Fast Confession - Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš: The threat of cancer made me reevaluate my life
This is our third time meeting Prime Minister Andrej Babiš for an interview at LP-Life.com. The first interview was before the election, then when he was already prime minister, and now once again, after the end of the year-long pandemic and just a few months before another election. This one is extra important for the Prime Minister, he would like to take advantage of years of work and continue at it. The Pirates are spoiling it for him a bit now, but his spirit is not faltering. He doesn't give up. It isn't in his nature, he says. In the interview, you will learn a lot, for example, how this entrepreneur who does not like to be referred to as a politician perceives the hatred of people who express it to him often. Or how Andrej Babiš had a serious health problem, he was afraid that he had cancer, and that is why he now wants to build new centres to help fight this insidious disease. Or also about who he sees as the next president...
We last spoke shortly after your election as prime minister. How has your life changed since then?
It has changed fundamentally. According to surveys, the percentage of people in the Czech Republic who know me is 99.8 percent. That means almost everyone knows me. Yesterday I was walking down the street in Prostějov and a lady with two children passed me. And the little girl shouted, "Look, Mom, Babiš!" I was at this one school, and all the children knew me. Unfortunately, because many media still portray me as a great evil, lie about me and make up stories, some people hate me.
Recently I was in Lysá nad Labem, for example. A colleague said there was a great bakery, so we went there and bought a cake. We put a photo on the internet that we had been there, and people started attacking the bakery as soon as they saw it for inviting me there. They didn't invite me, I just went there to buy pastries.
Didn't you think of just hanging it all it? You don't need this.
It is true. I don't need this. But I'm not used to throwing in the towel and I'll do my best to win the election. I want to remind people what we've done in these four years. We have done an awful lot, our government I mean. I hope you watched my speech in the House at the opposition's attempt at a motion of no confidence.
I certainly didn't see that.
That is a real shame. I quite enjoyed it. I came home and my wife told me she didn't even know I was such an actor. I told her I was no actor, that's how I just felt. The injustice and the people who have nothing to their name in life, who have not built a company, not even a dog house, and all they can do is criticize and shame others, they have evoked in me the feeling I have shown them in that speech.
The speech was great, because the opposition wanted to express no confidence in us, but on their part, it was just a game, because they wanted to organize a pre-election meeting, so I gave it to them. A lot of people wrote that it was great because they sometimes felt like I was losing energy.
I don't want to be impertinent, but you are a senior, you should also rest sometimes.
Why? We have loads of seniors who work and are active. When people work all their lives and then stop overnight, it is more of a problem for them.
Okay, but sometimes you have to rest.
I rest by sleeping in without an alarm from on Friday night.
It varies, but I usually sleep for eight hours.
Once a week?
Maybe up until 10 am, but the other days are worse. A day is only 24 hours long and I have a lot of these meetings. But I've improved, I had a health problem and lack of sleep wasn't helping. I had a period where I lived for a month in the belief that I might have prostate cancer. You are horrified that your life is in danger. That was one of the reasons why I came up with the National Cancer Plan. I'm not doing this for the sake of the election or for myself, but for the people. I want to build a top oncology centre in Prague, like the one in Brno. The people of Brno are lucky to have the great Masaryk Cancer Institute there. In the future, a modern prevention centre is to be built in Brno. I would like us to build a completely new cancer hospital in Prague, the Czech Oncology Institute.
In addition to cancer, mental health is also a big problem. The coronavirus is and will be a major attack on mental health. Mental illness is generally a big problem, I know something about that. These are two issues that I perceive strongly and where we need to help people.
Do you feel good yourself? Is it behind you, do you not have cancer?
I had very elevated results, which in most cases results in a cancer diagnosis. Fortunately, this was not confirmed, but I have to get checked again. Based on this experience and the feeling I experienced, I thought that following the example of Western countries, our country would deserve a truly top-of-the-line centre for cancer prevention and treatment.
