She is one of the most influential women in Brussels and has recently even become Vice-President of the European Parliament. Dita Charanzová shows that even women can succeed in politics without having to give up their family. True, it might have happened that she couldn't make it in time for her daughters' school performance due to a meeting, but when she comes home from work, she immediately shuts down her "political brain" and turns into a mom who bakes cakes and other goodies. In an interview for LP-Life.cz, she revealed that she'd been cajoled into cooking by her partner, with whom she has been living for thirteen years without getting married.
You have a doctorate, you speak four languages. Aren't you a little too clever and educated for politics?
(laughs) On the contrary, I think it‘s a good thing that politics is not a field of work one can get a degree in and subsequently devote their entire life to. I was always a fan of, for instance, doctors becoming politicians. The way I take it, I‘m bringing all that I‘ve learned in diplomacy into politics.
How do women change politics?
It's good when there‘s a mix of men and women. And as we can see from the various surveys in the private sphere, it‘s proving to work. Us women have a slightly different way of negotiating.
Do you have it easier or more complicated, being a woman?
Neither, I think. It can have its advantages, but sometimes I also have to face the reality that politics is a predominantly male world. And when I walk into it, men behave differently. Maybe their game would be rougher and quicker without me, but that doesn't necessarily mean it would be better.
Do men ever look at you with prejudice? Or do they approach you with the classic "as a woman, you don't understand this"?
When I started working here, I felt that they sometimes had me for a young girl, occasionally they even asked me to show them my badge (identification card, ed. note) so as to prove I was really a MEP. But now they‘re treating me as a colleague are they know that I am active and that I was doing something. So I managed to change my image, but my starting position definitely wasn't a walk in the park.
Do men ever fear you?
I don't think they do. I have respect among colleagues, but in a good way. They know that dealing with me isn‘t going to be easy.
Should more women go into politics?
It‘s individual and I feel that it‘s difficult for women with children to delve into politics. This work is not your usual “8 to 16” kind of job, when you can go home with a clear head and spend time with your family. Meetings often stretch late into the evening, discussions are led overnight, it happened to me that I was leaving at three in the morning. It's not easy and it's not an ideal job for a woman. But it would still be great if more of us got involved in politics.
You‘ve managed to climb very high up the career ladder. Have you ever had to decide between your career and your family?
That might have started already with pregnancy. When I was pregnant, the Czech Republic presided over the European Union and I chaired the Trade Policy Committee. I had a pretty non-traditional pregnancy, basically I finished my work in Brussels and a month and a half later, I gave birth. Then I had a half-year's rest, and during that time I realized I wasn't the kind of person who could just stay at home. I started looking for a part-time job and writing professional texts from my field.
I'm the kind of person who, in addition to family, needs to have a job. Thankfully, I have great support in my husband, who understands that I wouldn‘t be happy if I couldn‘t pursue a profession besides being a mother, build a career so to say.
Have you already missed a school recital? How often does this happen to you?
It happened to me just recently, my daughter had her final performance at school, and I couldn't be there. It doesn‘t happen often, but it happens and it‘s not pleasant. Those are the moments when you wonder whether you‘re making the right choices and whether you‘re satisfied.
But otherwise I have found a good work-life balance. I‘ve stripped down my personal life, the time I used to devote to myself and my hobbies. I have close to none of that now, all my free time belongs to my family.
How old are your daughters?
The younger one is seven and the older one will turn ten in September.
How do you spend your free time? Where do you prefer to go on the weekends?
My husband and I are both very sporty, we like to travel. We make short day or weekend trips. And they‘re focused on sports a lot - we like cycling, roller skating, skiing in winter, we all play tennis.
Before, you used to be a backpacker, chasing adventures while traveling. How did this change with children?
It changed a lot, because I worry about the children, so I haven't found the courage to grab backpacks take them along for just yet. However, our last holiday was a bit more adventurous, we went to Thailand without booking a hotel in advance, we were in the jungle, where we slept in such tent-like huts, we went for a a canoe trip. And it was a great success, the girls were excited. So we might continue in this style.
Both you and your partner are professional diplomats. Do you have an understanding for each other? And how often do you tell each other your business?
We met at work, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so we used to talk about work a lot in the beginnings. Now we live mainly through our children, and we're trying to put the discussions about politics aside. Of course, it comes up in conversation every now and then, but we rather stick to our common hobbies.
What else do you do together besides sports?
We cook, bake, sometimes together with our children. We visit interesting places, spend time with our kids, do sports together, travel, read, we do homework with them. Everyday parental stuff.
