It is always interesting to hear how life and the world around us are perceived by politicians who have appeared on television screens or in newspapers for many years and are therefore our life companions of sorts. This is also the case of Lubomír Zaorálek, who has been in politics for over 20 years and currently acts as the Minister of Culture. Meeting him is pleasant and fascinating at the same time, because he has an incredible memory for details. In his interview for LP-Life.com, he also unexpectedly talks openly about his personal life, family and the difficult times when he lost his job.
I was intrigued to learn that you started your career in television as a writer. You participated in the Velké Sedlo (Big Saddle) series, for example. How did you get there?
It was a little funny. I finished school and in the early 80's it was not easy for me to get a job, so I did the Folk Carousel festival in the cultural house in Ostrava Poruba. And once I applied for an audition as a writer for a literary drama segment on television. There were a lot of participants and we were given the task to analyze the text of the script, which they had to assess. They said we should break it down. I didn't even know what that meant, so I packed up and drove home.
Then someone called me, asked how I did, and I told him I didn't understand exactly what they wanted from me. He told me to just say what I thought and what I thought about it. So I packed up, took a bus back to the TV studio, and read it on the bus. Then I told the commission that the text was complete bullshit and stupid and that it would annoy people. The funny thing was, they liked it. They asked me for my opinion on Jaroslav Dietl, I told them that it's all political propaganda, everyone started laughing. And then it occurred to me that they had accepted me.
I stayed there for three years. I chose certain authors, such as Ludvík Kundera, Vladimír Körner. But in a short time, they fell out of favor, and the leaders told me to stop working with them. This was also the case with Vladimír Körner. His production of Psí život (Dog Life) went on television, and someone said that the passages were almost the same as the sentences in the text for which Václav Havel received come kind of an award abroad. Today it sounds phantasmagoric, but back then it caused Körner to be "executed." And it worked so that when the "end it" command came, I was supposed to call him and tell him. In normal society, the person in question would sue the TV station, but try it in socialism… The authors were in an unequal position and could not complain.
After a while, I started to feel like a criminal. I had to end it all. And then they asked, "Where are your scripts?"
And you had nothing…
Exactly. And they gave me the task of doing Velké Sedlo with Jaroslav Dietl.
Why did you leave television?
I got into a conflict with the management of the television network and as a result I left TV in 1986. Very bad. It was also because I gave lectures in Ostrava that they did not "ideologically" like. And after that departure, I couldn't find a job anywhere. So I always say that the revolution came as my salvation, because before it, I had practically nowhere to go.
When I was fired from TV in 1986, I went around ten or fifteen places and they didn't want to hire me anywhere. My situation was difficult and it was the most depressing time I've ever experienced. When you have two children, a family, and you find that they don't want to hire you anywhere, it's terribly frustrating. I was at rock bottom back then, it was hell. And when November '89 came, a light suddenly came on in front of me.
Does politics make you at least a little happy even after more than 20 years?
If politics didn't make me happy, I wouldn't do it at all. I am especially happy that these things are interesting. I did foreign policy with great gusto and I am still very attracted to it. (From 2014 to 2017, he was Minister of Foreign Affairs, editor's note.) Politics has allowed me to do things in a way that I could not do elsewhere.
But I also had a second option. After the revolution, I taught political philosophy and the history of political theories for six years at a college. It was a job that I enjoyed, and I didn't really want to leave it. I didn't want to go into politics that much, but after 1989 it "swallowed" me. People in the Ostrava region knew me because I gave the lectures, and when the revolutionary events broke out, many people assumed that I would be involved in it. So I found myself there without signing up. (Laughs)
In 1994, I joined ČSSD and was put up as a candidate for the municipal elections. I was elected. I became a member of the city council while teaching at the university. And in 1996, by a curious coincidence and to my surprise, I was nominated for the parliamentary elections, where I got in second only to Miloš Zeman.
