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Museum experts indignant at firing of six museum and reserve directors

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Aug. 9, 2012, 11:22 p.m. | None — by Fedor Zarkhin

The directors of six museums and reserves were fired by the Ministry of Culture this year, raising questions about the motives behind the dismissals and the opaque method new directors are appointed.
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The firing of six directors of major museums and reserves this year has raised questions among the cultural community about both the Ministry of Culture’s motivations in doing so and the seemingly arbitrary way new directors are appointed.

Most of the new directors have little experience in managing museums and historical monuments, and Nelya Kukovalskaya, one of the fired directors, explains the spate of replacements as an attempt by the ministry to install people the ministry can control. But whether or not the replacements were justified, it is the fact that they can be hired virtually at the Minister of Culture’s whim that has raised the greatest concerns among experts.

 “The Ministry of Culture needs people who won’t defend monuments and their protective zones,” said Kukovalskaya, who was director of the Sofiya Kiyevska – a UNESCO world heritage site – from 2000 until she was dismissed this year.

The Ministry of Culture said it would be unwise to generalize the reasons the six directors were replaced. It did say, however, that among them were ineffective management, obsolete methods, and violations found upon inspection.

Kukovalskaya believes she was fired because she refused to agree to allow construction projects in the buffer zone around the reserve. The Ministry of Culture, meanwhile, claimed Kukovalskaya was mismanaging the reserve and made major decisions without the ministry’s permission.

Her dismissal was overturned in court, but the ministry fired her again under the pretext that she had been on sick leave longer than the maximum time allowed, she said.

Anatoliy Melnik, who was fired from his post as director of the Museum of National Arts, said there has been no logic to the firings.

“Why destroy everything now when the collective is working normally and stably?” he said.

Melnik has also challenged his dismissal in court.

The director of the Ukrainian Center for Museum Development NGO, Vladislav Pioro, said that although each dismissal had its particularities, what was common among them was that they were all done at museums or reserves with large financial resources. This has lead him to speculate that the Ministry’s motivation may have been to exert greater control over the financial flows, he said.

And while it is hard to determine whether or not all the replacements were justified, it is the process of appointing new directors that must change, said a former director of the UNESCO world heritage site Kyivo-Pecherskaya Lavra and the current director of the All-Ukrainian Museum Association NGO, Sergey Krolevets. The system is so corrupt, he said, that it is pointless to discuss the merits and faults of the new and former directors.

The culture minister – Mikhail Kulinyak – can appoint directors directly, an “authoritarian” method that wasn’t even in place during the Soviet Union and isn’t practiced in any Western countries, Krolevets said. The appropriate method would be for specialists to select directors based on their qualifications through a competitive and transparent process.

The new director of the National Museum of Art, however, will be chosen through a competitive process, which an activist organization – Kyiv is a Hospitable City – has said should be used as a model in the election of the directors for other museums and reserves. The Ministry of Culture was not available to explain why that position will be filled competitively while the others were not.

The Kyivo-Pecherskaya Lavra has also been in the news recently because of the supposed firing of 20 of its deputy directors and scientists. Kyiv is a Hospitable City wrote in a press release that the UNESCO site is in the hands of incompetent management, which the activist organization claims poses an existential risk to the site’s priceless exhibitions.

One of Kyivo-Pecherskaya Lavra’s former deputy directors, meanwhile, has claimed that she gave the Minister of Culture a $50,000 bribe to get her job, according to media reports.

The directors of the following museums and reserves were fired this year:

• National Historico-cultural Reserve of Kyivo-Pechersk

• Sofiya Kyivska National Reserve

• National Museum of National Architecture and Daily Life in Pirogovo

• National Museum of Taras Schevchenko

• National Museum of Art

• National Historico-memorial Reserve Bykivnyansky Mohyly

Kyiv Post staff writer Fedor Zarkhin can be reached at zarkhin@kyivpost.com

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