Did this make you stop and think about what you did all week, all month, all year?
Yes, it made me rethink my life. I'm trying to fix it. I don't know if you know the theories of the masculine principle and the feminine principle, that you have your ancestors in you, who encoded some hereditary burdens in your body. My big problem is that I am in the last place in my own life.
I don't know. I don't care for myself too much. Be it health, or overall well-being. I don't care what the critics say, I didn't go into politics for myself, but to help our country, the people. People write to me every day asking for help with various life situations, and I try to help everyone if I can. But I should learn to take better care of myself and my health, my family and my loved ones.
Your wife would also love that.
You are right, and especially because of her and the children, I regret that I went into politics, because we do not have time for each other and it has fundamentally changed our lives.
You said you wouldn't go on vacation because you went to Crete last year and you got bashed for it.
Yes, we had already paid for a family vacation, which I'd paid for a year in advance. We were all looking forward to seeing each other and I couldn't tell my family we weren't going. But even so, I didn't enjoy the holiday too much, because I worked every day and kept dealing with something or other. Of course, the media and my opponents kept bringing up Crete, but they were no longer interested in us having spent a few weekends in a Czech spa. But I'd rather not go anywhere this year.
But now travelling is allowed.
Everyone can, but when Babiš or his family does it, it's suddenly wrong. Fortunately, Babiš is still allowed to breathe, at least.
You keep saying things like that, and that brings me back to the same question: why don't you hang everything up? You are a free man, and moreover a rich one, you can do whatever you want. So why don't you just do something out of the public eye for the sake of your inner peace?
Please, I don't have billions in my account. I put my company in a trust fund, as required by Czech law. When I'm done with politics, I will return to the company. It is my former company that represents that value. Yes, I'm not doing horrible, but the billions are held mainly in the accounts of those who gained them in the golden 1990s under the rule of traditionally democratic parties.
So why don't I hang it up? I have a commitment to people who trust me and who elected us. I still want to do something for our country. A lot has worked, but I'm not in the habit of leaving an unfinished job. That is why I want to win the election once again.
Now the Pirates are stepping on your heels; according to surveys, they are even ahead of you.
Even if I am not in politics, I will fight against this group of people who, as I said in my speech, want to share our cars, our apartments and our country. They are pro-immigration and environmental fanatics who are characterized by a complete absence of criticism of anything coming from Brussels. I don't want a pirate state here, I want to live in the Czech Republic. We must prevent the disintegration of our way of life and our culture.
Look at all the things that Bartoš has done. He voted against joining the EU, now he kowtows to Brussels. He says he was reckless in 2009 when he said he would not mind a Muslim Europe, but in 2016 he welcomed immigrants. His party talked about thousands of immigrants that we can accept.
At a European level, Pirates associate organizationally and politically with the Green party. The Green party who are characterized by unconditional support for integration, up to a point of having a European federal state, and equally unconditional support for immigration, regardless of origin, religion or cultural customs.
Are you really afraid that the Muslim community might take over here?
Fear or not. Fortunately, I prevented a permanent redistribution with Viktor Orbán, that is clearly our doing. On June 29, 2018, at 4 in the morning, we definitively rejected the quota system. I do not know why we should move people into the country without any connection to our nation and with a completely foreign cultural environment. We see where uncontrolled immigration leads these days in France, Sweden and Britain on a daily basis.
I have nothing against Muslims, I also lived in Morocco, I have friends there. But everyone should respect the majority culture in the country they come to, same as Europeans do when they come to the Middle East, Africa or Asia.
If you won the election, what would be the next focus?
Continuity and predictability. People know Babiš and know what they can expect from him and what they can't. This government has done a lot of good work. We started building highways that cost half the price of those built under right-wing governments. We have finally significantly increased our pensions and we have fulfilled our promise that the average pension will be more than 15,000. We have also increased the salaries of our health professionals and teachers. We have prepared a clear investment plan for the coming years. We have put the most money in the history of our country into the support of sports and the renovation of sports venues. I could go on for another 30 minutes.