I‘ve read somewhere that you learned to cook for your husband…
Yep, I did. When I met him, I hardly cooked at all, while he, on the other hand, had finished a hotel school among other things, so he is an excellent cook. And I jumped at the bait he'd thrown me - one night he made great steaks for me, I told him they were amazing and what a great cook he was. And he asked, "Would you like to be a great cook, too?" I said "yeah", and the next evening he was teaching me the right way to prepare those steaks, and by the fourth evening I was already alone in the kitchen, making those wonderful steaks on my own. (laughs) So he transferred the work to me to some extent. But he's getting back into it now and we cook together.
What cuisine do you like best?
I like Asian and Italian cuisine. I enjoy Asian cuisine a lot, I have various cookbooks and try to find high-quality foodstuffs to match them. And I admire Italian cuisine. I try to cook from seasonal foodstuffs too, so when the asparagus season rolls around, we eat nothing but asparagus for a month, then we move smoothly to something else. Now we're making salads for a change.
In diplomacy, it often happens that if someone becomes an ambassador or otherwise succeeds, it is at the expense of the other person's career. How did you manage to combine it so that you can both be in politics?
It wasn't always like that, first I went to Brussels on my own, while he stayed in Prague. And when he became ambassador in Strasbourg, I was on parental leave.
It's not exactly easy to combine our events calendar, we both travel a lot. But we have divided our duties. I am, for instance, responsible for the girls' clothes. It was my husband's condition - if I wanted to leave the house, I had to prepare clothes for the girls. So I always make stacks of what they should wear for four to five days in advance. Otherwise I couldn't leave. (laughs) I also try to cook in advance, at least for a few days.
Where do you and your family currently live?
We have a base in Strasbourg. But we go to the Czech Republic all the time, in my case it's often for work, my family comes along when they have some free time. So we basically live with a suitcase on wheels.
Do you miss the grandfathers and grandmothers?
We are in the Czech Republic quite often. Prague is 600 kilometers from Strasbourg, so we visit on weekends, the girls often go there during the holidays. And the grandparents visit us too, so I don't really feel their absence.
You and your partner have two children together, but you aren't married. Do you think marriage is outdated or does it just work well for you this way?
I'm not a person of formal unions, so marriage has never been important to me. We have a beautiful life, we have been together for thirteen years, and I've never felt that I was missing something formal during that period. It is sometimes more difficult when dealing with the authorities, but it has never been a signal for me to head to the altar.
And did you get a marriage proposal?
I did. We decided we wanted to live together, and that was that. We took the first step, so maybe in time…
Like thirty years later, when the children have grown up…
We have a beautiful relationship, I might be already starting to worry if we wouldn't mess it up by getting married. (laughs)
The prestigious Politico magazine has identified you as one of the twenty most influential women who move Brussels. How do you feel about it?
It pleased me a lot and I regard it as an appreciation of my work, because I'm trying to do it with honesty, dedication and for the Czech Republic.
What does it mean to move Brussels?
That you can influence the course of things and that you can get things into motion and stand by your convictions. In my case, it reflected in a number of laws where I made up my mind about something, and in the end I could say that I managed to enforce it. Many MEPs propose thousands of amendments and then get points in various assessments for that. But proposing an amendment is not an art, the important thing is getting it into legislation.
Do you want to still be a politician in ten years or are you planning to return to diplomacy?
Everything is possible. My husband once told me that I should pursue a career in making tiramisu. So we shall see. (laughts)
And do you miss making tiramisu? Or generally the type of work that you could do with your hands, not your head…
I do that type of work and I need it. I cook on weekends, I always make pancakes and chocolate cakes for the girls. That's what I look forward after work, doing something with my hands and getting an immediate reaction. Young children are great in that that they don't lie to you, they don't plot against you, they tell you right away: "Mom, I don't like this".
How do you keep in shape?
I need to sleep, that's my recipe for beauty (laughs). And otherwise I do sports. Even if I have a busy morning, I try to do yoga exercises for five or ten minutes and meditate a little.
Are you afraid of aging?
Everyone thinks about it. When I'm very busy and don't see the children much, I wonder if I won't regret how quickly they've grown up on me when I'm old. Physically, I tell myself that I still look the same, sometimes I even lie to myself that I look better and better… (laughs) But I notice the flow of time on my children.
How does an influential politician in Brussels raise her children?
I'm a normal mom. When I get home, I shake off my heels, slip into my sneakers, and live a completely different life. And I give them my maximum, I try not to spoil them, they don't even have a mobile phone yet and don't spend much time on the Internet either, I try to choose what they watch on the TV.
Do they react to your TV appearances?
Yeah, they like that. During the campaign, I was in a magazine and my daughters were looking at it. Suddenly the magazine disappeared and two days later, the younger brought it to school. So I thought, that's nice, she wants to show them her mommy... But she wanted to show them that she was also in the photo! (laughs)