President, education minister settle “Putnagate”

Education Minister Petr Fiala, Miloš Zeman, photo: CTK

A controversy sparked by the Czech president’s reluctance to appoint a university professor seems to have been resolved. Miloš Zeman’s refusal to confer the title on Martin C. Putna, a literary historian and vocal critic of his, caused an outcry in the academic community and beyond. However on Wednesday, the president and the education minister struck a deal: Mr Putna will after all be appointed professor. But he will receive his decree from the minister rather than from the head of state himself.

Education Minister Petr Fiala,  Miloš Zeman,  photo: CTK
When President Miloš Zeman hands out decrees to some 60 newly appointed professors at Prague Castle next month, Martin C. Putna will not be among them. The Charles University academic will nevertheless be appointed professor: Mr Zeman will sign his decree but will not present it to him personally; instead, Mr Putna will receive the document from the education minister.

These are the terms of the agreement reached on Wednesday by the president and the education minister that brought an end to what some Czech media dubbed Putnagate. A few hours after the deal was announced, Martin C. Putna said he would accept the decree from the education minister, and that he considered the issue to be over.

Mr Zeman initially refused to appoint Mr Putna a professor at all, apparently over the academic’s involvement in the gay rights movement. In 2011, Mr Putna took part in a gay pride parade in Prague, holding a placard with the word “buzna”, or queer, on it. In the president’s eyes, that was unfitting for a university professor.

Martin C. Putna,  photo: Helena Petáková
However, some observers noted that rather than gay activism, it could have been Mr Putna’s criticism of Miloš Zeman earned him the president’s scorn. The academic backed Mr Zeman’s rival in January’s presidential election and criticized his policies.

President Zeman also asked the minister to make a change in a higher education bill that should reach the lower house later this year. Mr Zeman wants to leave out a provision from the draft legislation which gives the president the authority to appoint professors. In the future, professors should be instead appointed by the education minister.