“I am proud of the results of my political work”
Petr Gazdík is the Vice President of the Czech Republic parliament’s Chamber of Deputies, and the leader of the Mayors and Independents political party. He has been in politics for 15 years; 7 years nationally, and 8 years regionally before that. He studied Education and taught Maths and Geography at the Elementary School in Bánov for 6 years. He was the mayor of Suchá Loz for two terms, and he is proud of his ties to his village. Although he has been a member of parliament since 2010, he has avoided the usual fate of popular mayors of becoming an unpopular politician. He was re-elected in the second round of regional elections for his ward with a strong mandate of 60.5%, and he is proud of this result. Petr Gazdík is a father of four children. We met up on a sweltering summer’s day and after a polite thrown kiss of the hand, Petr Gazdík left his jacket on in the presence of a lady. In contrast, I appreciated my summer dress that hot afternoon. He smiled during the whole interview, claiming leaders should be positive. I also appreciated his well-spoken Czech; you can still see that Gazdík was originally a teacher by profession. Our interview was not about current politics, but rather timeless matters such as relations between the capital and the regions, Czech society in 2017 and last but not least possible parallels between the teaching and political professions.
We’re meeting at the end of summer. Do you feel any nostalgia at the start of the school year?
I really do feel massively nostalgic on the first of September. I have held many roles during my professional life, and I have been referred to as mayor, deputy leader, leader and councillor, but I have always thought teacher was the greatest. I was recently invited to a wedding and I met some former pupils there who still called me teacher. The profession of teacher gives me great freedom. If I decide that I no longer wish to be in politics, I am still an employee of Bánov Elementary School and I can once again start teaching Mathematics and Geography.
Do you see any parallels between the teaching profession and a career in politics?
I certainly see a parallel between the role of Vice President of parliament and the role of teacher. Holding the attention of your class and managing 200 members of parliament is similar. Even the methods are the same. You shouldn’t shout, because shouting doesn’t help. As such, I use the proven teachers’ method of lowering my voice and announcing: “We will continue once the parliament is quiet.” I was recently somewhat surprised by the response of the head of the communist MPs, Mr Kováčik, who objected that this meant we would never continue. And like when teaching, the occasional joke or use of hyperbole can provide relief from a difficult discussion or complex procedural situation. And it certainly pays off to treat everybody the same. Like in the teaching profession, the Vice President of parliament also has to be fair. Whether you’re dealing with the cream of the class or the government party, the class strugglers or the opposition party.
I remember chalk and even wet sponges being thrown at naughty children when I went to school.
Well I may well have felt tempted to throw the bell given to the Chamber of Deputies by the Bundestag president a few times. But in another parallel with the teaching profession, throwing anything is absolutely not allowed.
You’ve been in politics for 15 years. What do you still enjoy about politics?
Results. When I go through my village, I feel proud. Sometimes I literally swell with pride. I tell myself that it was worth it; I influenced this; without me it might not have happened. This is great in your village, and other things will be appreciated by the next generations. Politics is worth it when you see the results. There is certainly no point in doing politics because of MPs’ salary. I think I would be able to earn more elsewhere. Even after seven years at the top of politics, I think that politics should be done for specific political objectives.
If you think you’re failing and you don’t have the drive then you should leave. I went into politics with a clear vision to change the financing of towns and villages to the benefit of smaller towns and villages. I was successful. In 2012 I was able to ensure the adoption of the Act on the Budget Allocation of Taxes, which gave municipalities 34 billion crowns. And you can see the impact of this size of investment. Two months ago, I managed to ensure adoption of an amendment to this act which moves it further forward so that next year villages and towns will receive a further 8.5 billion crowns. I trust that this funding will allow people in villages and towns to live a more satisfying and happier life.
Parliamentary elections take place in the Czech Republic in October. How do you perceive Czech society in 2017?
It saddens me that Czech society today, despite objectively being in the best position it ever has been in materially and economically, behaves as one of the most divided societies ever to have lived in Bohemia and Moravia. We are unhappy; Václav Havel said we were in a bad mood, but today this has transformed into an eternal anger at everything around us, the system around us in which we live. Again, despite the fact that it is this system which has allowed us to live in freedom, democracy and peace for decades. Once again, this is one of the most fortunate periods in history. We’re rushing headfirst into a wall, and although we are receiving signals we might crash into the wall that just makes us rush into it ever faster.
What do you think the main focus of this year’s parliamentary elections will be?
The elections will be about that wall… Do we want to crash into the wall, and do we want to do so earlier or later? The elections will be about whether we become the most western part of Eastern Europe, or the most eastern part of Western Europe. Will we remain a partner to the European Union, or will we be constant troublemakers who are unsatisfied but unable to propose any positive changes? We have become unreadable to the European Union. Mayors and Independents is one of the few parties who start their conferences with the Czech and then the European national anthems. We know that you can tell a good mayor by whether he sees further than his next term and further than the borders of his municipality. I would like the Czech Republic to act this way within the European Union; to see beyond one electoral term and beyond the borders of the Bohemian Forest, the Ore Mountains and the White Carpathians. And last but not least, the elections will be about whether we are all equal, or whether some are more equal than others.
Let’s look at the issue of the capital versus the regions. What is Moravia’s perception of that pejorative term for Prague intellectuals, the ‘Prague café’?
I am someone who visits the Suchá Loz pub as well as the Prague café. I don’t see a fundamental difference. Intellectual elites, the principal cultural and social currents and top business leaders gather in every capital city, and it is the place with the highest average salary. Prague is one of the most advanced regions within the whole EU. Every region has its own peculiarities but you can see everywhere that the country is doing well. It’s not just about Prague any more.
I see you still have a positive outlook. Politicians with positive outlooks are unusual in Czech politics.
A true leader has got to be positive; they should keep negativities to themselves or their closest friends. Any leader who hasn’t been positive has been more or less a dictator. We don’t have enough positive leaders in the Czech Republic; that’s one of the reasons for the predicament we find ourselves in. I believe that until people who have some skills join political parties, whether left or right-wing, Czech politics cannot change significantly because there simply aren’t enough quality leaders.
And now we’re stuck in a vicious circle. Why do you think people don’t want to go into politics?
Politics is perceived negatively. I remember myself that on the day I was elected MP I turned within a few hours from a popular mayor into a hated MP. Peoples’ perception immediately changes, although you have personally not changed. But it can happen that the confines of the Chamber of Deputies can make ordinary people a little odd. It can happen to any of us. After my election, I asked about 270 people to give me a slap if I change. I haven’t been slapped yet.
Your final word for Czech and Slovak Leaders readers?
It is my honour to be able to be a part of famous Egyptologist Professor Miroslav Bárta’s think-tank. In response to the question of what ordinary people should do to change something that makes them angry or to be better prepared for what might happen, Professor Bárta said: “The answer is simple – form a network of positive relationships.” And I would suggest that we form it together, and if we can do that then we will soon see the impact on our country.
By Linda Štucbartová