Although Minister of Finance Alena Schillerová sometimes lets us peek into her privacy through photos on her Instagram account, she rarely talks about her family, her rituals or hobbies. In an interview for LP-life.com she makes an exception and opens up about looking forward to having another grandchild, about getting strange messages on social media as well as about her relationship towards men. Moreover, she even confided that when her superior Andrej Babiš ticks her off, she ignores his text messages defiantly, until she cools down.
Do you ever think about leaving everything behind, buying a house at the beach and spending all your days just watching the sea, relaxed and carefree?
Frankly, no, I don’t. Although I really look forward to going on a vacation for a few days, when the situation calms down a little. I don’t even care where, just somewhere calm, in nature. Right now it’s out of the question, though.
I do, and not only the comments. People write to me a lot, every day I get tens of messages through either Messenger or e-mail, and with the help of my colleagues, I try to answer all of them. I even answer them myself in the evenings. Sometimes they’re not nice to read, you can feel the frustration in them. Anger always needs an outlet, and people feel that the outlet should be us, politicians. Sometimes I’m genuinely sorry about that.
But I also get nice, encouraging messages. People understand that this is a health crisis and that how we act is basically the same as all neighbouring governments are acting. There are no great differences in restrictions between individual countries; experts, Ministers of Health and epidemiologists recommend the same everywhere.
Aren’t you afraid that many entrepreneurs are in a very difficult situation and they are soon about to quit? You, as the Minister of Finance, won’t be able to collect as much tax money then...
We’re trying to target massive support to the most vulnerable groups of entrepreneurs; for example, we approved raising the compensation bonus to 1,000 crowns. I mean, at the end of January the government aid already cost about 302 billion crowns, with direct assistance for entrepreneurs being over 200 billion. We’re trying to help them survive, one way or another. And it turns out it’s the right strategy. Most neighbouring countries chose to do the same.
2020 did not have as big an impact on the economy as most experts predicted. One of the important factors of that was functional government aid. Still, the best thing and one that I’m very much looking forward to are going to be the gradual loosening of restrictions, albeit at the cost of some very strict measures.
For this year, you have approved an increase of the state budget debt to 500 billion crowns. Isn’t that number a little overwhelming?
Sometimes people think that if the deficit increases from 320 billion to the current 500 billion, we have 180 billion at our disposal. But that’s not true. We need to look at the fact that the budget has a revenue side and an expenditure side.
As for the revenue side, we had to lower it by 102,7 billion crowns because of the tax package, which lowered the employees' taxes radically. This amount of money we won’t collect, it remains with the people – which is good, because they know best how to use it at this difficult time. Furthermore, we had to increase our COVID aid expenses by 70 billion, and this is aimed to help health professionals, entrepreneurs and social services, which is why I call this modification "the COVID amendment."
Whether I do or don’t... It’s simply a fact; people will have the opportunity to express their will and issue us politicians a "report card."
How do you feel about the statements towards the Constitutional Court, coming, among others, from your government colleagues? When the court repealed a part of the electoral law, words were spoken about bribery, independence was questioned...
I’m not going to comment on anyone’s statements, let everybody answer for their own words. I’ve been thinking about it myself, and I’m disappointed that an issue that’s been at the Constitutional Court for three years only gets addressed six months before elections. It’s not good and it’s quite strange. However, I’m not going to question the Constitutional court and its independence, that’s something untouchable in a democratic society.
Now it’s up to the politicians to come to an agreement. And an agreement does have to be reached, otherwise the elections would be held without turning the votes into mandates subsequently. The parliament might not be assembled, therefore, the current government would have to continue as is, and none of that is democratic. Voters won’t let that slide.
God willing, and if all goes well, I should become a grandmother for the second time. I already have a grandson, František, who is six years old, from my daughter. And this time it’s going to be from my son.
Grandkids are a joy and a pleasure, therefore I’m sorry I get to see František less often than I’d like to. Their family lives in Brno, I’m currently in Prague and don’t travel to Brno regularly now. Yet still, I hope there will once be a calmer time when I’ll have more time for them and I‘m looking forward to it.
He lives in Brno, so he can see him more often and be with him anytime he wants. Even though he's still working, he has more free time than me, so he takes his grandson in for a sleepover every week, and they have a „boy’s night in.“
Aren't you envious that he can tend to his grandfatherly duties, while you're dealing with politics and finances in Prague?
Sometimes I am, and I’m sad when they call me and say: "Grandma, we’re watching cartoons right now." But I’m happy for him.
Absolutely (laughs)! I was a strict mother, my daughter still reproaches me for it sometimes. I was young, and I thought it was the right way, after all, my parents raised me like that as well... But my grandson gets completely spoiled. I always tell her she’s there to raise him, and I’m there to spoil him. And Fratišek says: "I like going to grandma Alenka, I can do whatever I want there." (laughs)
I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I don’t get scared much. I have this philosophy that everything in life happens as it should. And that helps me to overcome all difficulties.
When it was still possible – now, sadly, it’s not – I liked to go get a facial, mani-pedi, go to the hairdresser. It’s my spa half-day, my husband calls it "the tour." Or I like to get a massage, go for a walk with my grandson. Those are my little pleasures.
