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You're reading: Museum experts indignant at firing of six museum and reserve directors

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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