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Czech government turmoil deepens as embattled Culture minister steps down

Prague, Czech Republic – Czech Culture Minister Antonin Staněk (CSSD) announced on Wednesday he would resign from his government post by the end of the month.

Czech Culture Minister resigns over controversial firing of museum heads

M. Staněk had come under intense pressure after his decision, citing budgetary mismanagement and findings of internal audits, to sack the head of Prague’s National Gallery Jiří Fajt and the director of Olomouc’s Museum of Modern Art Michal Soukup.

Along with the staff of the Museum of Modern Art of Olomouc, Michal Soukup had co-signed an open letter, in March, calling for the dismissal of the Culture Minister, a former mayor of Olomouc himself.

The sackings caused outrage among the Czech cultural and arts scene, which called for M. Staněk’s dismissal, while tens of heads of international art galleries and museums came to the rescue of M. Fajt, expressing their “astonishment and dismay” at the ousting of “an outstanding museum director and an excellent scholar”. The choice of M. Fajt’s successor Ivan Morávek, a former managing director of a firm owned by Prime Minister Babis’ Agrofert conglomerate with no experience in the cultural sector, only added fuel to the fire.

During an interview earlier this week, M. Fajt argued that “this was a political decision. I tried to change the gallery into a platform for critical thinking and artistic freedom. I have always faced occasional attacks, but I never expected anything like this to happen”.

“Mr. Staněk will not be remembered fondly for his time at the helm of the closely observed government department”, writes Radio Prague, pointing out that many consider him as one of the worst Czech culture ministers in history.

Government facing pressure on multiple fronts

His resignation is only the latest departure from the increasingly rocky government of Prime Minister Andrej Babis, that saw seven cabinet members leave since the governing coalition’s official appointment less than one year ago.

Last month, a cabinet reshuffle saw the ousting and replacement of Transport Minister Dan Tok, the longest-serving official at this post since the fall of communism, as well as Trade and Industry Minister Marta Nováková who faced a backlash for her mishandling of a diplomatic incident involving the Chinese ambassador and Taiwan’s envoy in Prague.

A few weeks later, Justice Minister Jan Kněžínek announced his surprise resignation. Coming one day after Czech police recommended to officially file charges against PM Andrej Babis for EU subsidy fraud, his resignation sparked nation-wide protests, now in their fourth week running: on Monday this week, thousands of Czechs demonstrated to voice their worries for the independence of the judiciary, and called for the resignation of M. Kněžínek’s replacement Marie Benesova, whom they fear will meddle in the ongoing investigation facing the Czech Premier.

Headed by Kafkadesk's chief-editor Jules Eisenchteter, our Prague office gathers over half a dozen reporters, editors and contributors, as well as our social media team. It covers everything Czech and Slovak-related, and oversees operations from our other Central European desks in Krakow and Budapest.