“The most important thing in politics is to keep learning”
Ivan Bartoš is the Chairman of the Czech Pirate Party and the Deputy Representative in the Parliament of the Czech Republic where he chairs the Committee for Public Sector and Regional Development. He has been a member of the Pirate Party since its foundation in 2009. Even though people believe Mr. Bartoš had studied mathematics and informatics, in fact he studied psychology and information science at Husite Theological Faculty, and he ended up with a PhD degree from the information studies and librarianship from Charles University, which is a combination of information, society and systems on the social level. His working experience ranges from public institutions to NGOs and large multinational corporations. Ivan Bartoš has had a long-lasting interest in social topics and quality of life even prior to entering the politics. When Ivan Bartoš had more spare time, he enjoyed being a DJ, playing accordion and singing in a band, but these days he is too busy. He is married to Lydia Franka, also a member of the Pirate party.
Ivan Bartoš says that the Pirate party is the only truly democratic political platform that reflects the reality of the 21st century. „Technologies we have at our disposal can help us and make our lives easier to a great extent. However, we should avoid that they become a tool for a digital totalitarian régime“. Understandably, freedom and mutual respect are the values most important to him.
I was lucky to meet Ivan Bartoš not only at a time when the Parliament was in session but also during the times of interpellations. Our interview was interrupted and, on a screen, I could watch Mr. Bartoš interpellating Prime Minister Babiš regarding the non-transparent ownership of Agrofert and the possible consequences with regards to the EU sanctions. The atmosphere in the Pirate party club in the Parliament was relaxed and less formal on one hand yet buzzing with activity on the other. No wonder. After 10 years on the political scene, the Pirate party has many reasons to celebrate. Thanks to their results in the last municipal elections in September, they have become key players for many coalitions in various towns and cities, including Mr. Zdeněk Hřib who later that day was announced as the future Mayor of Prague.
Mr. Bartoš considers himself a true European. Given his age and experience, he is one of the few top-ranking Czech politicians who speaks English fluently. I am proud that you, the readers of the Czech and Slovak Magazine, can enjoy this interview in the original version, not the translation. Enjoy this unique opportunity, reading an interview with a leading Czech politician in English!
Mr. Bartoš, it has been 10 years, since the Pirate party was established and 10 years, since you entered the politics. Congratulations! Were you aware of the anniversary?
We started the Pirate party as a rather spontaneous action and I was not the founder. We were not aware of the consequences, however we believed in fast success. If you do something that you believe in, you hope for fast victory, not a long-distance run. Thanks to Facebook reminders, and it is necessary to mention that Facebook has existed longer than our party, we are reminded how much the party has grown. We still manage to keep the joy in doing politics, one thing that differentiates us from the other parties. The party itself is changing, a younger generation of people is coming and joining the party, which means that they are 18 years younger than me. I must admit, that little by little, I seem to less understand them and their way of living. Imagine, they were born and grew up in an era of having the internet in every household, since childhood they are used to the cellphones. The founder of the World Pirate Party Movement himself, Rick Falkvinge, predicted the generational change and appealed to us to “let them do their work” whenever we find out we do not understand the latest issues and trends. Overall, I must say that I feel very proud and thankful to all the people who have helped us. If I compare us to a product, we have become a very good product, an easy one to market as well. We are not the ones to spend hundreds of million crowns on a campaign just to keep the results from the previous elections. We are the most cost- efficient party with regard to campaigns.
From your personal anniversary to the anniversary of 100 years of Czechoslovakia. What are your thoughts – nostalgia, hope or something else?
I must admit that I am not having any other or different thoughts about the way I think about society in general just because of this special day. We do have many interesting personalities, in terms of politicians or scientists, but the heritage of the nation is embedded in the every-day work of the ordinary people. My social media status for this occasion deals with the issue of bravery. Many people talk about this trait but in fact bravery depends on the options people have. People in the Czech Republic have their own problems like everywhere in the world. For someone, bravery might be demonstrated just by getting up, going to work, raising their children. I am happy that thanks to my family and my education, I am equipped to try to change things. However, I would like to stress one thing. The anniversary is not only for the Czechs and Slovaks, but we should also mention all foreigners who either live here or abroad but have made a considerable impact on society.
Based on the results of the fall elections, the year 2018 for the Pirates will not be remembered as the symbol of centenary, but as a substantial victory in regional and municipal elections, that brought the Pirates to the position of the Mayor of Prague.
