Michael Hvížďala: The man who would be
Written by: Monika Mudranincová
Photo by: Vojtěch Vlk
To fans he's Don Quixote tilting
at windmills; to critics he's a "media star" of virtual
reality. Read what this candidate for mayor has to say about a battle
for influence in Prague.
How would you rate local politics over the last 12 years?
Since the initial enthusiasm of the post-revolution days, when people
of various professions went into local politics from conviction,
there have been very interesting developments. Today, the personal
interests of individuals have begun markedly to outweigh public
service. The bad situation in the Parliament and Senate is spilling
over into local politics, which furthermore are not under thorough
public control, so that scenes that harm the city can be played
You have repeatedly stated that the magistracy is not run transparently.
Could you make your claims more precise?
Prague City Hall is overly politicized, and, for instance, it is
completely unable to find solutions in the areas of transport, safety,
or the environment, since there are always conflicts among different
interest groups that are so exhausted by their struggles that they
are unable to lead the city properly. There are municipal companies
that receive billions in subsidies from the city while their managers
still receive hundreds of thousands in bonuses. I know of organizations
for which a few meetings a year will get you over a half a million
crowns! When you ask such a colleague to make public how much he
received, he won't tell you anything. Firms often invite politicians
from the Prague City Hall to junkets abroad, paying air tickets
and lodging as well. So correct decision making procedures are impossible
for some politicians with respect to certain public orders. For
example, when you try to open discussion on the matter of corruption,
instead of a factual exchange you'll get a cross-fire between the
ODS councilors and the ODS mayor. (Author's note: on the day of
this interview, May 28 2002, Prague's mayor Jan Kasl stepped down
Jan Kasl publicly stated that corruption is a great problem,
but he failed to submit any evidence. Are you willing to cite specific
Jan Kasl is neither a policeman nor a judge, but he tried to set
the rules of the game so as to reduce the opportunity for corruption.
Strange things are going on such as one company winning large municipal
orders with problematic bids that don't correspond to the market
situation. Some projects are constantly overvalued. Why are lists
of companies and descriptions of their bids not published on the
internet from the very starts of tenders, so that all companies
could see their competitors' bids? The current situation discourages
foreign investors, and large global institutions don't even take
part in large financial projects.
You criticize these abuses - why don't you do anything about
them? Can you bring criminal charges against people who are corrupt?
But I'm not a judge or a policeman either. These people's behavior
will have one consequence - ODS and ČSSD will lose the elections
in Prague against me. I intend to take up individual cases in public,
and I think I will change the balance in Prague's City Hall.
You will run for mayor of Prague in November 2002. How do you
see your chances of winning?
I firmly believe that I'll win. But I'll fight the ODS and ČSSD
beasts, which have already agreed that after the elections they'll
restore order in Prague's City Hall. Václav Klaus is aware that
he must not lose Prague, because that would mark the death of ODS.
I'm proud to be the first to take Klaus on in an open fight. For
now, they have no one to run against me, so it looks like he'll
run the campaign himself.
Your City Hall critics, who have long known you, insist that
you are good at rhetoric, a master of creating a positive media
image and using your contacts. But they say that in reality your
expert capabilities are limited, and that if you become mayor you
would make no contribution to the city. What have you to say about
I've been in local politics since 1991, and 90% of Prague's residents
know me. My party's base membership had a chance to choose, and
they chose me, with all my pluses and minuses. Yes, I'm ambitious,
and I won out over my competitors. They can try to run again in
four years. I waited for my chance for 11 years, and I think that
if I work hard on myself, I'll be successful as mayor.
But open letters from some US members, who consider your victory
in the primaries as unfair, have appeared on the US party's website.
They claim that those who stood up and voted against you were taken
out of the game, consigned to unelectable positions on the slate.
This method of fighting brings up the question of how far will you
go in order to get elected?
How could you manipulate things with 90 people in the hall? I gain
public support through many years of work, and if someone can't
handle losing and makes comments, that's his right. I wanted the
US to stand independently in Prague, not to hide in a coalition.
And I see it as an honor that the membership base said, "Yes,
you can take on Václav Klaus in Prague without any help from a coalition."
You must clearly express whether you want to stick with a conservative,
liberal policy such as US supports, or a middle-of-the-road policy,
like that of the KDU-ČSL. I'm bothered by the political ambiguity,
but I'm truly glad that some people who are opposed to me profiled
themselves so clearly, because that forms public opinion too.
But the fact that no one knows how you earn your living plays
into your critics' hands. Can you give us some information on your
I'm a rather wealthy man, and I already had my money when I went
into politics. I inherited most of my money.
There has been speculation about restitution, but no one knows
what you got back. Why are you keeping that secret?
I'll talk about myself with respect to nearly anything but my personal
life. The last time I spoke about my family, within two weeks my
house was robbed. They stole irreplaceable heirlooms. I gained my
money in a regular manner, and I don't know why I should say what
my grandfather or great-grandfather bought in Vienna in 1921. Politics
is my only job, and my books are in perfect order. I receive CZK
4,200 a month for my work on City Hall committees, and I'm employed
as the chairman of the Prague Association of Convention Tourism.
Besides that, I have no private activities. When the time comes,
I'm ready to disclose a number of things about myself.
life in numbers
||born on 4 March in Chrudim
as an obstetrician at the 2nd Gynecological-Obstetrics
clinic at the U Apolináře hospital in Prague
||practiced sports medicine,
notably for the Czech Davis Cup team
||served as the Prague
councilor responsible first for foreign investment and
then for the travel and telecommunications industries
ODS and became the leader of the largest opposition club
in the Prague City Council
|| joined the Freedom
||elected US candidate for mayor of
You must be aware that your fairly opaque financial background
can evoke speculation as to whether you are also corrupt. You once
said that all councilors should disclose all of their incomes. You
are a representative now but you were a councilor for eight years.
Why did not you make public your financial background as you suggested
I promise that if I become mayor the first thing I'll push through
will be our submission of sealed envelopes to a notary containing
documentation making clear our property upon entering office and
after leaving office.
Why to wait when you become a mayor, why don't you set an example
How could you be a strong critic of inconvenient contracts in public
tenders for eleven years and still be corrupt? It doesn't seem logical
to me. And do you think that politicians in well established democracies
like the US or the UK report their incomes in detail? Do you think
that Kennedy or Bush types do that? I ask you? Take a look at Bloomberg;
if he was willing to disclose all details about his property when
he run for a mayor of New York..
But I react to your own statement that all councilors should
make public their financial background so that it would be clear
with what income they will enter and leave their position.
Yes, all eleven councilors should give such information to disposal.
And there should be an independent authority to check and evaluate
Are you willing to tell us how much your upcoming campaign will
cost, and where the money will come from?
The media campaign will start on 1 September. I'll probably publish
its extent on the internet so as to avoid my mistake in 1998, when
I was unjustly accused of not documenting my campaign. The money
will come from the US and my own resources, and I will ask my colleagues
to chip in clearly set sums.
What will you do first if you are elected mayor?
I'd bring in a team of real experts. Municipal institutions will
no longer be sources of sinecures for representatives, and I'll
also try to slim down the municipal office. The magistracy should
be managed as a private firm with clear individual responsibilities,
and all politicians should be punished immediately for misdemeanors.