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Jiří Fajt.

Czech Culture Minister Dismisses Two Prominent Museum Directors, Sparking Protests

Last week, Czech culture minister Antonin Staněk dismissed Jiří Fajt, who had served as director of the National Gallery, Prague, for five years, and Michal Soukup, who had been head of the Olomouc Museum of Art, Monopol reports.

The culture minister said in a public statement that the dismissals were based on the results of “currently completed and ongoing public administration controls of both institutions.” He continued that he had lost faith in the directors’ abilities to lead the art institutions in a way that was “economically [responsible].”

Staněk is also filing a criminal complaint against Fajt for disputes regarding rental contracts and fees. Fajt will be replaced by Ivan Morávek, a crisis manager who the culture minister believes will help bring order to the National Gallery’s financial situation.

The dismissal of Fajt sparked protests from opposition politicians, cultural figures, and museum directors, who believe the move is politically motivated.

Among the signatories are Marion Ackermann, director of the Staatliche Kunstsammlung Dresden; Maria Balshaw, director of Tate, the UK; Hartwig Fischer, director of the British Museum, London; Sabine Haag, director of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna; and Max Hollein, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

“The release of Jiří Fajt was accepted by his colleagues in the world with great indignation,” reads the letter, addressing Czech Prime Minister Andrei Babiš. “Fajt has a wide international network that appreciates and supports him. With this letter we would like to express our astonishment and horror over the release of Jiří Fajt.”

Fajt’s predecessors Milan Knížák and Vladimír Rösel departed their posts with similar interventions from the government. Monopol also reports that Czech president Milos Zeman had refused to grant Fajt the formal and legally acquired title of professor, resulting in a lawsuit against the president by the Charles University in Prague.

Last month, employees of the Olomouc Museum of Art published an open letter calling for the culture minister’s resignation, regarding the government’s interference in an architecture competition organized by the museum. “The steps and claims of the Minister . . . are directly contradicting the real situation in the museum,” they wrote.

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