The War on Culture in Slovakia

Author: Mária Beňačková Rišková

Slovakia's cultural sector faces a dire situation under an ultra-populist government since 2023, led by Minister of Culture Martina Šimkovičová. Censorship, discrimination, and power centralisation have sparked widespread resistance, with grassroots movements and international criticism challenging undemocratic actions. Despite obstacles, efforts persist to defend cultural freedom, with petitions, online platforms, political opposition, institutional protests, and artistic interventions reflecting a united front against authoritarianism.



Protest in front of the National Council of the Slovak Republic (joint protest of cultural, environmental, and civic rights organisations) on April 16th, 2024 – © Boris Németh



It's hard to play the violin when not only is the stage trembling beneath you, but the very foundation of your home where your family lives is shaking. We thought the sounds from over the hill were just a storm, but it's an earthquake, if not a war. I don't want to exaggerate the metaphor of war in the shadow of real war events in the world, especially in neighbouring Ukraine, but I am convinced that Slovakia is already in a cultural war. Even in this conflict, people are dying violently, material and immaterial values are being degraded, and the boundaries of decency and human rights or culture are being pushed aside.



The situation is serious. Since October 25th, 2023, an ultra-populist government is at the helm of the Slovak Republic, a coalition of three parties led by Robert Fico (SMER, HLAS, Slovak National Party), whose representatives are democratically elected, but their methods and views are often anti-democratic. The leaders of these parties have a long-standing disturbed relationship with the media–manifested, for example, by refusing to communicate with some reputable media at press conferences without giving a relevant reason and, conversely, favouring disinformation media. They use crude vocabulary to demonstrate power and determination, they change their decisions, and they believe that their voters have short memories. Their efforts since coming to power have only been to further consolidate and centralise this power, and to work frenetically on arming themselves with legislation that will protect members of the ruling parties from any acts of justice in the future. After the presidential elections in April, it is clear that this coalition will further consolidate its power with the presidency, which was won by the leader of the HLAS party, Peter Pellegrini.

The situation in State cultural policy and culture in general is also serious. Last year, we experienced two changes of government, resulting in three different ministers leading the Ministry of Culture of the Slovak Republic in 2023. Every leadership role needs time to get up and running and establish a working system. Previous Minister Silvia Hroncová of the caretaker government (May-October) utilised her five-month tenure effectively until the last day. She showed that with reasonable and open governance, positive results can be achieved even in a short and unstable period of time.

The Reset! newsletter from November 2023–entitled Slovakia: An Outlook on the Current Situation of the Slovak Independent Cultural Scene, by Beáta Lányiová–could still have ended with a slight hint of hope, but six months later the new Minister of Culture Martina Šimkovičová, a puppet of the current coalition, proved that even in a short period of time, relationships with the cultural community can be permanently damaged. She began to “address” cultural problems not from the point of view of acute and real problems, but from the point of view of proxy or fictitious problems, which, according to the Minister and her advisors, would win the sympathy of her electorate. The background of the current Minister of Culture is well-known. After leaving Markíza television due to discriminatory statements about migration, she began her “career” in the disinformation scene. She ascended to the ministerial position on the candidate list of the Slovak National Party and swam her way into parliament and the ministerial chair.

Considering that the Slovak National Party is openly labelled as nationalist and far-right in the international political community, their themes are not surprising–denying the rights of minorities, focusing on the promotion of monoculture at the expense of diversity, seeking to control the allocation of public funds to cultural activities, and taking steps to gain influence over public media. The influence of the Minister's anchoring in the disinformation scene was evident from her very first major decision: to cancel subsidies for the fight against disinformation. Since the beginning of 2024, the leadership of the Ministry of Culture of the Slovak Republic has continued to destroy the painstakingly established rules of State cultural policy (which, let's admit, required a lot of work even before the current leadership of the Ministry)–opening discussions about public funding with discriminatory comments on social networks. They are also trying to bring public media and public institutions under greater control. In fact, the centralisation of powers in the hands of the Ministry’s leadership, and thus in the hands of Robert Fico's government, has begun.


Press conference organised on the occasion of the submission of the petition sheets for the resignation of Minister of Culture Martina Šimkovičová at the Ministry of Culture of the Slovak Republic on February 5th, 2024 – © Olja Triaška Stefanovič



Let's summarise the cases, topics, and issues that have occurred in State cultural policy under the leadership of Minister of Culture Martina Šimkovičová over the past six months.