Suddenly I found myself on the Zemák bus, where I didn't feel great, so I had a small Škoda MB that could barely drive and had no brakes, and I drove it following that Zemák. Pavel Dostál liked the car, and asked me if he could ride with me. When we got somewhere, people had compassion for us, they even had to push us. And some suspected that this was some sort of a marketing maneuver of mine.
What do you do in your free time when you leave politics in the House and get home?
The older I get, the more I try to move. This was not the case before, a few years ago, when I was at the Foreign Ministry, I allowed myself to go to bed at half past two at night. In fact, I stopped exercising completely. I felt like I had enough capital to work for 12 hours without killing myself.
But I don't think so today. I have a different regime and I make sure I move, I go to the mountains over the weekend. Health is often free in one's youth, later you have to fight for it. But because I'm doing well so far and I'm used to the regular exercise, I'm doing well.
How many kilometers do you tend to trek in the mountains?
Maybe ten. These are not some great performances. You know, the problem is not going on some big hikes. Of course, when I was young, I was only interested in records. I remember that I came to the doctor once, he measured my blood pressure and mine was somehow elevated then. And he says, "Ah, you have a higher one." And I asked him, "And what's the record?" (Amused) But you grow out of that, these days breaking records isn't the point, the point is to move.
When did the break come for you?
You can't enjoy work if you are not in a good mental and physical condition. It is good to do work with pleasure and enjoy it. When I did foreign policy, I liked to do it, but the dangerous thing is that you do it 12 hours a day. I've found that when you do it without thinking and without a schedule, you will soon stop enjoying it because you are exhausted.
I became increasingly aware of the importance of having a schedule and doing the work with ease, not with my tongue out. It's also important for the people around you, because you create an atmosphere around you, and you have to create an environment that pulls people in.
You have been retired for a few weeks. How do you feel about aging?
I deal with it by paying more attention to my schedule. But otherwise I don't concern myself with it much. I would like Czechia to develop in this regard as well. When you come to France or the USA, you will see that people of much older age jog in the park. Men who would sit on the porch here lecture at universities there, are active and live their lives to the fullest. And I would like it to be that way here as well.
So a message for the Czechs - don't sit on the porch and do something!
Yes, but they already often do that. I know people who are around seventy, they are sometimes in better shape than myself and they do a lot. And the advantage is that they have more time, because they already have grown-up grandchildren.
In the fast confession you mentioned that you play the piano…
That was once upon a time, not today. Coincidentally, I forced my parents to let me play the piano as a small child at the age of five because I was enchanted by the instrument. And I demanded it by dragging my mother to the piano shop, itting down at the piano, and telling her I wouldn't leave until she bought me a piano.
She assured me she would discuss it with my dad and buy it for me. But I told her at the age of five, "No, Mom, you didn't understand. I won't leave until it's paid." And my poor mother really had to go to the nearest bank, pay for the piano, and only then could we go home. So I pushed for it myself, no one forced me to play it.
I played it every day, it was a form of self-expression for me, a form of relaxation. Thanks to it, I was able to let out what I felt. I learned to play the piano faster than I learned to write.
Do you have such a good ear for music?
I do not. I just enjoyed it, I was enchanted. The keys attracted me, and I was lucky that my parents allowed me to indulge in this vice. I played everything possible - even opera scores. When I left Ostrava, I could no longer drag it around, so I lost it.
But even today I am surprised when I come somewhere and someone tells me to play, I play something. It's permanently ingrained in one's fingers…
So why not buy a piano in Prague?
It's gone. Sometimes you have something in life, then you lose it and it's gone. God knows why. Now I have a different schedule that I can't get it into. I read or walk more.
Do you have grandchildren?
I have one grandson, he's over a year old. And maybe there will be more, it looks promising.
What kind of grandfather are you?
Not good! (laughs) I'm still working and I don't see my grandson much. But that may change over time.
And are you looking forward to more grandchildren?
