Education minister on the way out after paper accuses him of bullying subordinates

Marcel Chládek, photo: CTK

Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka on Thursday announced the dismissal of Education Minister Marcel Chládek. The decision came just hours after the daily Mladá fronta Dnes published an article accusing the minister of bullying his subordinates. While many are ready to testify that this was indeed the case, experts in the field of education say it was a welcome pretext to get rid of a minister who was clearly not up to the task.

Marcel Chládek, photo: CTK
Although stories of the education minister’s unacceptable behavior –especially towards his female subordinates -had been making the rounds for over a year, there was no indication that his days in office were numbered. The prime minister’s decision on Thursday was swift and unexpected, leaving no room for debate, which has triggered speculation that the education minister was not being sacked on the basis of one article, albeit one containing serious accusations.

“I consider Marcel Chládek the best education minister the country has had over the past ten years, but he no longer fulfills the stringent requirements that come with a position in government. The information published in Mladá fronta Dnes cannot be played down or underestimated,” the prime minister said in a written statement to the press.

Among the arguments presented by the daily is the fact that over the past 16 months nine female staff members who were in daily contact with the minister handed in their notice and another went on unpaid leave. The minister has dismissed the accusations as a slur campaign waged by the owner of the paper, ANO leader and Finance Minister Andrej Babiš, allegedly made in response to his attempt to win a bigger budget for the Education Ministry. However many people, including parliament deputies have said they were aware that all was not well at the ministry. Moreover, the prime minister himself is reported to have had a word with the minister about his behavior towards subordinates a year ago. What went on during the one-on-one meeting between the prime minister and education minister preceding the announcement of his dismissal on Thursday will remain behind closed doors. The prime minister later made clear that his decision was final and called a morning meeting of the party’s leadership to debate the question of a suitable successor. The prime minister has stated he would prefer for the post to go to a woman and it was decided that the ministry would temporarily be run by Labor and Social Affairs Minister Michaela Marksová Tominová.

Michaela Marksová Tominová, photo: Filip Jandourek
Meanwhile, news of the educations minister’s sacking has met with approval both in political and academic circles. The head of the Committee for Education in the lower house Jiří Zlatuška, said the minister’s sacking could only benefit the education sector. The head of the internet website Czech School Janek Wagner claims that, far from being the best, Chládek was one of the country’s worst education ministers – a man without a clear vision, easily swayed, who opened the door to a lot of lobbyists. His only merit, Wagner says, was in drawing media attention to the education sector’s problems.

Although it would be hard to find someone critical of the prime minister’s decision, experts in the field point out that the constant change of guard at the Education Ministry –with eleven ministers in and out over the course of a decade –is not serving the sector well, and that finding a candidate able and willing to shoulder responsibility for the sphere of education will not be easy.