Czech arts minister Staněk quits after mounting pressure

Antonín Staněk, photo: ČTK/Michal Kamaryt

The Czech Republic’s embattled minister of culture, Antonín Staněk, is stepping down. Mr. Staněk had come under mounting pressure following divisive high-profile sackings and damning performances in the media.

Antonín Staněk,  photo: ČTK/Michal Kamaryt
Antonín Staněk of the Social Democrats issued a statement on Wednesday afternoon saying that he would tender his resignation as minister of culture by the end of this month.

He is the seventh cabinet member to depart the governing coalition since its appointment less than 11 months ago.

A former mayor of Olomouc, Mr. Staněk made headlines several weeks back when he fired the director of the National Gallery in Prague, Jiří Fajt, and the head of Olomouc’s Museum of Art, Michal Soukup, accusing them of improper management.

The domestic arts scene rose up almost in unison against the sackings, while Mr. Fajt also received backing from top gallery chiefs in Europe and the US.

Mr. Staněk found himself under more pressure when he gave an interview last week in which he seemed unfamiliar with either the institutions under his control or his ministry’s budget.

The head of Prague’s DOX arts centre, Leoš Válka, was an initiator of one of two petitions demanding that Mr. Staněk fall on his sword.

“It’s a victory for the entire arts scene, by means of these petitions. It’s a clear signal that ‘normalisation’ practices are, fortunately, still unacceptable in this country. And I think it’s a strategic, pragmatic step on the part of the Social Democrats.”

Leoš Válka,  photo: Czech Television
In his resignation announcement Mr. Staněk said he no longer felt he had the party’s backing in his “fight for justice and the law”, explaining that he was acceding to party boss Jan Hamáček’s wishes that he step down within weeks.

Prime Minister Andrej Babiš of ANO said he was unsurprised by news of the arts chief’s impending departure.

“I think it will help. It will calm the situation down. Because of course the pressure was great. I actually thought this is how it would end. It’s clear that Minister Staněk is going because that’s what the Social Democrats want.”

Mr. Staněk will not be remembered fondly for his time at the helm of the closely observed government department. Indeed, Jan H. Vitvar, who writes about the arts for the weekly Respekt, has dubbed him the worst culture minister in the history of the Czech Republic.

Speculation is now turning to who will become the 17th Czech minister of culture since 1993.

The Social Democrats chairman Jan Hamáček tweeted on Wednesday that Mr. Staněk’s replacement would need to deliver calm and fresh energy to the ministry. His nominee for that task will be revealed at the end of this month, he said.