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On football, life long relationships and the strength of the Czechs

Fast Confession - Petr Fiala: Being happy is more important than being successful in the eyes of society

David Budai
11.Nov 2019
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10 minutes

Some might call him Mr. Manners, or even Mr. Boring. In reality, the current ODS leader and former rector Petr Fiala isn‘t afraid to declare openly that his wife is a "good mistress" for him and that their relationship is not completely free of minor quarrels. The likeable thing about this politician is that he lives an everyday life just like the rest of us. He likes vacations in Croatia and when he finds a little free time, he prefers to find a quiet place with a book at his cottage outside the city. In an interview for, he also remembered his childhood or his achievements as a football striker.

I've read about you that you have Jewish ancestors, some of your family members were even in a concentration camp. Have you ever listened to their memories? And how do you perceive some of today's tendencies to deny the Holocaust?

Of course I have listened to some of their memories, but I have to say that both my grandmother and my father and uncle who went through detention camps as children disliked talking about it. So it was difficult to get any details out of them. But I know the fate of this part of my family and I was touched by it as a child. And, of course, I dislike seeing anti-Semitism grow in many countries.

Making the Holocaust a subject to dispute is nonsense, and the people who have experienced it first hand know best. It's not only about concentration camps, but also about the humiliation, when you get kicked out of school because of your origin, you can't pursue certain jobs, you have to wear a star…

Why didn't they want to talk about it?

There were two reasons. The experiences were traumatic and complex, and they must have been glad it was over. And the second reason is simple, having Jewish background was not safe even under the Communists. So they didn't want to talk about it with me as a child.

Byt s výhledem na Prahu - Karlín - 308m
Byt s výhledem na Prahu - Karlín - 308m, Praha 8

Did it affect you later in life?

I was affected by the experience of our entire family. I have Jewish ancestors, of course, but my family was also Catholic and very closely related to the First Republic and democratic politics. Even in the period of communist totalitarianism, I was gaining this inclination to democracy and freedom from my family. These are things I have naturally perceived since childhood.

Do you think young people can imagine what was going on back then?

I have been teaching at university since 1990, almost 30 years now, so I have the opportunity to compare generational changes. And yes, it is a bit of a problem that young people take freedom and democracy for granted. But on the other hand, I think to myself: Isn't it amazing that they're growing up in an environment which allows them to consider it natural? That they have freedom, can travel, have the choice of what they are going to study, and it is up to them what form their life will take. That sounds nice to me…

But then they might not appreciate it that much...

They don't... But it's up to us to tell them that we have the experience and that dangers exists. We have to let them know, for example, that the Communist dictatorship is being downplayed when Communists participate in the government and Communist functionaries are awarded. I believe that to be wrong and negative. However, my job is not to whine about it, but to do something about it.

You are a political scientist, you used to be a rector, you wrote professional texts about these problems. Do you feel stronger now that you are a politician and can tackle things directly?

I don't think about it that way. For me, when I consider something important in my life and want to do it, I do it to the fullest. Whether I'm a politician or a political scientist at the moment makes no difference to me. I am a person who likes science, books, thinking, education. That's what I've considered natural my entire life and it makes me happy. And I try to apply the things I've learned in politics. So these are not two separate worlds for me.

When journalists tell me "it must be difficult for you, from academia to dirty politics," I tell them it's not quite like that. The academic environment is also based on competition, science is based on conflicts, on discord. So I'm not surprised.

And is there something in particular that really robbed you of your illusions? As in, you had to stop and think: „I haven't expected this would happen in politics...“

I had the advantage of specializing in empirical science as a political scientist, so I knew how politics worked. But there are still things that surprise me, such as the level of media discussions and the state of the media. That is in a worse condition than I thought it would be.

Has your wife ever criticized you for going to politics? After all, the pressure on the family is always huge…

My wife Jana, because we have been together for a long time, knows that I have always been somehow publicly involved. So she is used to a certain amount of attention, after all, even the function of the Rector is a public function. And I admit that I couldn't be doing what I'm doing without my family's support. So I hear a sigh from time to time, but no remorse or doubt.

What is your recipe for a long marriage? After all, you've been together for 30 years…

Yes, we have been in a relationship for 30 years, since November 89, and we have been married for 27 years. So it has been a long time, we have three children... But I won't share any tips and don't feel it is my place to do so. However, it is important to keep giving something in the relationship, to invest into it. It's never static, every relationship changes. The ideal case, which I happen to have, is a relationship where the woman is your wife, lover and friend at he same time. Then it works well. But, you know, there is no recipe for that… (laughs)

And do you ever argue?

