Written by: René Jakl
Photo by: René Jakl
The former leader of People Against Violence (VPN) lost a struggle with Vladimír Mečiar for a united Czechoslovakia. Now his G plus G publishing house prints books as interesting and provocative as his life.
In your publishing house, you often publish books about xenophobia, violence and minorities. Why are you so interested in this?
The motivation is personal. I have experienced myself what it means to be a member of a minority. It is a lifetime theme for me. The first book that I published was about nationalism, and eighty percent of the other books are about the holocaust, the Romany, transsexuals, children with Down’s syndrome – simply various minorities.
And what is your personal experience?
I experienced what it means to be a Jew in an intolerant society, a cosmopolitan among nationalists, an advocate of a united Czechoslovakia among its adversaries, etc. My friends have similar experiences. It is an especially terrible situation for the Romany.
How do you perceive your Jewishness?
I am not a religious Jew, but I definitely know I’m a Jew and I am indebted to that for many things. It is an important part of my personality. Just as I’m a Slovak, a sociologist, a man. I realized my Jewishness while confronting anti-semitism. In an ideal liberal world, it wouldn’t even enter my mind to consider my Jewishness as something that deserves attention.
In the past, the lack of information and knowledge certainly contributed to the intolerance towards minorities. What is this based on today, in this age of information and dissolving cultures?
Information technology and globalization have certainly not resulted in a reduction of simpletons, that would be an incorrect assumption. In addition, more and more of us are in this small space, and certain types of aggression are growing. It is a war for territory, for a piece of land in which you feel secure, and where other people are similar to you. It is useless, but most people fear those who are different from them. Another reason is that if I wanted to punch someone it would be better if he was weaker than I am. And this is how it is for minorities.
You said that the number of “simpletons” has not declined. But you can see an inclination towards tolerating xenophobia in intelligent people too. Is this maybe a modern relativist attitude?
This a dangerous trend. When I was tolerant of everything, I was also tolerant of evil and nonsensical values. Liberalism from minus infinity to plus infinity is the resignation of character, values and principles.
Before the last parliamentary elections, MF Dnes asked who you would vote for. Your answer wasn’t clear, but it seemed as if you were thinking of ODS, which based its campaign on the defense of national interests. How is this possible?
I am glad you asked me. I really wanted to vote for ODS. I had the feeling that Czech society needs conservative policies for the next four years, mainly in the economy. But then Klaus made a statement against multiculturism and waved the flag for national interests. I felt in it something similar to why I left Slovakia. So I said to myself, no. For the newspaper, I said ODS, but in the end I voted for the Green Party based on Jakub Patočka’s appeals.
So what do you think of the Czech government today?
It seems like the government doesn’t even suspect that entrepreneurs are the people who create job opportunities and wealth in the country. Who should help the economy to get stronger, if not them? To expect positive financial input from steel works and mining is nonsense. I am really a little bit afraid of it. Every healthy country devotes its times of prosperity to creating supplies for times of crisis. The last four years of the social democratic government was a time of relative prosperity and economic growth, and they saved nothing at all. They just put us into debt.
And what about the new political leaders in Slovakia? What do you think about Mečiar’s comeback?
He will not be the same as when he left. In fact, he was thrown out of the top post three times and always came back, each time a little different. However, he is still the same crook he always was. Now his comeback is aggravated by many things. His Movement for a Democratic Slovakia disintegrated, and there is also the big Lexa case. In general, the situation in Slovakia is worse than in the Czech Republic, because the most powerful parties in Slovakia are not standard – the television party of Rusko, owner of Markíza, the ethnic party of Slovak-Hungarians, the populist party of Slovak Heider Robert Fico, and others such as this.
What do you think of the Czech media today?
I was almost moved by what the media did with the dramatic situation of the floods. I have in mind public television and radio, which fulfilled their function one hundred and ten percent. I am informed without having the wool pulled over my eyes. When I don’t take this into account, then the media market is underdeveloped in the same way as the economy and many other things. And I was there when one medium was born.
How did Nova originate at the time?
Our team got together spontaneously. The fact that it was us who won the tender can be attributed to the fact that we were able to prove the good capital background of our American partner and had good lobbyists. Železný was a truly great negotiator, as was Mark Palmer. Nevertheless, in the end the license was granted to a group of people who had no experience with broadcasting commercial television. We entered the business unprepared and naive, and that is how it turned out.
When and why did you leave?
I realized that my mentality does not like being part of something in which I have zero influence. I was a super-minority owner. And why shouldn’t I say it – when I left I unshackled my hands and so was able to do what I wanted. I established the publishing house. It took me six years to learn how to produce books. We were amateurs at everything. When I realized that I was one of the most powerful politicians in Czechoslovakia without any preparation or experience, a shiver ran down my spine.
How much did you get for selling your share?
I won’t tell you how much I got from Nova. I can only tell you that thanks to the Nova deal, I was able to shoot an animated series for children, publish seventy-five books and resolve my private financial situation. Which means having a good home, driving a fine car and not having to think of getting up at six o’clock in the morning because I had to be at work at seven in order to make a living.
Did it later bother you that you participated in the Nova project?
I have started many projects in my life and many of them ended very badly. When you don’t do anything, you can’t do anything wrong. Sure, I had a different vision, but what else can I say today?
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
I would like to write the book of my life, called “The Human Lot”. It is an attempt to interpret life through the lens of our culture and civilization. For now, I am researching it and making notes. It shouldn’t be about me, but about something in which I live.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Hectic, absent-minded, naive…but honest.
How would you like people to remember you?
I have helped a lot of people. It sounds egocentric, but why shouldn’t I say it? If I am proud of one thing, it is that there are particular people in this world whom I have helped in the difficult periods of their lives. I have hurt some people too, but not consciously. When you ask someone who doesn’t like me what the worst moments in my life are, he will quickly knock off: ‘Gál? He was chairman of VPN when Mečiar became Prime Minister of the Slovak government. He was the top politician when Czechoslovakia began to dissolve. And then when he left politics, he established that damn TV Nova”.