  • October 2023

Unofficial information about the possible appointment of Tomáš Taraba as Minister of Culture. Taraba is known for spreading pro-Kremlin propaganda and disinformation. Upon mention of his name, a petition against his appointment immediately emerged with over 15,000 signatures. He was ultimately appointed and currently serves as Minister of the Environment.

The appointment of Martina Šimkovičová as Minister of Culture follows. Despite her public office, she continued to appear in videos on the disinformation website TV Slovan.

  • November 2023

Šimkovičová cancelled subsidies allocated for 2023 in a grant programme aimed at developing and supporting media literacy and combating disinformation.

The Minister of Culture made derogatory comments about the artwork of visual artist Andrej Dúbravský depicting acts of two men embracing. She expressed her intent for “legislative changes.”

  • December 2023

Under a scandalous headline on social media, the Minister of Culture spreads hatred against LGBTI+ communities, stating that “NGOs supporting LGBTI+ will no longer receive a cent from the Ministry of Culture” and speaks of “their parasitism on funds from the Ministry of Culture.”

The reshuffle of leadership positions begins. The director of the Slovak Mining Museum in Banská Štiavnica is sacked without explanation, even though the museum is under the Ministry of the Environment.

The government's legislative plan includes a proposal to merge three public funds–the Audiovisual Fund, the Slovak Arts Council, and the Fund for the Support of Minority Culture. The merger is not efficient, and the motive behind it is an obvious attempt to control them and intervene in their current management.

  • January 2024

A debate begins in parliament and among the public about the proposal to merge the three public funds. These steps were temporarily postponed after protests, but the Ministry of Culture's intention to bring their use under political control remained.

Minister Šimkovičová cancels an internal directive issued by former Minister of Culture Natália Milanová in March 2022. The directive ordered organisations under the Ministry of Culture to suspend academic and cultural cooperation with the Russian Federation or the Republic of Belarus.

The Ministry of Culture announces the dissolution of the public institution Kunsthalle Bratislava by incorporating it into the Slovak National Gallery. Both institutions are subsidised by the Ministry of Culture, and these steps could cause a split in the visual arts community.

  • February and March 2024

A bill is proposed to abolish the public television and radio (Rádio a televízia Slovenska, RTVS) and create a new institution, Slovak Television and Radio. The Minister and her party leader Andrej Danko criticised co-productions–calling external suppliers parasites–, personal verbal attacks on the Director-General of RTVS increased, proposals were made to rename the institution and reform the board. This was preceded by initial proposals to split the television and radio into two institutions or to reduce the institution's budget.

The minister dismissed other directors, including Zuzana Liptáková, the director of the BIBIANA International House of Art for Children, who had reformed the institution. The minister then appoints one of her friends, who has no previous experience, to run the institution temporarily. Six employees resigned in protest, and the dismissal triggered a wave of resistance in the cultural community.

  • April 2024

The debate on amending the law on the publicly funded Slovak Arts Council is returning to parliament. One of the proposals is that the final decision should rest with the Fund's board, the majority of whose members are appointed by the Minister of Culture. Until now, expert committees with a transparent modus operandi have decided on some 5,000 applications a year. More than half of the members of the expert committees have already stated that they will resign if the law is passed.

On April 18th, the Slovak section of the Czechoslovak pavilion at the Venice Biennale opened with Oto Hudec's environmental installation “Floating Arboretum.” A group of visitors from Slovakia protested against the current policies of the Ministry of Culture. It was a silent protest during a speech by the director of the Ministry's cultural heritage department, Peter Lukáč, during which the audience turned their backs with banners reading “The Ministry of Culture of the Slovak Republic does not represent us.” Minister Šimkovičová, who was not present at the opening, issued a statement the following day in which she referred to “anti-Slovak activities” during the opening and threatened not to reimburse the Slovak National Gallery, which was responsible for Slovakia's participation in the Biennale, for the costs of the exhibition.

The Ministry of Culture organises a press conference with the Prime Minister and the Minister of Culture, during which the Prime Minister refers to the critics as “spiritual homeless,” expresses his support for the Minister, and expresses his desire to transform public television and radio into state-regulated entities as soon as possible, so that they “objectively report on the government's successes.”

