She worked as a clerk her entire life, until Andrej Babiš offered to make her the head of the Ministry of Finance two years ago - and she accepted. As a result, she became one of the most powerful and visible women in the Czech Republic. Alena Schillerová faces the challenges of life headfirst and doesn't regret her decisions as a rule. Face to face, she seems nice, lively and always ready to make a joke. In an interview for LP-Life.cz, she revealed a number of candid informations from her private life, including the fact that she and her husband had never had much time to quarrel. Maybe that's why they've been together for almost four decades!
You have recently been by the sea in Mallorca. With whom?
I've been there with my husband, we've been going to the same place for many years now. We love it there, it's ideal for relax.
How do you relax there?
I admit that it used to be way more active in the past, especially when the children were small, but now all I do is relax. I swim in the sea, walk along the beach, read books I don't have time for during the year.
What do you like to read?
I always look for something calming, so I love reading books with spiritual themes, I'm interested in various philosophies.
I've read that your husband is a tax advisor…
That's no longer true. A long time ago, he passed the exams and became one of the first counselors. But he hasn't been working in that field for over ten years.
What does he do now?
He is a wholesaler of paper and office requisites.
Where did you meet?
We met in 1980 at a high school ball in Tišnov, where I was studying. He attended as a graduate, he was studying at a university in Prague at that time. We got married in 82, so I was an eighteen-year-old bride. We had our 37th anniversary this year in August.
Wow! What's the recipe for such a long marriage?
I don't know. (laughs) We never had much time for quarrels because we were both busy all the time. He was building a family business, I was working in financial management, we were raising children, building a house - there was always something to focus on.
Maybe it's tolerance. And with slight exaggeration, I say the fact that I left for Prague in 2014 might have helped. I got an offer from the General Financial Directorate at that time, I thought it would be only for a short time, a year and a half if all went according to plan. And since then, I've stopped planning altogether! (laughs) That's the recipe, because when you come home for a couple of hours on a weekend, you don't want to waste those short moments on arguing. (laughs)
Do you see eye to eye in financial matters? What to invest in, how to manage your household budget…
Yes, we do now, my husband is solely in charge, because I have no time at all due to my job.
And back when you used to argue, what was it about?
Probably raising children. He had the feeling that I should raise them more strictly and consistently, and I had the feeling that he did not pay them enough attention. And then we had conflicting ideas regarding what to buy, what not to buy, where to go on holiday, those ordinary things. But that changes over time, and I can't even recall any quarrel happening in the last year.
How many grandchildren do you have?
One. I have two children, a daughter and a son, and my daughter has already given me a grandson František, who is four and a half years old.
Do you have time for him? As a minister, probably not much, right?
That's what I regret the most. If I manage to generate a couple of hours during the weekend and it happens to be one of the weekends when he is also in Brno, I am insanely happy. But it doesn't happen on a regular basis, which I'm terribly sorry about.
What kind of a grandmother are you?
A loving one, to a fault. My daughter always blames me for being a strict mother, but as a grandmother, I am tolerant and allow him everything. And he always says, "I like it best at grandma Alenka's, I can do whatever I want there."
What do you usually do together?
Now in the summer we go swimming, we have a swimming pool in the garden, he's getting really good at it. And we go to a playground he loves, sometimes we take the bike and his friends. We read fairy tales, watch movies... Whatever he wants to do, he's the one who decides.
So he orders you around? Granny, buy me some ice cream…
Of course! His mother doesn't like to see that I don't respect certain rules. He has this drawer in our kitchen where the sweets are stored, so whenever he comes, he goes to look in the drawer and see what's there... (laughs)
Are you afraid of aging?
Not at all. That's an issue that doesn't bother me. I always feel like smiling when someone thinks or talks about age. I am not afraid of it at all, on the contrary, I think that I've never felt better. I have grown up children, who stand on their own two feet, and they make me proud. While I can devote myself to my work, which is amazing. I don't have to make sure I get home at a reasonable time, so when I need to stay until ten, I simply so so. Or even longer.
I feel, and I say this without judging my younger colleagues, that it is a good thing for a person to progress in their career step by step. To climb up the ladder. I have a clear conscience, because I've always delivered honest work and I've never got anywhere through the back door. I've lived through it all, which also gives you a certain perspective in solving problems. I see it as a plus.
How did you come to feel this way? After all, many women succumb to depression, watching their changing appearance in the mirror…
I can't say. It wasn't always like this, it came with time, through reading books by various philosophies, through thinking. I am actually terribly afraid of cosmetic procedures that would change my expression. I could have my wrinkles smoothed out, but at the same time I would lose the ability to use facial expression. I believe that every wrinkle stands for an experience and a part of one's life that's been lived. How you feel is not in your wrinkles, but in what you radiate and how you feel inside. And when someone worries about wrinkles, well, it's exactly the gloom that makes their wrinkles deeper.
Do you still go to the gym twice a week?
No, no! (sadly) I had been very good about going, but over the summer I began to skip. I made a commitment to start again in the autumn. And I will also return to tai-chi, which I really enjoy. I've abandoned both activities because work went crazy, what with state budget and law drafting. But I won't make excuses. Now I'm at least putting in some effort by slipping into flat shoes once I've finished at the Ministry or in the House and walking home.
Haven't you packed some pounds?
