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On how she got into politics, the "Rossi" incident and the European Union.

Fast confession - Karla Šlechtová: I got into politics by mistake

Tereza Janatová
01.Oct 2018
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7 minutes

At the Ministry for Regional Development they gave her a clear nickname – TSUNAMI. Pretty rough, but amusing at the same time. That's what happens when you don't go with the flow. Karla Šlechtová had a clear goal and a clear interest since the beginning. Some people did not like that and still don't.

Karla Šlechtová
Probably the most famous Czech dog
Karla Šlechtová

When did you decide to get into politics? When did the first impulse come?

It was not entirely standard with me, as is the case with the dour politicians who evolve in those positions in the municipal, regional and parliamentary elections. I had worked abroad for a long time. Next came a job at the large consulting firm Deloitte. And that's when the breaking point came. My position was senior consultant for state contracts. I kept telling myself that the state has so many officials, why do they give it to such an expensive consulting firm. I lost my patience, too. I said enough and went over to the other side. So my next stop was at the Ministry for Regional Development, where I went through the selection process. I gained the position of officer for about a quarter of the salary, and started building a state employee career from scratch. At the Ministry of Regional Development they even called me Tsunami. I guess I was "too much" to them. The bureaucracy the officials have to undergo is unbelievable. I'm not surprised that they do not have time for the strategic work. That is why contracts are being outsourced. So that was the moment I said I would go into state administration. As for the position of minister, that was on the basis of an agreement with Andrei Babiš, who at that time needed someone who knew about European funds. So to summarize it, I got into politics a little by mistake. (laughter)

Still, if you look back now, was it the right move?

I wouldn't change a thing. And I would definitely not do anything differently. I am very happy for how I have managed the pressure. Being so exposed at the level of a minister if you come from the position of a newcomer is quite challenging. And no one cares where you came from or whether you were in a high position in Deloitte. Many people still see me as an official. Even though they know absolutely nothing about me. I think our outputs at the Ministry for Regional Development and now at the Ministry of Defense exactly reflect the way each minister should work.

Prodej exkluzivního domu, Praha-východ
Prodej exkluzivního domu, Praha-východ, Okolí Prahy

Do I understand well that you have to have very sharp elbows in politics?

Yes, very. At least I do. I am no sheep and I will never be part of a crowd. Although a few individuals in higher positions thought I would fit in. But that's not my style. I perceived this, and I still perceive it as a mission for our citizens. From my side it is definitely no kitsch.

Is it a little harder for women in politics?

I personally do not see much difference. If a man is incapable, he will have to finish. The same applies to a woman. But it's true that I felt it a little bit at the Ministry of Defense. You know, you are among only other men...So I really had to prove that either I am capable or not. Nothing in between. But otherwise I would say that politics is for everyone. It depends on the individual how he/she approaches things.

You have handled quite a lot of pressure. How does it work, how does one fight it so as not to become overwhelmed?

Several times I experienced some really difficult moments. Especially if you do not have the support of your party, your movement. It is generally known that I have never had the support of the ANO movement. And basically they tried to take me down several times. Somehow they did not manage, and at the last position at the Ministry of Defense it turned out the way it did. Everyone knows what happened. I think it's totally embarrassing that they could not find anything better than VIP Lounges, a photo of my dog in a reputable place where the wreath was ten days old. What the media claimed was simply a lie. So either you stand up to it and do a job you really believe in or it makes no sense.

In the case of some policitians, it seems to me that their only interest is money. Money that they can "make on the side"...

That is why I say that I am in politics by mistake. For me, public interest comes first. Unfortunately, that's what I am missing in the case of some people. I am interested in the citizens of the Czech Republic, after that Europe and the world. And I just want world peace, and if I can contribute to it, I will contribute. Unfortunately, they removed me. That's the price for not wanting to walk with the crowd.

What does a regular work day of Karla Šlechtová look like?

If I talk about the days at the ministry, I started around seven o'clock and finished around ten, eleven at night. So my apartment was like a dormitory, just for sleeping. It's a challenging discipline. I had tasks minute after minute. It is important to realize that I had several tens of thousands of people under me, a lot of state-owned enterprises, and my task was to put everything at attention, to keep them on their toes. Which some did not like.

Can you separate your work and private life? In other words, can you close the office door and go home with a clean head?

I cannot. I basically lived in a ministerial bubble for four years. Citizens and the state were in first place for me. My family and friends, of course, pulled me back, out of this world. And I probably understand that. I was immersed in my work that I didn't thing about myself. Many times I forgot to eat. Fortunately, I have a dog, today it is a national celebrity (we all know), so I had at least that responsibility and I am happy for it. The head is really difficult to turn off if you are trying to accomplish something. If you're trying to do something you believe in, your head is constantly working. I kept thinking about how I could help. You need to realize that you are taking over a position from someone. So you cannot demolish the entire system within a month. Let's say you spend half a year coming up with a new concept, and then you slowly implement it, and the public sometimes only perceives it four years later, when you are leaving.