  • Throughout the entire period

Minister Šimkovičová’s communication style shows incompetence, political arrogance, personal interests, and following orders from above. The term “Minister of Unculture” is beginning to be used in satirical media and everyday communication. The beginning of this unfortunate communication was a childish letter to her colleague, the Minister of Culture of the Czech Republic, with grammatical errors. The embarrassment culminated in the Minister's appearance at the Culture Summit Abu Dhabi due to how clichéd the content was (empty phrases about cultural diversity). Contradictory is the cancellation of all posts on the Ministry's official Facebook profile with unbelievable claims of hacking attacks and external manipulation. Until recently, the Minister did not participate in discussions in serious media, where she is often represented by Roman Michelko, essentially an unofficial Minister of Culture. Also uncultured are the Minister’s statements made at press conferences; “Culture in Slovakia must be Slovak and no other,” or reproaches to journalists in the room at a RTVS press conference; “Where were you for three and a half years when you attended press conferences of the previous government, obediently wearing face masks? No critical questions came out of your mouths, and then you nicely went to your television sets with those masks.” The criminal complaint filed by the Ministry of Culture regarding the alleged manipulation of signatures on the petition calling for the resignation of the Minister, and the ridiculous argument that signatures were added even during the night, is just the absurd climax of communication with the public.

The cultural strategy process is not followed up and its implementation remains unclear. With the arrival of the new government, the continuity of the implementation of the Strategy for Culture and Creative Industries of the Slovak Republic 2030, which had already been negatively affected by political changes during its creation, was also interrupted. Culture in Slovakia has long suffered from inefficient State cultural policy, and the strategy identified an investment debt, set strategic goals, and proposed numerous measures. The new government could have acted quickly, it just needed to create action plans and address resources. The ambition of the strategy, which is crucial for effective public policy, is to build relationships and trust between the State administration and the professional sphere, and to create conditions for cooperation between the Ministry of Culture and professional communities dealing with specific issues in culture and the creative industries. However, Minister Šimkovičová said when she took over from former Minister Hroncová: “I have my own strategy.” At present, the Ministry of Culture’s intentions regarding the implementation of the strategy are unclear, and it would be best for the country if the goals of this strategy were pursued through various activities initiated by and involving a broad cultural public, rather than under the centralist leadership of the Ministry of Culture or the government.


Protest at the Venice Biennale on April 18th, 2024 – © Monika Kováčová



In response to the above-mentioned undemocratic tendencies and actions of the government and the Ministry of Culture, there were immediate counter-actions.

In January, the petition for the resignation of Minister of Culture Martina Šimkovičová was launched as a citizens’ initiative. Within ten days it had gathered almost 190,000 signatures. The petition was accompanied by ridicule of its organisers by the Minister and her team, accusations that the signatures were forged, and even a criminal complaint was filed by the Ministry due to alleged forgery of signatures in the petition. After checking the petition using standard statistical methods, the organisers found that the number of false signatures was minimal and submitted the petition with the signatures to the Ministry of Culture.

The first online meeting, initiated by an informal discussion group on Facebook, took place on January 25th, 2024 as a reaction to the steps leading to the erosion of cultural freedom. This was followed by the establishment of the Otvorená Kultúra! independent platform (OK!), which published a memorandum outlining the main points the community was protesting against. A massive support for the memorandum from individuals and organisations followed. By March 1st, the platform had been organised, its operating principles and values established, and the first system of membership and working groups in place. The activities are voluntary, but to become sustainable it will be necessary to find sources of funding. The signatories of the memorandum and the members of the platform agreed on the need to create a cultural federation for organisations and unions for individuals–by end of April OK! had the support of 295 organisations and 1722 individuals. The platform's ambition is not only to respond to negative and democracy-threatening actions of State cultural policies, but above all to organise in such a way that the voice of the cultural community is unmistakable and that our ruling clique has to deal with it.

In February, political steps were taken. The opposition made several attempts to convene a parliamentary session to discuss the proposal to dismiss the Minister of Culture. All attempts have been unsuccessful.

Other active groups support both the petition and the OK! platform, in particular the important initiative Zachráňme kultúru (Let’s Save Culture), which has experience in cultural activism since the late 1990s, or the Via Cultura association and the activities of former Minister Silvia Hroncová of the caretaker government.

Individual actions are essential–campaigns on individual cases, discussions, articles, open letters–have been part of the daily agenda of many cultural workers for six months now. Not to mention personal comments on social networks, polls in the media, mobilising support for petitions, and submitting collective comments in the legislative process.

Even institutions are protesting. Those set up by the Ministry of Culture have so far remained silent, but other public institutions have voiced their criticism and objections, such as the Rada galérií Slovenska (Council of Slovak Galleries), the Academy of Fine Arts and Design, the Academy of Performing Arts, AICA, the Technical University in Košice, galleries, professional associations, and many others.

