Elections change nothing

Cyril Svoboda, former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, shared some secrets from the political environment. Peek under the cover.

What was the most important thing that you have learned about life in politics?

It became very clear that when one has a firm attitude, he is relentless. Once one starts to compromise sooner or later it will trap him and no campaign or billboard can save it. There is a difference between politics and politicking. Politics is a responsible and noble profession while politicking is a trade and it can ruin you.

Then why are there more politickers than politicians?

They are a part of a project which will soon end. The Czech political party ANO will not be there in 10 years. Politics is about an attitude. To become a leader, one needs to be hard-bitten and able to rise. That is why Václav Havel was a politician and entrepreneur Andrej Babiš is not. It is wrong to think that entrepreneurs are good at politics. They only think about their profit and not about their society. Donald Trump will be one of the weakest presidents.

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Is politicking a reason why so few young people want to go into politics and they prefer to change the world through NGO’s?

I respect civic society but I think that people go into NGO’s because they want to avoid the conflict with people who are in power. Once you have a certain attitude and you want votes, you need to go into battle. The director of People in Need Šimon Pánek will be more important in history than presidents thanks to his exceptional work but he could not go into politics because sponsors would cut their funds. I do not believe that NGO’s can change the culture.

Parties promise many changes in their programs. Do you believe in elections?

In my opinion, elections change nothing. People do not read programs and their motives to choose candidates are different. What can really change culture is when a society does not tolerate certain types of people in politics. Everyone is grunting but when the time of election comes suddenly they do not mind the person. Political parties understand that people forgive easily. The former German Minister of Defense Guthenberg will never get any position due to plagiarism of his dissertation work but compare that with the Czech political scientist Robejšek. People must be courageous and able to say: “No, we do not want that.”

Are you considering entering politics again?

I do not rule it out but in the near future, I am not planning to. To be honest I miss politics because it is my passion. On the other hand, I tell myself that the worst thing I could do is to go around and tell people: “Look. Here I am and I would like to do something.” The principle of our president Zeman is “Take your time.” After ten years when he was neither seen nor heard of he came back and started to tell a new story. It depends on whether you have something to build on. If there was no World War I, our first Czechoslovak president Masaryk would have lasted out as a merited sociologist.

Times of crisis ask for leaders. Do you see any crisis coming?

I think that terrorists have managed quite well to decay society by spreading fear. Radical parties build on that saying that Europe does not know what to do. This is not true. We only do not have a common will. The problem will come when European states start arguing amongst each other.

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This is already happening in terms of the migration crisis. What do you think should be done?

My vision is that we use the Berlin+ agreement and the army will protect external borders at seashores from where the people are coming. We will need to announce to these countries that all economic, developmental and humanitarian aid is conditioned by acceptance of these terms. In parallel, hotspots should be opened and selection of legal migrants should be made. The mafia will surely not like it and it will cause some deaths. Migrants who are coming from the sea are protected by all conventions. It is not possible to protect the European borders on European land. Turkey will also need to join the alliance and sanction against all those who support the war in Syria should be enforced.

What should be done with immigrants in Europe?

It is false and populist to say that we will send them back. Europe needs to take the burden and distribute them within the countries.

People are afraid that the influx of immigrants will lead to a higher risk of terrorism.

I think that intelligence and police should manage the situation differently than by forbidding people of certain religion to come. The essence of the fight against terrorism is not a lack of instruments and conventions but of firm attitude. Europe needs to stick together to overcome this problem. In today’s world where information equals gold, we need effective intelligence agencies. The people who work with sensitive data need to be screened. Intelligencers who reveal planned attacks need to be sure that they convey the message to verified sources.

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The question of immigrants always leads to a heated debate. People are either rude or they are afraid to express their opinion. How do you perceive political correctness?

I am against it. We do not want to be correct towards other people but we want others to be correct towards us. A homosexual can tell you: “Oust the Muslims but respect our right for marriage.” In one interview with politician Čunek about the Prague Parade, the reporter said that society is evolving and that we should agree to homosexual marriages. But that is not an argument. Society is evolving differently. In a good and bad way. The fact that it is going this way does not mean that it is a good direction. We say that everything is possible because we do not want to hurt anybody.

When I go back to politics in general, is there any politician that you admire?

In today’s politics, I admire Angela Merkel who does not divert from her attitude. Her relationship to migrants comes from her strong convictions. I believe she will be re-elected. I also respect Tony Blair. Even though he is now out of the game due to the Iraq crisis I think he should be studied. He has a great charisma and he was always able to formulate merit.

What are the relationships among politicians like? It looks like they hate each other but isn’t it a pretense?

Like in any profession there are nice people. I had many friendly relations with people from different parties. I can never agree with Jan Zahradil’s opinions about the EU but I respect him because he belongs to those who have deep knowledge of the matter. What I despise is a played conflict which does not exist, like when people say before elections that they will never come to an agreement with the other party and the second day after elections they do.

That makes people angry. How did you handle such situations?

Politics consumes a lot of time and energy. I always had support in my faith. It often happens that one will never understand why some unjust things are happening. Sports also helped me a lot. It is a good outlet. I go jogging or swimming every day.

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In the end, I would like to ask you what is the mission of your life?

To build and maintain good interpersonal relations in my private and public life. To avoid flightiness. That is also why I regularly visit one acquittance in prison. He was sentenced but I do not want to take my hands off him because everyone else has done so. The interpersonal relations are your only visiting card that always goes with you.

Thank you for this lovely interview. I wish you good luck.

Copyright: Cyril Svoboda and cover image by Arnaud Jaegers from Unsplash

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