I admit I'm not really cut out for it. I've always been too rational, and kids usually only interest me when I can have a conversation with them, preferably a philosophical one. (laughs) It may be one of my bad qualities, but I'm definitely not the only man who is that way. Even my own children became more interesting to me when they started communicating with me. Not that I don't like them, but what are you supposed to do with them? They just cry...
In addition, when Tamara was born, I went to military service, so I lost the period that is said to be the best. We men were denied it at the time, maybe that's why I'm a little marked by it.
But again, you will be the grandfather who brings the smart books.
That's right, and the time is coming! You have captured a significant moment, I have even delivered something to my grandchild in this way. But it was premature. (laughs) But one day the time will come and he will start reading my books…
Or he'll tell you, "Grandpa, leave the books alone, I want to watch Youtube."
I would like to prevent this. I think my children will be on my side, I feel that they also share the disdain for similar technological advances replacing books. I will probably remain the lover of old times and I will try, even from the position of the Minister of Culture, to ensure that books do not disappear not only from our lives, but also from the lives of young people.
I heard somewhere that you also like opera…
As a child, I played opera scores on the piano. And I also started going to the opera in Ostrava, it was thanks to my father, who took me there as an eleven-year-old. And later I went to the opera myself. At that time, I saw Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District by Shostakovich, the Masquerade Ball by Verdi, Puccini's opera… Whatever the Ostrava Opera performed.
At that time I was fourteen or fifteen years old and and such a weirdo that I went to operas myself. Something fascinated me about them, it captivated me. But I didn't want to tell anyone at school, they would probably think I was a nerd. Now I realize that I may have been ashamed of it…
Did it work on the girls at least?
The girls were not very impressed. I can't think of a girl I would have amazed at the time by having seen Lohengrin. Unfortunately, I did not come across one. That's why I'm sure I didn't do it for that. (laughs)
And what about the ministry? Is that more attractive to women? There are women who are impressed by power and influence…
This is the first mistake - powerful, influential. Maybe it looks like that from a distance. What I liked most was the statement that my colleague Honza Mládek once said: “Do you know what it means to be a minister? That is to fight defeat every day. "
I don't want it to be misunderstood. Everyone thinks that a minister is an influential person, but in fact, when you are in government and really want to push something through, your influence depends on whether you are invited to key meetings. When the prime minister invites you, you have leverage and you have a chance to influence something. But if he doesn't invite you - for example, you are the Minister of Industry and he does not invite you to a meeting on nuclear energy - it is a big defeat.
It's a simple example, but it shows that if you want to push something, others have to take you seriously. What good is a minister who has no ability to enforce anything and everyone considers him the third wheel on a bike? They would have to be some kind of outsider to be content with having a label and nothing else.
Why do a lot of politicians in our country, especially prime ministers, get young women?
The reason is that they come to an environment where it is difficult for a woman to share her life with them. The prime minister's function is unfortunate in that it completely "eats" you. The thing that united the prime ministers I knew was that they were really there 16 hours a day. For example, Bohuslav Sobotka, in whose government I was a minister, also dedicated Saturdays and Sundays to work, he did not have time for his own life at all.
The prime ministers are "eaten up" by the work and it is difficult to learn to live in it. At that moment, their relationship breaks down because of this, because the woman suddenly lives a completely different life. I have seen it with various prime ministers, not only Czech ones. And some women will cope with it and somehow manage it, others unfortunately not.
At the same time, it often happens that the prime minister finds another woman who is closer to the problems he is dealing with, who becomes a support and a helper. And so, after all, the ex-wife is no longer willing to accept the change and they are unable to agree on a new form of their relationship. It looks like it's an epidemic affecting prime ministers, it's a little sad, but actually understandable.
So you understand that?
I have no understanding in the sense that I would like to excuse it. I feel rather sorry for them, actually, I pity them. It's no fun, their life falling apart like that. It is another price that people here pay for working here 16 hours a day as prime minister for several years.