Artistic interventions and protests by active artists are increasing. In Banská Štiavnica, for example, artists and curators withdrew from the exhibition programme for the whole year after the dismissal of the director. They comment not only on cultural issues, but also on other social problems.

Let's not forget about the parties political actions, even though they are not the subject of this piece. The Ministry of Culture continues to be criticised by the opposition, but also from the President. The opposition regularly organises protests where culture is also given a voice.

All the initiatives and critics mentioned above have joined forces in the current struggle for public television and radio. And those whose support we increasingly need are coming into play–the international community. The Fico government’s moves against public media have been sharply criticised by respected European journalism and media organisations, which in an open letter to the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Parliament Robert Metso, and the President of the European Council Charles Michel, have called on European leaders to protect press freedom in Slovakia.


Otvorená Kultúra! platform logo – © Tereza Maco


On a personal note

What are the motives of the government and the Minister? From the statements of the current coalition, revenge is evident–revenge on several levels, political, personal, cultural, and social. Fico’s government fell in 2018 “because of journalists,” the Minister of Culture had to leave her job as a TV presenter “because of migrants,” due to progressive artists there “weren't enough resources for nationally-oriented authors,” and so on.

Between the lines of their statements, there is an attempt to deceive citizens, to deepen their distrust of serious media, and to introduce disinformation and propaganda sources into the public space. Those sources that hide under the label of civil, alternative, sometimes even independent, use unprofessional methods and present a distorted perspective when they claim to be free media, but spread pro-Russian propaganda and opinions that contradict the concept of freedom.

In this democratically elected anti-democracy, the argument is often heard: “The Minister and the Prime Minister are doing what their voters elected them for.” Yes, the coalition won its positions in democratic elections, but who knows how long democratic principles will last for them. The hatred of freedom manifests itself in the targeting of NGOs, independent creators, public media, everything that is free and professional. The ultimate goal is to centralise power and maintain it in the long term, to become untouchable.

What I fear most are the secondary processes that take place in our minds. Almost every meeting today starts with a comment on the current situation, as if people need to confirm where they are standing before they start working together. Or do they need to reassure themselves that their work still matters? That “we will endure,” that “it” will be overcome, that “it” can't last long, that “it” must fall... But then we remember that there were times before when “it” intervened in our work, our personal and public affairs, when only what passed the State censors was broadcast on television, and democracy was a bad puppet show. Moscow's propagandists are still reaping the rewards of that time.

There is a subtle shift in the boundaries of decency and values, people resort to self-censorship, and the philosophy of “if they can do it, so can we” emerges. Communication is vulgarised–even in an attempt to be understood by the other side. Still, there are democratically elected representatives who we need to communicate with, but many have reservations and feel that communication is collaboration. The idea of ​​a rift between traditional and contemporary culture is artificially created, fights over resources between different types of culture are incited, and a conflict is artificially created between institutions set up by the public administration and independent institutions, or between the capital and the regions. All this has to be kept in mind alongside the constant influx of new, ill-conceived, and dangerous legislative proposals, and alongside regular daily work and life.

We have a lot to learn, how to argue, how to say what we want and be understood, how to politely say “no,” “that's not true,” or “I disagree” in a discussion that is not polite. Nevertheless, people come together, use tools to co-create public policy, trust, support, and take care for each other. Such pressure can bring people together and encourage some processes of cooperation, with support from colleagues on the international scene.

A friend from Hungary sadly said to me, “Welcome to our world.” I reply, “not yet.”



The situation is being monitored continuously by several sources, which helped me compile the chronology (information gathered by activists from the Otvorená Kultúra! platform, and readily available news in the media):

An open letter to the European leaders to protect press freedom in Slovakia:

Floating Arboretum:

Strategy for Culture and Creative Industries of the Slovak Republic 2030:

Otvorená Kultúra! platform website:


About the author:

Mária Beňačková Rišková is a freelance cultural manager, editor, and author. She has been involved in the creation of several projects in the independent cultural scene in Slovakia (such as the Buryzone gallery and club, the Multiplace new media culture festival, the A4 contemporary culture space, and others). She served as the director of the public institution Slovak Design Center and is a co-founder of the Slovak Design Museum. She is a member of the Ursula von der Leyen Round Table for the European Commission's New European Bauhaus initiative. She coordinated the development of the Slovak Republic's Culture and Creative Industries Strategy 2030 for the Ministry of Culture (October 2021-May 2023). She was actively involved in founding the independent platform uniting the cultural community across Slovakia and various cultural sectors, called Otvorená Kultúra!, at the beginning of 2024.