He has been active in high politics for over 20 years, and his name as well as his quotes trigger emotions in a great number of Czech people. Perhaps that’s why he has to deal with spiteful text messages or e-mails from time to time. Miroslav Kalousek, who also used to be the Minister of Finance for some time, takes it as part of his work. And he sees politics as a profession. In an interview for Luxury Prague Life, he revealed what politicians are like when no cameras are watching, who he likes to play tennis with, and that he is leading an "unequal" battle not only with increasing weight.
You have been in high politics since 1998. Are you thinking about retirement, or will you be in politics till eighty?
The voters will decide how long I’ll be in politics, not me. But I’m not thinking about retirement, I'm going to turn 59 this year, I feel young and I dare say I'm quite full of strength, whether at work or on the tennis court.
What do you do in your free time, like at the weekends when you don't have to work?
My brother and me are in charge of my mother, who is almost 90 years old, and unfortunately already requires continuous care. So at the weekends, I usually take care of my mom. But my greatest interest is classical music, especially opera, I'm not lazy to travel across Europe for something that attracts me.
And I like to play tennis, I used to play it at a competitive level in the past and nowadays I enjoy playing it with my son. When you have a nearly 30-year-old son, it's nice to play tennis with him and then go for a beer. Moreover, he plays competitively for the same team I used to play for 30 years ago, so it always makes me feel younger. I also like swimming, which I do often, because it helps me with the pain in my back.
How many lengths can you swim?
I don't count that and I don’t swim fast. But I can basically swim any distance and stay in the water for hours. When I was a boy, I once bet that I would swim from Bechyně to Týn, which is about 12 kilometers down the Lužnice river, and I made it without problems.
When you go on vacation, is it usually Czech Republic, or do you prefer traveling beyond our borders?
I have two favorite destinations, South Bohemia, because I’m from Bechyně, and in the last 15 years I’ve been going to the Mediterranean for a fortnight.
You were seriously ill last year, you needed to have an emergency surgery on your intestine. Were you afraid for your life?
No, everything happened so quickly that you only realized your life was in danger afterwards. It only hit me that it had been life-threatening and that I’d been this close to death when I knew everything was over.
I appreciate how well everything worked. For the first time in my life, I called an ambulance, which arrived in five minutes, and in ten minutes I was in the emergency hospital. They handled it amazingly well, I think back to it with great gratitude. At the same time, I am afraid that if we don’t make systemic changes to health insurance, it cannot remain at this fantastic level for long.
Do you know what caused the disease? Did stress play a role in it?
I don't want to go into detail, but it was a massive bleeding into the small intestine. It had no consequences, I continue to do sports, I swim, play tennis - not now, though, because I had a knee surgery in February. My inner meniscus burst, but it's a banal injury of former athletes, so I'm already fine.
Well, sixty is drawing nearer, after all ... Do you feel that your body is more fragile and problems will start to accumulate?
Of course you feel every year, but you don't have to give in. I played my last championship at thirty-one, and until forty, when I was able to keep my condition, I was an equal match for those twenty-five years old boys. After that, you’re a little slower every year. But there’s nothing to be done about that, you can’t beat nature, all you can do is slow the deterioration process.
You don’t look totally decrepit yet…
Thanks for the compliment. (laughs)
Women who are impressed by high politics, money and power surely appreciate that too. Or am I wrong?
I’ve never thought about it in such depth. And if so, I don't think I’ve ever used it for my advantage. Every politician has a fan club around himself, but to what extent physical attraction is involved and how much of it is power, that I can’t tell.
And has it ever happened to you that a woman tried to seduce you solely because of your political power?
Yes. But those were episodes that I never let play out. When I was Minister of Finance, I might have been considered a powerful man, but I have other priorities than trying to impress someone with that power, which is very transient anyway.
Have people been afraid of you as a minister?
I hope not. I tried to have respect as a minister, but I hope it wasn't fear. You fear someone who is unpredictable. I was trying to be very readable, and everyone knew where the line was drawn, and when they didn’t cross it, they didn't have to worry.
Since you’ve been in politics for so long, I would have expected it must be nearly impossible to provoke you. Yet some time ago you slapped a young man on the street. Is it difficult to keep a straight head and not succumb to unnecessary emotions?
It's about practise, sometimes it's more difficult, sometimes less. And this situation you mentioned, I’m not ashamed of. I was walking down the street, a young man approached me and started screaming "Kalousek, you swine, we’ll hang you and your entire family". So I told myself I couldn’t allow a random brat to treat me like that, and I slapped him. He stiffened and said, "You have no right to do this." And I replied, "Maybe not, but it feels great." And I slapped him twice more. But after the first slap, he was suddenly addressing me with the polite form of “you”, so it must have had some educational influence. (laughs)
Unfortunately, there were cameras present and a member of the Ministry of Public Affairs immediately called all the tabloids. I did not deny it, but I simply won’t stand for this, when someone’s threatening me and my entire family.
You are a politician who resonates in debates quite a lot. Have there been more attacks of this kind?
Oddly enough, this was a one of a kind excess. I walk through the streets, use public transportation, go to the pub, and I don't get attacked in public, not even verbally. The incredible buckets of dirt are dumped on me only in an electronic form - text messages, emails, anonymous letters. There are tons of those, but it is all written by angst-ridden cowards who don’t dare to tell it to your face.