Again, I have to point that we started from zero. We had no major funding from large corporations. Each election is, to some extent special. The proof of how wide-spread our concept is in how the party grows and functions“. We currently have 22 women and men representatives in Parliament. The most important thing in politics is to keep learning. You can make mistakes, but you need to learn from them and build on the knowledge consecutively. I am known as a sci-fi and a Star Trek fan, so now a very useful story comes to my mind. An intelligent star is approaching the earth; a star which calls itself VGer and which is looking for its creator. The Americans treat it as a threat and make contact with the artificial intelligence only to discover that it is a probe that NASA sent into space many years ago in order to investigate space and acquire knowledge. There was space dust on the probe and once it had learnt so much that it was able to look at itself, it saw the name VGer – the original inscription for Voyager. With the aim to improve its ability to learn. Sometimes, I feel like Pirates are a satellite thrown to the politics that learns and tries to improve with each mistake. In general, I can say that politicians lose the ability to do so, once they enter the politics; they usually accept the status quo and the rules of how politics is done, and they do not dare to challenge it. The more we are trying to improve the system, the more we need to be better educated, as we are not an artificial intelligence, but we are intelligent people who like to learn. I believe this is the foundation for our growth and our good results in the elections. Again, all by ourselves, without any PR agency or external advisors.
I must say that I find your system, that allows anyone interested to approach you and become active on an issue they find relevant, quite remarkable. A year ago, I attended your conference on education and social affairs that was opened for many key players and stakeholders not only from various institutions but also with truly different viewpoints. I know if I want to approach any of your members of parliament, I just open their diary on-line and make an appointment. Your meeting minutes of the party leadership are also on-line.
This is the hardest way to do politics, as anyone can approach you anytime. In the future, this might even become an issue of personal security. We have started with complete transparency and everyone around just kept saying that this is not the way to do it. Some areas where politics is done behind the scenes can actually be closed for us, as we are not part of that. In the long term, such openness has helped us, especially every time there was a campaign against us. The transparency on the other hand protects us. Every Pirate shares their contacts with lobbyists, so there is little that someone can expose about us. This openness is also essential for out of the box thinking. In case you are preparing a legislation challenging the status quo but applicable to the “real world”, you have to accept feedback from the “real world” from the beginning, not after you are done with the proposal. It is only natural to get upset after you have worked hard on something alone for a long time. Therefore, we involve as many stakeholders as possible from the very beginning, to end up with a solution that is acceptable for everyone who has participated. That is how we will run cities in the future.
I come from Jablonec nad Nisou and as a citizen, I am informed about the finished result. This is the passive way of communication. However, the world is an interactive place. It is not an evening movie where you just consume the final product. Therefore, we want to get people involved in the first place. If we take the field of construction as an example, the projects are finished much faster when you deal with any objections and concerns in the beginning compared to already presenting the future visualized project and being sued by various non-governmental organizations and interest groups. We invite and even challenge the experts to criticize our program, right now in particular on the topic of accessible housing. Some scientists are sometimes still a bit shy and reluctant to share their opinion, being afraid that we will be upset that they come with a different pointofview.Youdonothavetoaccepteverything but definitely you should be able to deal with a different point of view. We are also challenging the fact that we have no access to the data owned by various ministries, as we are not part of the government. We always have to ask the ministers for the data, however the data does not belong to them. When we get to some relevant data, we immediately share them to improve awareness.
You talked a lot about learning. Where do you get your inspiration from?
Everything is a copy or a remix. Even for the Prague elections, we sent Mr. Zdeněk Hřib to visit several European cities that are unique in specific approaches to green fields, transportation, intelligent systems, parking lots, etc. Since we are in the European Union, we look mainly there. I myself, do not distinguish between the EU and the Czech Republic, I am European. Politically, the Pirates are based on the traditional principles of direct democracy, dating back to the ancient Greek society. Let me also mention that we also want to inspire others, that is why everything we produce is open and copy-left. We promote open data and open-access.
Who is Ivan Bartoš, when he is not a politician, and a leader, but when he is by himself, just as a private person?
I do not think I am a different person, I cannot be. I am aware of the fact that I am under public scrutiny all the time. Sometimes, I find I am perhaps less spontaneous and more sensitive about my sense of humor. I do not have time for my hobbies anymore. Other than that, you will find no difference. Otherwise, the media would have already disclosed it. I am simply transparent and open. I believe that this has already become the DNA of the Pirate party.
By Linda Štucbartová