The current President of the Czech Republic is particularly straightforward towards his colleagues in politics. He is one of the few European leaders that dared to express an unpopular opinion regarding the Crimean conflict. Forecaster and fighter against totalitarianism in the past, at the present time he advocates peaceful dialogue in eastern Ukraine. In an exclusive interview with YT magazine, Miloš Zeman shared his opinion regarding the introduction of sanctions against Russia, benefits and drawbacks from affiliation of the Czech Republic in the European Union, general policies and the education system.
You took interest in politics at an early age. What turned this hobby into a lifes work?
Indeed, I’ve been involved in politics and have been a critic of the communist system and for that reason I was fired from three jobs. If you are a critic of the totalitarian system, you would get a response from it by being canned. A few months before the revolution I managed to publish one immensely critical article. Perhaps it happened because the censors had been on holiday at that time. This publication became one of the minor impulses of this revolution. I’d been working as a forecaster and the forecasters always know that there are self-destructing and self-running prognoses. In this case, I was aware that my critical works would carry such consequences, so my prognosis was self-running. I started my political career after the democratic revolution of 1999. I was 46 years old at that time, obviously, not a very young man.
What motivated you to go into politics?
I have always been, and still remain, an objector to totalitarian systems. From the cybernetic point of view, such a system has no so-called feedback. In other words, it lacks opposition and reasonable criticism. Any system without a feedback is doomed for degradation. That is exactly what happened to communism.
The Czech Republic shares some common past with Russia. Tell us, what is your opinion regarding the current events in the south-east of Ukraine and how it will unfold? What do you think about the accession of Crimea to Russia?
As for the last question, I am the only Czech politician who publicly stated that Crimea has long been an integral part of Russia and the lunatic Khrushchev had presented it to Ukraine in the year 1954. It is my genuine opinion and it does not conform to the mainstream. Regarding the south-east of Ukraine, I stand against any invasion of Ukraine. It would cause a chain reaction along with numerous casualties; thousand of people on both sides would die. On the other hand, Ukraine has a weak government that is under the influence of nationalist and neo-fascist tendencies. We call them benderovtsi, neo-Nazis and neo-fascists. There are two important things that Ukraine needs now. The first one is the free elections of a President, who should have a strong personality and the ability to unite people, not to set them apart. The second one is decentralization on the model of other countries. There should be relatively independent regions with governmental authority being delegated to them. We have 14 such regions and the U.S. has about 60 of them. In reality, the authority in Ukraine is very centralized. It isn’t a bad thing if the government is strong, but if it is chaotic and unable to manage the situation, then decentralization is the only way to save the independence of Ukraine. It should have a neutral status but it is not correct to call it finlandization. Finland had been in the similar state after the Second World War. Regarding the further course of events, I’ve made a few public statements that in about 20 years the Russian Federation and, perhaps, Ukraine will be an integral part of the European Union. In case if Russian does not fancy this definition, then it would be possible to say that the EU will be an integral part of Russia. Results will be the same. Our economics are complementary. You need modern technologies and the Western Europe needs energy. As for the culture, I would say that we share the same culture. Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn, Balzac, Chateaubriand, Flaubert, Shakespeare and others. Does this mean that Russian culture is the part of European culture? In this particular case, there are no major obstacles. Therefore, in the long-term perspective we will unite within the framework of the EU or Russia. Although, let’s not forget that Russia’s GDP is growing only 1% per year or probably less. This is a big problem, almost a stagnation. If such unification has occurred gradually, step by step, the EU would be the most powerful state in the world. It is the long-term project, maybe my personal dream. It would have been nice if Russia took a first step and entered the Eastern Partnership project which was offered to it a few years ago. Russia made a big mistake by not participating in this Partnership.
How can the new package of sanctions against Russia can affect the Czech economy? In your opinion, how should this situation be handled?
I do not favor any sanctions. I’ve already stated this opinion several times in the past and haven’t changed it. People should talk to each other. It is better to carry out the exchange of information, capital and goods than creating an isolated and secluded fortress.
Nowadays, the Czech Republic is a part of the European Union and its economy is quite different from the times of the communist regime. What can you tell us about the benefits that the Czech Republic gets from being in this Union?
It is a cynical thing to say, but one of the benefits is a huge amount of subsidies that the Czech Republic receives from the EU. But that’s not all. A long time ago, we were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and now we are a member of a group of individual states that ally and integrate, similar to the integration of different states in the U.S. It is always advantageous not to be a victim of more powerful neighbors but to be a part of a great state. The European Union is a great state with population of 500 million people.
What are the downsides?
On one hand, it is European bureaucracy and on the other hand it is Czech bureaucracy. As the result, we have two bureaucracies instead of one.
Recent events have shown that a huge mass of people succumb to manipulation. Share your thoughts with us on the fact that the educational level is increasing but the people are losing critical thinking skills.
