Michael Hvížďala: The man who would be king

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 out there.

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 from office.)

Jan Kasl publicly stated that corruption is a great problem, but he failed to submit any evidence. Are you willing to cite specific cases?
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 that?
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 personal finances?
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.

A life in numbers
1962 born on 4 March in Chrudim
1987-91 worked as an obstetrician at the 2nd Gynecological-Obstetrics clinic at the U Apolináře hospital in Prague
1988-92 practiced sports medicine, notably for the Czech Davis Cup team
1990 joined ODS
1991-98 served as the Prague councilor responsible first for foreign investment and then for the travel and telecommunications industries
1998 left ODS and became the leader of the largest opposition club in the Prague City Council
1999 joined the Freedom Union
2001 elected US candidate for mayor of Prague

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 now?
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 them.

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.






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