Michael Žantovský : Success is no measure of happiness

Photo: Týden – Jan Zátorský

The public remembers Michael Žantovský (55) as President Havel’s first spokesman, senator, and chairman of the ODA. He left politics and these days is only rarely in the Czech Republic, as he’s the Czech ambassador to Israel.

A GRADUATE in psychology and Reuters correspondent, he enjoyed an outstanding career in the beginning of the nineties. In 1990 this founding Civic Forum member became the press secretary and spokesman of President Havel, with whom he traveled the world and established ties with leading statesmen. After two years his dream came true: an authority on Anglo-American literature, he left for the US, where from 1992 to 1997 he served as the Czech ambassador. In 1996 he was elected to the senate, where for six years he was chairman of the foreign affairs, defense, and security committee. He also led the ODA in 1997 and from 2001 to 2002. Many saw this as a fatal mistake, but he calls it an “unforgettable experience”, although he says he’d prefer more pleasant activity. Fortunately, he seems to have resolved this dilemma – he’s been the Czech ambassador to Israel for a year. “It’s a fascinating environment and immensely interesting work,” he says. “I solve a hundred and one matters, from summit meetings with Israeli politicians to haggling about parking spaces near the embassy.”
As ambassador he must tend to the maintenance of good relations between the two countries, establishing contacts and providing information. On the day of Czech accession to the EU this intellectual even played in a promotional soccer tournament. “Badly,” he laughs. As of January 2005 he’ll have another area of involvement, when the Czech embassy becomes the contact embassy for NATO in Israel. True, this constitutes recognition for the Czechs, but it will involve many responsibilities, including informing the Israeli public on alliance activities. Žantovský doesn’t yet know how long his assignment in Israel will last, but he’s glad to be doing what he enjoys and to have his family with him: his wife Jana, son David (3), and daughter Rebeka (1).
Between politics and family, which period in his life does he consider the most successful? “I’ve learned that success is no yardstick. The meaning of life lies elsewhere,” Žantovský opines, adding that Israel’s contrasts and problems have been eye-openers for him. “This country forces people to think not only about the world around them, but also about themselves,” he says.


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