as minister.