POLITICS requires the COURAGE to step outside one’s COMFORT ZONE
Ms. Markéta Pekarová Adamová, MSc, has been Chairwoman of the TOP 09 political party since November 2019. During the years 2015–2019, she was its Vice-Chairwoman. She has sat in the Chamber of Deputies since the year 2013, and before that she worked as a representative and councillor for the Prague 8 district.
The Chairwoman of TOP 09 studied the field of andragogy in the Faculty of Philosophy, Charles University Prague, followed by the field of economics and management in an engineering study programme in the Czech Technical University in Prague. Within the scope of her studies, she devoted herself to the issues of the physically disabled and diversity. She is actively involved in volunteer activities, having helped out in children’s homes in Armenia and Morocco, worked with disabled people in Serbia and participated in an environmental project in Scotland. Every year, she helps organise children’s camps and events for children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds in Bohemia.
Her motivation for entering politics in the year 2009 was an appearance by Jiří Paroubek, who was Chairman of the Czech Social Democratic Party at the time. She is currently the only woman to lead a Czech political party represented in the Parliament of the Czech Republic. What I appreciate about Chairwoman Pekarová Adamová is, among other things, that she has managed to remain a woman in a male environment. Apart from natural cultivated media and press conference appearances, she is also known for communication on social networks. She has never stooped to rudeness or vulgarity, yet her cultivated and refined responses have managed to figuratively knock even seasoned media debaters to the ground. Chairwoman Pekarová Adamová skilfully handles reactions to offensive declarations, particularly by the Spokesman of the President of the Republic, Jiří Ovčáček. Reactions to his offensive tweets, in the form of a recipe for pancakes or a list of specific acts in the field of humanitarian aid, have gained great popularity.
Given the current situation regarding the Covid-19 crisis, the interview was conducted remotely. However, we both agreed that the word coronavirus would not be mentioned during the interview. We dealt with topics that will remain relevant even after the current crisis has subsided. We discussed not only TOP 09’s strategy for the upcoming elections, but also politics as a craft. Of course, the conversation also led to topics that Chairwoman Pekarová Adamová holds dear, such as volunteering and local politics. I also asked Chairwoman Pekarová Adamová about measures aimed at the greater involvement of women in the political and economic sectors. Why in these two specific areas? According to the so-called global gender inequality index’s latest indicators for the year 2020, published by the World Economic Forum, the Czech Republic ranked 78th out of 153 countries. Despite the fact that we’re in first place in the categories of education and health, in the category of participation in economic life we’re in 87th place, and regarding the issue of representation in political life we’re in 77th place. We finished with rest, and the harmonization of career and free time. The recommendation “Take care of not only your health, but also your close relationships”, is simultaneously topical and timeless.
Chairwoman Pekarová Adamová, you’ve led the TOP 09 party since November 2019. The latest election polls, from March 2020, indicate that TOP 09, along with two other democratic opposition parties, is on the threshold of electability, with preferences of around five percent, which are necessary for entry to the Chamber of Deputies. What is your party leadership vision, and strategy for the autumn elections?
My vision is ambitious. I want to achieve success that will enable our party to be part of the government. Only in the government can we promote priorities, and turn the steering wheel of politics in the Czech Republic. It’s clear to me that, given the low preferences, we must look for allies before the actual elections. We’re trying to create an electoral grouping that will have a chance of victory, and thereby of changing the political situation.
The inability of the democratic opposition to come together and collaborate seems to be an almost constant “evergreen” of Czech politics.
I perceive unification to be not only in the vital interest of the parties, and the politicians who comprise them, but also in the interest of the citizens of the Czech Republic. The current governmental constellation interconnects media and business interests, as well as the Prime Minister’s personal interests, a little too much. This situation endangers the very essence of liberal democracy in our country. The situation in Hungary and Poland has shown that individual pillars of democracy can be demolished easily and quickly. If all of us in the opposition have a unified interest and goal, then we must also be capable of some sort of compromise and detached view, which will allow us to rise above partial differences, whether they’re of a programme, opinion or human nature. Only effective collaboration will bring about the change of course we desire. In this respect, I’m an optimist. It’s all about will. Positive examples of a collaborating opposition can also be found abroad. On the other hand, I must admit that the steps leading to collaboration aren’t easy at all, and lots of voters who call for collaboration on the opposition’s part may be disappointed that it doesn’t happen quicker.
The interview is intended for readers of Czech and Slovak Leaders Magazine, so let’s talk about leadership. What’s your definition of a leader, and do we have enough leaders in society at the moment?
To me, a leader is someone who can get others on board regarding their view. It’s not someone who merely monitors the opinions of others, a so-called follower, but someone who actively forms opinions. A leader is someone who is followed because they have natural authority and charisma, and the ability to get others on board regarding their view. A leader must be able to listen, but their opinion shouldn’t change according to what the other side wants to hear. A leader must be able to stand behind unpopular opinions, and defend them. I think that there aren’t many personalities who fulfil the afore-mentioned characteristics. Not only in politics, but in society as a whole. That makes true leaders, who are able to positively change a situation, whether in politics or in a private company, all the more valuable. I don’t think that a person is born a leader. They must mature into the role of a leader. It’s a journey, and in my opinion many people have the potential to become a leader if they set off on a path of personal development. That’s the case with me, too. I constantly feel that I have room in my development for learning and self-improvement. This should be natural for everyone, regardless of their age or position. I myself work, with sincere selfreflection and humility, on improving my shortcomings. I’m currently focusing on improving my communication skills, and rhetoric as such.