Back in the old days, books were the main source of information but today the Internet has taken over. Books are for the wise and the Internet is for the stupid. Knowledge is not the information itself; it is the aggregation of information, association of information and wisdom. Knowing the name of the person and the date of his birth is insufficient without knowledge of his fate and relations with other people. The Internet age is very superficial. It provides factual information without deeper insight.
Is it possible to say that the modern Czech Republic is the country of your dreams?
No, the Czech Republic of my dreams is Scandinavia with its socially-oriented market economy. Although, we still have a long way to go before reaching a similar level.
What should be modernized in the current Czech educational system in order to reduce youth unemployment?
Investment is the main instrument in the battle against unemployment. Some populist politicians give hollow promises to their voters. Investment doesn’t have the right of choice. It means that if you want to increase social expenditures, you have to taper off the amount of investments. This is a bad practice because only investments can generate new jobs. As for education, it is necessary to create such forms of education that would comply with the required professions in various fields, such as biotechnology, nanotechnology, cybernetics, space technology and many others.
Since the Czech Republic is part of the EU and the borders are open, there is an active cultural and axiological amalgamation. Is there any way to protect the native culture?
It’s just the other way round. There is no possibility of intercomparing different cultures if you are isolated. It is similar to the case of totalitarianism, if there is no feedback from the outside world, then your own culture degenerates. If some culture is really strong, it affects other neighboring cultures. It’s the problem of cultural overlapping. Stronger and more appealing cultures eventually prevail, whilst, cultures that don’t have their own writers, sculptors, architects become extinct. Having a lot of money is not enough – it’s necessary to create pictures, songs and movies.
Since we brought up the topic of culture, it shouldn’t be separated from the issues of values. How can you describe the national values of the modern Czech?
Good sense of humor is one of the national values. There are nations that have little to no sense of humor. The second value is the ability to improvise. The Czech word “robot” has become internationally renowned but we are not mechanical gauges. The third value is skepticism. There is a Latin proverb – De omnibus est dubitantum (doubt is everything). Czechs are the most skeptical people in Europe; therefore, we have a very high proportion of atheists. They are always skeptical. On one hand, religious people may have some mental relief, on the other – it eliminates the possibility for them to be independent.
How would you estimate the involvement of modern youth in the social and political life of the Czech Republic?
I plead against the participation of young people in high politics. Young politicians should begin their activities on the local level, i.e. small towns and villages, and work their way up the career ladder to regional governments. If everything goes well, they will eventually end up in the Parliament. We have the examples of young people becoming ministers, ambassadors and MPs. As far as I know, the outcomes of their actions were far from satisfactory. It is very difficult for young people with little life experience to withstand the corruption and “easy money” that is present in every political environment. Mature and fulfilled persons, that have already accumulated some capital, also may give in to such temptations but the probability of that is significantly lower.
You’ve been criticized quite often for your straightforwardness. Tell us, is honest politics possible?
Let’s not talk about honesty. A politician shouldn’t be a thief, even a thief in law. He must always speak his mind and stand up for the truth. I deliberately relativize the term truth. If someone made up his mind about what is the truth, he should hold on to it regardless of the prevailing trends and mainstream.
How would you rate the Czech political environment? Who is currently the most influential politician in the Czech Republic?
I will be able to answer this question in one year. Recently, we have had early elections and the new government has been working only for three months. It is way too soon to rate someone and to assert who is strong or weak.
What was the reason behind the crisis of political authority in the Czech Republic?
The main reason was the corruption within the political parties. The amateurs have been holding the positions that required certain specialization and professionalism. They were only the functionaries of certain political parties and had virtually no qualifications. This is just a different kind of corruption. It involves not only money but also certain authority. If you hand over authority to a person that is unable to properly manage it, you commit corruption. The consequence of this action can be the collapse of the system. Only an idiot would do such thing and the workaholic idiot is more dangerous than a lazy one.
Gathering a good team is a crucial part of every endeavor. Who helps you to carry the burden of Presidency and how did you put your team together?
I made a number of mistakes in my life because I’ve put too much trust in people. In some cases these people spoke smooth words but didn’t do a stroke of work. They haven’t carried out their duties. A decent speech craft is a necessary but insufficient condition for par performance. I am satisfied with my current team, including my director of public relations.
How can you characterize the modern Czech youth?
They are way better than my generation due to a number of reasons. The main thing is that they can travel freely, compare different cultures, opinions: they are free of the uniform outlooks, don’t believe in a single truth and are not fanatics. People who believe in one truth and have no desire to hear the arguments against this truth are called fanatics. This generation of Czech youth has the weather gauge of my coevals because they live in a free environment.
What is your message to the youth of the world?
Don’t be the fanatics; don’t accept one faith, compare different faiths and different truths. Try to be the rational skeptics who are doubtful of everything, tolerant and able to discuss and rationalize their views. Substantiate your truth with arguments, not violence.