Did politics also have an influence on your family and the people close to you?
Thinking about the heaps of rumors that were written about me, they resonated at the time. After all, even the prime minister is holding to the rumours for dear life, and the Pirates did not hesitate to use them in their campaign. And when the rumors resonated in the public, well, everyone close to you goes to work or to school, and in this environment they "buy" it. It's a kind of burden that your loved ones have to bear because of you.
It’s no secret that your marriage fell apart. Did politics play a role in it?
I got divorced after 27 years of marriage and that's all I will say.
Our children were adults at that time and the divorce itself reflected that both of us are respectable and mature people.
When two ideologically incompatible politicians meet behind the cameras, do they talk to each other normally? Or can’t they stand each other?
In every workplace, there are people you like and whose company you enjoy. Even though they have different ideological viewpoints and even if they are your political opponents, you enjoy talking with them, you respect them and take them out for a beer. And then there are people where the chemistry doesn't work, and then you don't get along.
Politicians in the Chamber are only human, too. The Parliament is no elite, it’s made up of people of flesh and blood, it is a sample of society. There is the same concentration of decent, indecent, lazy, hardworking, smart, stupid, insidious and honest people as anywhere else in society. So imagine your own workplace and it’s exactly the same.
Do people fight in backstage?
Of course, with passion. Whether about a law, or if Sparta will beat Slavia.
Is politics dirty? Sometimes it looks that way on the surface.
It is an occupation and profession like any other. And I wish that people showed some critical thinking and stopped looking at it through the media. Nowadays, it's hard to find a publication that could concerned itself with a particular problem thoroughly, so it's really only scratching the surface, the foam, and excesses are more accentuated than everyday work.
It is not an easy occupation and one needs to be good at it. So I never quite understood this calling for new faces and people who’d never been involved in politics. When you need a gall bladder surgery, you also don't want to be operated on by a person who has never done it before, just because that way you can be sure he or she had never botched a surgery before. But people often take this approach to politics.
Do women change politics?
The presence of women in politics is always a good thing, because those who have some kind of upbringing then try to pretend to be gentlemen. But then there are also extreme cases, when ladies against whom the nagging porch wives from the 30s are a cheap imitation get into high politics. That’s when pretending to be a gentleman gets difficult.
Are politicians untidy? I guess everyone knows the situation when they enter the kitchenette or the restroom and stop staring..
If we weren't here (ed. note: the interview took place in a hotel) and I'd know you were coming to my office with a photographer, I'd have to arrive half an hour earlier and clean up because I have a mess on my desk. But I do keep restroom clean. (laughs)
However, I have to say that sometimes it does happen that you enter the restrooms in the Parliament and go like, "Oh my God, who’s been here?" So yes, ministers are just a sample of society. I would even say that we are rather the average because the above-average elite succeeded in research, business, music or sports.
Aren’t you planning to try out a role in a series or in a movie, as some politicians do?
No, I'm not looking into that at all. But when the creators of the series Blaník approached me, asking if I’d be was willing to appear in their film, I said "of course", I’m more inclined to accept challenges of this type than refuse them. For example, last week I attended the Night Shift with Adéla, a 12-hour night show.
Every politician must be a bit of an actor. When performing in public, you have to utilize the persuasive means that actors use. It’s not a secret that I practise important speeches and recite them aloud. I prepare myself thoroughly, including gestures or jokes that I have to include in the speech so that it wouldn’t be boring.
Do you believe that politicians should have fixed working hours, that they shouldn’t be allowed to drink alcohol at work and that the restrictions of ordinary employees should apply to them as well?
No, please, let’s not get stuck at kindergarten. For example, colleagues from the Pirate Party feel that they should constrict politics with the Labor Code, but Ministers and Senators are not in employment. You can write a thousand codes and a thousand rules, but if someones goes beyond the rules of common decency, let the voters hold him accountable for that.
It bothers me that the diligence of politicians is sometimes judged by whether or not they’re sitting on their assigned places all the time, and then they are sometimes perceived as hardworking representatives. But one can easily sit there doing nothing. The actual work takes place outside the main hall, in offices, in committees, and in meetings with experts. I would even say that when I'm in the hall watching a discussion, I'm not even working, I’m just relaxing. And that distorts the view.
But the media as well as the general public are interested in the meetings. They get upset when the hall is empty...
Presence at meetings is important, but when Tomio Okamura is speaking for two hours, I’d rather be working on an amendment to a law than spend those two hours listening to him. And it's a time spent more effectively.
In the fast confession, you’ve mentioned that you are a heavy smoker. Did you have to adjust your lifestyle after the illness? Reduce smoking, for instance, or alcohol?
No, I had to be on a diet for three months when I wasn't allowed to eat anything with grains, peelings and so on, but nothing dramatic, now I can eat everything. But if I did eat whatever I like, I’d weigh 140 kilos. So my diet is governed by the fact that I want to be an "associate professor" at any cost, meaning I don't want my weight to climb to a three-digit number.
And did you have such a period?
I used to weigh 112 kilos. Now I weight 101. So it’s a neverending battle, in which I’ve already accepted the fact that I’ll never be the winner, but I’m at least trying to keep the score even.