I wouldn't call it arguing. We talk about things, each of us has a different opinion and we try to work things out. And that belongs to every relationship or marriage. The purpose of partnership is not only to raise children and so on, but also correction. He who knows me best corrects me, and I correct him. And somehow we keep holding together and changing. So an exchange of opinions definitely has its place in a relationship.

Has she followed you to Prague?

No, I live in Brno. And I like living there there, it's where I was born, my wife too, we've been there our entire lives. And although I had the opportunity to travel around the world and get to know many places in my academic functions, I wouldn't change Brno for anything. So I commute to Prague, but I associate it with my work life.

When you buy clothes, does your wife choose them for you or do you go shopping by yourself?

I always go shopping for clothes with my wife. I have my own opinion, but I need her to give me feedback and tell me whether she likes it or not.

So you like something and she says, "Over my dead body!"

Yes, that has happened. (laughs) But we have a similar taste and are usually on the same page.

Luxusní byt na prodej s terasou a výhledem
Luxusní byt na prodej s terasou a výhledem, Praha 1

How do you like to spend time together?

We have a lot of common interests, we like to have conversations and spend all our free time together. It contributes to keeping a long-term relationship.

What's her profession?

She is a biologist and works at the Faculty of Medicine. She devotes herself to healthy lifestyle, proper nutrition, the harmfulness of smoking and the like.

When you have a weekend ahead and neither of you has any duties, what is your dream idea of spending free time?

I don't think there is such a weekend. (laughs) But when I know I can take it easy for two days, we actually go to our cottage and that makes us happy enough.

You mentioned that you have three children. Can you tell me how old they are and what they do?

My eldest son is 26, my daughter is 21 and my youngest son is 19. They are all studying at college, my eldest son has recently graduated, he studied film and art history, my daughter is studying at the Faculty of Medicine, and my youngest has just been admitted to a history-economics field of study.

So you're a proud dad?

They make me proud. But what I really want is for them to be happy in their lives, that is more important than being successful in the eyes of society. Education can help you in your goals, but it is not a guarantee.

Did you, as a teacher, sometimes have the tendency to tell them how to live their lives?

No. And I'm grateful to my parents for the way they raised me. It was an upbringing with clear rules and order, and at the same time it was a very liberal upringing. I enjoyed a great deal of freedom. But it is always important that parents themselves respect the rules and adhere to them. And my wife and I tried to raise our children in a similar way. And I believe we succeeded.

What do you like to do in your free time? Aside of playing tennis, which you've mentioned in the fast confession…

I like to read above all…

Hopefully not just political science writings…

No, not just those. I like reading fiction, poetry and everything else really. I cannot imagine my life without reading. And you might find it funny, but I also like to write. I wrote a lot of books, most of them in my free time. It was a form of entertainment for me.

But those were more of non-fiction books. How about trying to write a novel?

That has never occurred to me, I like to read them, but I write professional texts.

But otherwise I spend a lot of time at our cottage, I really love it there. It's a place where I can truly relax, even though I sometimes spend there only a day. One thing that the countryside has and the city does not, aside of the greenery and nature, is complete silence. And darkness at night, which is something you don't get to experience in the city.

Are you a handyman? Or do you have to call someone when your rain gutter falls off?

I usually call someone. I used to do a lot of things at home by myself before, and I don't think I'm especially cumbersome. But the less time I have, the more I believe in the traditional division of labor and I rather choose to call someone to do it.

And do you enjoy these chores? Mowing the grass in your garden, for instance…

I don't. (laughs)

Luxusní vila na prodej Praha
Luxusní vila na prodej Praha, Praha 9

How did you get into tennis?

I started around the age of 12, in the mid-1970s, and I've been playing it more or less regularly since then. And I enjoy it a lot, I play with my friends for fun.

I've tried various sports in my life, I've been getting a lot of exercise, but it's never been on a professional level. I played football for many years, and I enjoy it to this day, but I already know that as I get older, certain types of sports that require speed are not for me anymore. And I've always been a striker in football, so dynamics is necessary there. (laughs)

Where do you go on holiday?

With my family, I've been going to the same place in Croatia for many years. I like the sea and I love swimming in the sea. So yes, as I said before, I read or write a lot on vacation, but I also relax by swimming fairly long distances along the coast.

What do you like to eat?

I like to eat a lot of different things. But my favorite is Mediterranean cuisine, especially the Italian one. It is good for my health and tastes great.