Now you’ve surprised me. I personally appreciate your factual, non-confrontational communication style. And when necessary, you have no problem dealing with real oafs. Is it difficult for you to adapt to your environment, while staying true to yourself? Women in top leadership, whether in politics or in business, are often criticised for excessively imitating their male counterparts, and thereby losing their authenticity.
Thank you for the compliment; it’s kind. I think that it’s more complicated for women to stay true to themselves, because we’re surrounded by so many male leaders. Therefore, we’re naturally inclined to learn from them. There are fewer female leaders whom we can follow. It’s important to be able to maintain a balanced state, where a person can still feel natural, and not let yourself be dragged into unnatural positions that are expected by people around you or society. Ultimately, there’s nothing people appreciate more than authenticity. My example of authentic female leadership is Angela Merkel, who you can see does not bring male attributes into her leadership style. Maybe that’s why she has stayed at the top for so long. With some women, I had the opportunity to see how they lose their femininity and authenticity as their political career progresses. I myself try to take care not to become someone who dominates a space because I’m the only woman in a party’s top leadership. It bothers me, because I really wanted other women to be present in the leadership, but I respect the results of a democratic election.
Your political path and attitudes have been significantly formed by two milestones. The first was volunteering, the second was local politics. How do you perceive volunteering in Czech society?
As we’re talking about my career path, I’d like to mention both my family environment and my personal attributes. I was never one to just talk about things; I was always proactive, and changed things directly. Courage, high personal involvement and a willingness to step outside your comfort zone are always necessary if you want to reach the top. I myself operate in an exposed environment, but I certainly don’t consider myself a heroine. For example, I regard doctors, who are responsible for their patients’ lives and are under great pressure, as true heroes. There are many similar professions that are performed by so-called everyday heroes. Regarding volunteering, I’m pleased that interest in volunteer activities is growing in society, and many private companies support this trend. Most of us need to perform some activity that gives us a sense of a higher purpose. In the case of the young generation, we see that they want work which is meaningful but at the same time not detrimental to their earnings. I myself observe that many people carry out some form of volunteer activity, but don’t talk about it. The fact that they don’t talk about things doesn’t mean they don’t happen. Take for example many sports groups, which the people in question organise because working with children brings them joy. On the issue of volunteering in Czech society, I’m definitely an optimist.
A certain parallel offers itself between volunteering and local politics, where you started out, after all. More women are also involved in local politics, because they feel more confident there.
Based on my previous experience, local politics is the best level of politics at which a person can operate. You can directly influence the environment in the place where you live, and you have direct contact with the citizens so you obtain immediate feedback. You see the results behind you. At the level of the Chamber of Deputies, it’s much more complicated with specific successes. Even when you manage to push through some legislation, it cannot compare to a successful reconstruction of a public open space. In communal politics, a person learns a lot that they can then put to use at higher political levels. I often give talks in schools, and recommend that young people get involved at this level. You’re right in saying that the local level is natural for women. We shouldn’t forget that women are often the driving force behind cultural events and social projects. In short, communal politics means less ornate words and more action. I like to quote Margaret Thatcher, who expressed herself as follows: “If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.”
How do you manage to get young people interested in politics? I often ask doctors what we don’t know about their specific discipline. So I’d like to ask you, too: what don’t we know, and should know, about politics?
After the New Year, we launched a kind of awareness-raising campaign, focusing on both our party and politics as a whole. It’s important for people to be interested in politics, to not be indifferent to it. When I ask young people if they’re interested in politics, not all of them admit it. When I ask them whether they’re interested in what’s going to be taught in schools, almost all of them raise their hand. It’s important for young people in particular to realise that most things are a result of a political decision. I like to share my experience that politics isn’t so terribly dirty, and full of scams, lies and manipulations, as people usually claim. Yes, you can encounter dishonest behaviour. On the other hand, I’ve come to know lots of politicians who keep their word, don’t lie, are decent, and didn’t enter politics to enrich themselves. Politics is simply a craft. It’s not an easy craft, and you have to learn it gradually. The vast majority of us have an opportunity to get involved in politics in some way. Politics isn’t, and cannot be, removed from everyday life.
In the introduction, I quoted the World Economic Forum’s statistics, according to which the Czech Republic ranks in unflattering places, particularly in the area of women’s involvement in economic life and politics. What are you doing to improve the situation?
The foundation is to have enough examples that we can follow. I’m not a proponent of quotas. I call on women not to wait for other women to change the situation. We cannot be passive. Let’s bring our work to the market, and support one another at the same time. I notice one more stereotype that is hindering women. In the Czech Republic, we still rely on the woman to provide childcare. She’s the one who’s expected to give up her career. So I’m trying to improve the conditions for the harmonization of work and family life. We need accessible and quality services that would care for the youngest children. By the way, this is one of the areas that can be easily influenced from a communal level. Another issue is a lack of part-time work and shared positions. For years I’ve been campaigning for part-time work to have lower contributions. The fact that sharing a position is more expensive and administratively demanding for the employer than filling the position with one employee is the main barrier preventing its wider use. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to reach an agreement on this point.
To conclude, let’s talk about the most important thing we have, which is our health. How do you manage to combine work and family life, and stay fit in top-level politics?
Unlike the current Prime Minister and some members of the government, I’m not of the opinion that working 16-18 hours a day is a sign of heroism. I think that it’s either workaholism, which is a disease, or an inability to organise one’s time well. I myself try to have time for both relaxation and family. A well-known proverb states that a dull axe chops wood much longer than a sharp one. Work isn’t everything, and I’ve learned to make sure that I have time for relaxation. I take care not to neglect my health, or my relationship with my husband.
By Linda Štucbartová