Lately, you were featured in a "Worst dressed" article. Do you know, what they wrote about you? That the outfit you wore for supermarket inspections was fit for attending a biker rally, but not for a politician...
That was about my leather jacket! (laughs) I bought it on the internet, because I liked it a lot. I would never wear it to my office or to the Parliament, but when I went for the supermarket inspection, I wore jeans and a turtleneck, I wanted to be comfortable... And that they wrote I look like a biker? It doesn’t bother me, that’s a pretty forgiving critique.
I don’t take myself that seriously. For a pretty long time, I used to have caricature drawings of myself that I had gotten as a gift in my office (ed. note: points to a wall behind her) and it puzzled some journalists here and there. If it’s benign humour, I like to laugh at my own expense, sometimes I even share it as well. Let people roast me, I know I’m no model. (laughs)
A journalist once asked me, whether I, as a woman in politics, experience more attacks or feel discriminated against. That was kind of a similar question to yours. And I thought about it and then answered that I have spent almost my entire professional life in managerial positions and in higher levels of politics, and I don't feel anything like discrimination.
But then I probably jinxed myself with that answer, because I started thinking about how they never write about a male politician that he’s fat, that his clothes don’t fit or that his hair does this or that. Men are not targeted as much as women. Maybe it’s because there’s so few of us in high politics, and therefore we’re more in the spotlight.
So I had to start caring about a lot of things, to watch everything. Everything gets scrutinized, including my nail polish. Recently, someone criticized me for wearing a silver watch and gold jewellery together, which clashes with each other, and for being shiny.
I don’t take it to heart. When you’re in politics for a longer time, you grow a thicker skin. You have to rise above that, otherwise you couldn’t do this job at all.
You are a powerful woman; you can, for example, forgive someone’s taxes, or make his life miserable. Are men scared of you?
I hope they’re not, I sure do! I never thought about that, but I’d be sorry if they were. I've always had more friends among men, ever since I was a kid, we understand each other. I like men; I enjoy their sense of humour.
On the contrary. I actually think I have a bit of an advantage. Men in politics – although they never forgive me anything – still take into consideration that I’m a woman. In this regard, behaviour towards women is still a little more polite, if you can even say such a thing about behaviour in the Parliament.
Did you ever get yelled at by Prime Minister Babiš? Rumour has it, that he’s impulsive and likes to shout at his colleagues...
He is known for enjoying working with women, and he also says it about himself. Sometimes he can be intense, but I’m not having it. We have been working together for five years; I was a deputy for two years (when Andrej Babiš was the Minister of Finance, ed. Note) and then a minister for three years. And I've never experienced him being rude to me. Sometimes he starts arguing with me, but so do I. I can definitely set my boundaries and stand up for my opinion.
With Andrej Babiš it’s very important to be respected by him. And when I say something to him, he tends to accept it. It’s not true that he only orders us around, as the media write. If I didn’t have my own opinion, he wouldn’t respect me, and he wouldn’t want to work with me.
Not exactly. But I didn’t answer his text message a few times, when he made me mad. I kept him waiting for the answer for some time, and he understands what that means. (laughs)
Sadly, I have. When you encounter it for the first or second time, you take it to heart a bit more. But then you sort people out, you get some idea about who does honor a handshake and who doesn’t, you learn to live with it. In politics, unfair practices come with the territory, but I try to stay out of it.
Not really, I’m a calm person, and I always say that‘s a gift from God. But I’m hard both on myself and those around me. Sometimes I notice people around me getting very tired, and some just can’t handle it. I'm already on my fourth Chief of Cabinet! I’ve never parted with anyone on bad terms, but some people just weren’t willing to undergo the amount of stress. Which is not a bad thing; they just have a different vision of life.
I love my job and I’m just as hard on myself as I am on the people around me. But I try to be fair, I never play favorites.
Lately, it’s not been that great. But when it’s possible, I like to take long walks. I always keep sports shoes in my car trunk, so I can walk home when I’m not working till midnight. I also try to pay attention to my diet, because I’ve had some stomach problems. If I have time, I try to eat a hot meal every day and I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables.
I don’t drink any alcohol either. I used to – I’m from South Moravia, so I enjoyed a glass or two occasionally. I have it associated with my family, with hanging out together, but now I'm alone in Prague because of the pandemic, so I don’t drink at all. And every five months I get my blood count and various other tests done.
Do you think that sooner or later there will be a system in the Czech Republic where people with the coronavirus vaccination will have more freedom, and conversely, those without vaccinations will not be able to go to the cinema or restaurant?
It will certainly not be required by law; those are personal human rights and freedoms, and I would never raise my hand for that. We cannot regulate private companies, though. There may be, for example, an airline that will declare they're only letting vaccinated individuals on board, that can happen. I mean, the market is likely to regulate itself and we cannot rule it out.
I have no idea. While it is important to return the economy and our life to normal, we have to do it sensitively, therefore the restart of every type of activity shall still be accompanied with social distancing and wearing respirators. But when does, for example, traveling start to resume, that I dare not to say. Certainly not yet.
I’m very cautious so that nothing embarrassing would happen to me, I even do video calls from my office, never from home. But recently I saw my colleague, who joined the video conference from home, to stand up wearing only his boxers. (laughs)