Are you afraid of aging? After all, you are slowly approaching sixty…

I'm not afraid of aging. I am grateful for every phase of my life, I wouldn't go back or move forward. I'm a pretty content person, I know it's not very fashionable to say that, but I have everything I could ask for - family, children, still living parents. This is a wonderful time and I am grateful for it. So I am aware of the problems that come with old age, I see it on the generation before me, after all, but I am not afraid.

Do you already have any health issues?

I am in good shape and I would not call it health problems. I'm used to dealing with various diseases all my life, but it's not related to old age. But I am aware of the years passing and I try to approach it with humility.

In your opinion, what is the best thing about being 50-something?

You are still strong and fit and you have already gained enough experience. Not a bad period of life at all.

What really makes you laugh?

I enjoy humor and intelligent comedies, I like good entertainment and I like to laugh. But I don't remember any jokes and I can't tell you what movie was the last one to make me laugh. But believe me, I do laugh. (laughs)

In which areas do you like to experiment and in which are you strictly conservative?

I don't think about myself like this. I think about what I'm doing, but not about how I perceive it and what I'm like. That's not my style.

But if I had to think about it, I am conservative in that I believe in the existence of certain values that need to be respected and honored. I am a believer, I also believe in a certain order, in institutions and in freedom. That is why I am in politics, it is necessary to develop and maintain it. And I am a conservative man in that I believe in traditional relationships, in a traditional family, and all the things that are related to it.

On the other hand, I am a man who is ready to risk his current position, for instance in favor of those values. And I intend to continue doing that.

Have you ever taken a risk that didn't pay off?

I'm not in the habit of regretting things, I rather learn from them.

What three words would you use to describe Czech people?

I can't simplify complex things into three words… Or rather I could, but I don't want to do it, I think it's wrong. I really love our nation and I am proud to be Czech. But I think we have one characteristic trait that isn't very good - we often underestimate ourselves. Even though the performance and results that the Czech society is showing are amazing!

If we look at the history of the last century and at what Czechoslovakia achieved in the interwar period, we should be proud of it. The Czech nation also mastered the transition to freedom, transformation and economic development, and it turns out that we have done it best out of all the post-communist countries. The only ambition we can have is to be among the top ten countries in the world.

And we have what it takes! Czechs are people who can cope with new conditions and emerge victorious. We have always been a nation, although I see a tendency to question that nowadays, that pays great attention to education. We‘ve always wanted our children to be educated, we had good schools, and that also helped us move forward a lot. And we have to continue in this spirit. And we are also a nation that has always had a great respect for culture, after all, we were born from a battle for national language. And think of the National Theater… These are the things we should cultivate - a cultural, educated, innovative nation.

Thank you for the interview.

Fast confession:

Is it more fun to talk in front of students, or Parliament Members?

Students are certainly more attentive listeners. I don't consider it fun though, it's a thing that I do responsibly and I enjoy doing it.

When was the last time you had a hangover?

I drink regularly, but I don't remember having a hangover.

How did you propose to your wife?

I met my wife during the demonstration in November 1989, and sometime about then I proposed to her. But since she is from this traditional family, I also had to officially ask her parents. It was quite nice, I have to say.

Is there anything you admire about Tomio Okamura?

You've taken me by surprise, I can't remember anything now. Perhaps, to say something positive, he is a tenacious person.

Would you like to have sex with a robot?

No, definitely not.

When did you last swear and why?

I try not to get angry, but as I often drive between Prague and Brno, I get angry on D1 quite often.

Would you invite President Čaputová on a date if you weren't taken?

Mrs. President is certainly a pleasant and likeable lady, and I look forward to seeing her at the political level, but I would not dare to think about her in this way.

Do you know how to charm a woman?

That's a question you should be asking women. But as one of my friends says, it doesn't matter that we are handsome, main thing that we are smart.

Do you sometimes raid the fridge at night?

No, I never do that. But I like food, I like to eat well, but I try to control myself when it comes to these things.

What is worse, infidelity or political betrayal?

Both are bad, we don't have to hierarchize it.

What was the most expensive thing you bought for pleasure?

It pleases me to buy a nice artwork from time to time.

What is your motto?

You might find it surprising, but I have no motto. But I like the sentence: If you marry the spirit of the age, you‘ll soon be a widower.

Do you have any vice that doctors would reprove you for?

They would probably reprove me for being too sedentary and not exercising enough. I play tennis once a week, but that's not enough.

Can you cook?

I can't cook, my wife is a great cook, so I never felt the the need to learn it.

Question by the interviewee for the editor

Don't you by any chance have a deviation of some kind, since you're asking me about sex with a robot? (laughs)
I don't, it was just a fun question. (laughs)
That's good to hear.
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