A few, yes, I feel it on my clothes and I steer clear of the scale. (laughs)
Recently, the Internet made fun of you for wearing a somewhat odd model at a press conference. People compared you to those village aunties from the AZ quiz…
That was a dress I'd brought from Mallorca! I wore it at the government and the fact there were strawberries on it triggered a huge reaction, everyone began to talk about it. I told myself that one needs to be able to take a joke, and so, before going to sleep, I spent an hour reading all the puns in bed and had a good laugh at being compared to an AZ quiz auntie, a cleaning lady or Duo Yamaha together with my colleague Benešová. It is important not to take yourself too seriously.
In the Fast Confession, you said that you enjoy men who are funny…
No, I said the worst thing about a man is when he's boring, that's a difference. He doesn't have to be funny at all costs and spill jokes out of his sleeves, he's not a clown. But a boring man, that's a really sad story, I don't find such men interesting in the slightest.
Your husband can make you laugh?
He's amazingly entertaining, he makes me laugh pretty much every time I get home. He tells me all kinds of stories, paraphrases, he is a real comedian. He can imitate both people and animals, so he's the kind of man I can never be bored with.
What about your fellow officials? Are they boring?
At work I focus on work, so there isn't much time for that. But you might find it surprising that officials don't have to be boring. I have a lot of colleagues you'd enjoy talking to, they are funny people with a sense for English humor. It is just a cliché when people say that officials are boring. But I have met a fair share of boring men in my life.
You've recently posted a photo of yourself while shooting on Instagram. Was that spontaneous, or at a work related event?
I've been shooting for the second time, I'd already tried it as Deputy Minister of Finance, because we have the customs under us. And now the police president invited me to try, I can still feel my collarbone because of the machine guns. (laughs) It's an interesting experience, but I don't intend to get a firearms license.
What other similarly extraordinary or adrenaline activities have you tried?
While on vacation, I tried a parachute on a boat about two years ago, I'd always wanted to do that. And my husband kept telling me to wait for the children to grow up. So I finally got to try it and I don't need to try again! Other adrenaline activities... I've ridden in a tank!
I might not remember everything right now, but I'm always up for trying new things. Andrej Babiš keeps telling me: “You're so excited!” My security guards gave me this experience for Christmas when they lift you up in the air you get to fly in space (wind tunnel, ed.note). That's very tempting.
You probably aren't the type to watch TV shows in the evenings…
Not at all, I hardly ever watch TV. I switch it on only exceptionally when there is a discussion program about a topic that concerns me or when I'm interested in something. I'm trying to spend my life living.
Do you always have a security guard with you?
The Minister of Finance is a protected person, which means I am assigned police protection. There are two or three pairs, a driver and a guard, who take turns and are always with me.
How does one's everyday life change with security guards?
It is a huge intrusion into privacy and you can't quite imagine it until you find out for yourself. You have them around all th time. On the other hand, I'll be honest, there are different kinds of people. Many people write to me politely, but then you have those who don't, some are vulgar and sometimes it's more than vulgar because I'm a woman. So having security guards is a good thing. And it has its positives - when I need to get somewhere quickly, they have it all mapped out, planned out, they're monitoring my time, so they're able to get me where I need to be fast.
When you go home to see your husband, are they also with you at dinner?
No, they're not. They take me home, and unless I leave the object, which is of course also monitored, they go to a hotel and are available for me on call.
Have you ever regretted accepting a political function?
I never regret anything. It happened once and I take it as an experience and a life challenge. I've never planned to pursue a career in politics, I've been in financial administration for twenty-five years, but then life happened.
Did politics have a negative effect on your family?
I'm not gonna say it didn't. You always take your family hostage. I made my free choice, but my family didn't get to make a decision. In a way, someone always pokes in their privacy and sniffs around, which is naturally not pleasant. My husband supports me, but he wants to keep a low profile. He likes his Brno life, so it's a special occasion when I persuade him to go somewhere with me. (laughs)
Do you cook?
I can cook, even my husband would confirm that. But I haven't cooked in a long time, I'm in Prague on my own, so who would I cook for? And when I come to Brno, he does the cooking. He is really into it, he's a really good cook, one of those who can even make beef sirloin with cream sauce. And he enjoys it, so he's spoiling me and I always eat way more than I should.
What music do you listen to?
I like Czech songs, sometimes I listen to the classics such as Hanka Zagorová. But I also like classical music, like Smetana, Dvořák, Mozart, depending on my mood. I enjoy jazz and Kurt Elling, too. I usually lie down in bed, read my mails, and play music that I'm in the mood for on Youtube.
Do you also go to parties or clubs to see concerts?
I get a lot of invitations, but because I have little time, I have to choose. I've seen Jaromír Nohavica, for example, he's also one of my favorites. I could go out more…
What can make you get really mad?
Probably nothing, you took me by surprise here... I mean, I'm no saint, if my husband were sitting here, he would wholeheartedly agree. (laughs) When I was younger, I used to get angry by various things, but nowadays not so much. I am grateful for my family, for having healthy children and a healthy grandson, and for the fact that disasters seem to avoid us. I don't really dwell on the small stuff.
Minister, thank you for the interview.
Do you do your own tax returns?
What can't be bought for money?
Do you have a personal hairdresser?
Would you rather see an opera or a musical?
How much do you tip at restaurants?
When were you most afraid?
What is worse, infidelity or political betrayal?
What do you enjoy about men?
Do you sometimes binge on sweets or something else?
What do you dream of?
Are the officials at the Ministry afraid of you?
What do you do for the environment?
Which topic is taboo for you in interviews?
Who manages your household budget?
Do you have children?
In that case I would definitely recommend you to have them, for the sake of sustainability of public finances, we need 2.1 children per mother. (laughs)