We have done a lot of good work, which we want to continue. Well, and Babiš was background-checked to hell and back, Babiš had no problems throughout his political career, this government had no corruption problem. They drew up fictional stories about Babiš from the past, a fourteen-year-old Stork's Nest or a made-up StB case. I was never part of the StB, I won the trial three times in a row because of it. Some, on the other hand, claim that I steal, which is, of course, nonsense that my former company is drawing subsidies illegally. These are just gossip, I definitely did not go into politics because of subsidies. They even decrease over time. Anyway, I have a clean slate.
That's why I asked why you don't hang it up. But I get it, you want to win the election.
Because I've been building something here for almost ten years and I think we've achieved good results in the government. And most of all, I don't want to disappoint our constituents who have trusted me.
You said that it's a nightmare to think that everything might close down again in the fall.
It's not about the closing, but I hope the virus won't come.
Are you afraid it will come again? A new variant?
Some experts are talking about it. But we must be careful not to repeat the mistakes of last summer.
Have we learned our lesson?
Definitely. We are preparing for the return of our children to schools in advance.
Hypothetically, if it turned out in the fall that there's a newly mutated virus and you had to close everything down again. What would you do differently?
We must now persuade people to get vaccinated, especially the elderly. In an ideal case, the younger people will be vaccinated as well. Children should also be vaccinated. But it is up to each person, vaccination is voluntary. Return to school must be different from last year. We will have to keep testing, be careful when returning from vacation, because someone can carry the virus without knowing it.
We underestimated these things last year, or rather no expert clearly told us what needed to be done. That's the lesson, plus we ordered the vaccine doses for the next period. We are vaccinating like crazy and I am proud of O2 Universum. It is a project that no one believed in, but pushed it through and put it together.
You mentioned several times that ANO can and will work without you. Do you want to leave politics?
I definitely don't plan on leaving.
Will you run for president?
I'm asking quite seriously.
I don't know, I've answered that a hundred times.
Not to me. And maybe something has changed.
Nothing has changed, I'm not thinking about it at all. There are many candidates here.
Who would you imagine in the post?
A president who is there for everyone, fights for Czech interests, represents our country well. One who is also familiar with the issue of government, so that he can express himself professionally, who perceives and responds to the suggestions of citizens and then passes them on. And of course, one who speaks many languages.
But you will not tell me a specific name of the future president?
How will you spend the weekend?
Tonight I'm going to Nymburk to watch the vaccination marathon, which is held there by enthusiasts from the local vaccination centre. Then I'm going to Lidice to honour the memory of this terrible war tragedy. And on Sunday, of course, I'm filming Čau lidi (Hi, People), so I hope you'll be watching. The journalists are waiting for what Babiš will say again so that they can criticize me.
Do you attend Mrs Postlerová's speaking lessons?
Sure, she's with me at each filming. Mrs Postlerová is strict, she brings up with my suffixes, she often tells me "d", "t", "s" or "I don't understand you, once again!". She also helped me rehearse the speech in the House that I was talking about. You have to watch it, you will definitely love it.
All right, Mr Prime Minister, I'll take a look. Thank you very much for the interview and I look forward to the next.
Hopefully, it won't be in three or four years again. (laughs)
What did covid give you and what did it take?
What was the last thing you prayed to God for?
Who will be the next Minister of Health?
You regret going into politics, yes or no?
The worst insult aimed at you in the last year?
A prime minister's nightmare?
What was something that you laughed at from the bottom of your heart this year?
What is your next career goal?
Where are you going on holiday this year?
Who are you predicting to be the winner of the autumn election?
What do you think you did well during the pandemic?
When was the last time you used Prague public transport?
If you got a flat tire, how would you handle it?
What do you think about the media sphere, about journalists in the Czech Republic?
(laughs) That was an attempt at a joke, right?