Last year people talked a lot about an incident occurred at the Moto GP in Brno. You allegedly forced a photo with Valentino Rossi. What really happened?

Thank you for asking. You are the first medium to really ask. The Ministry for Regional Development contributed several millions for this event, just like Sobotka's government at that time, and I was the only minister who went to see the venue. I note that I do not have a driving license for a motorcycle. I do not know anything about the races, and it's definitely not my cup of tea. I was also invited there because Mr. Abraham, who raced for Czech Tourism and was basically sponsored by an agency that fell under the Ministry for Regional Development, was supposed to be there. I wanted to wish him a good race. He came there, took off his gloves, took a picture, I wished him a safe race, and then I wished the other riders the same. I introduced myself and so on. And suddenly there was a crowd in one place. I didn't even know there was a Rossi there. He was number 46 for me. I introduced myself to the team. One of them told me to talk to someone else, and at that moment Rossi turned around and said not now. It was time for a prayer he undergoes each time he races. As I was leaving, one of the team members came to me and apologized, saying they would be happy if I came into the box after they finish racing. So I was definitely not forcing a photo. My only goal was to wish all the racers a good race. That's all. Nothing more, nothing less.

Not everything is as it looks...

Exactly. I think the Italian media had worked hard on it. Rossi ended up not winning and it is obvious that they needed to somebody to blame. And I came in handy.

In the past you've also drawn attention to yourself with your hairstyle or hair color. What were the reactions?

That was absolutely great. I was going to Brussels, where all the member of the European Commission were, and I was on one panel there. Originally I wanted hair in our national colors. Unfortunately, that didn't work out and there was no time to go to the hairdresser. But it served the purpose. I got a lot of attention for my green hair. Everybody wanted to take pictures. The Commissioners found it very interesting and finally found out where the Czech Republic is. In the beginning it looked like I had just come there to show up, but after I spoke and stood up against the nonsense about the Czech Republic, they soon discovered that I also had something in my head. Not only on the head. (laughter)

Many people in the world do not know the Czech Republic at all. Have you personally experienced this?

I have. And not just in the case of people. Unfortunately, I also experienced this with politicians and ambassadors, and I find it quite sad. It is a shame. It is no secret that I was a candidate for the United Nations, and I finished second. Still, I had the support of the European Union, even the support of Russia. It was a great prestige for our country. Unfortunately, nobody promoted it here. Probably because it was my name. But why am I mentioning it? In the United Nations I encountered such ignorance about our country, and trust me, many still think we are Czechoslovakia, that really made me angry. So I always called the Slovak minister over and explained it to everyone. I am Czech and he is Slovak. We are two. Not one.

Does the European Union, even after all these years, still have something to offer the Czech Republic?

I can demonstrate that with a simple example. For one euro, which we put into the European budget, we get 2.8 euros back in European subsidies. The fact that we do not know how to draw subsidies or that we have caused this with our own corruption is a different issue. However, being a part of the European Union remains beneficial for us. If anyone claims that European funds are useless, then it is a lie. Our existence and our membership in the European Union is necessary. I am a European and am definitely not for a referendum on leaving the EU.


Fast confession:

Who do you get along with best on the political scene?

Probably with myself.

Do you have a life motto?

Modesty, humility, no corruption, and especially common sense.

Have you ever considered running for President of the Czech Republic?

I was always too young for it. Now I am at the right age, so maybe I'll think about it.

What was the last book you read?

Kafka's The Castle.

What makes you angry?

Injustice and lies.

AnchorDo you have a phobia?

Maybe sometimes of deputies.

Would you vote for the introduction of euthanasia?

This is a very difficult question. I have already spoken about the most serious cases and only at the request of that person and family, yes.

Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton?

I would only leave that with a question mark. At this point, I think it does not matter at all. Trump sometimes acts a little crazy.

Would you forgive a merciful lie?

In a relationship maybe, in politics no way.

Are you a big fan of any sport?

I am currently preparing for active reserve. I will run and work a bit on my physique.

AnchorKarel Gott or Helena Vondráčková?

Karel Gott.

The greatest threat to humanity?

In any case, it is security at the moment. It's a threat to the whole world. And generally the evil we create as humans.

Do you turn to look at an attractive woman?

No, I don't. I don't take much notice of that.

What do you most think about in your life?

Now I'm thinking about the people that govern the Czech Republic and where it will be in three years.
The interviewee asks the editor:

How are you?

I am great, thank you.
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