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We met with the presidential candidate and discussed power, pride and family

Fast confession - Mirek Topolánek: on Reason, Heart and Family.

Karolína Lišková
27.Dec 2017
+ Add on Seznam.cz
10 minutes to read

He might have disappeared from the public eye for eight years, but then Mirek Topolánek made a sudden reentrance and in November announced that he will run for the Czech presidency. The former prime minister is now a very busy man. Still, he found the time to have an interview for Luxury Prague Life. There, he explained not only why he is the right choice for the president, but also spoke about his greatest weakness and about what he’s not willing to sacrifice for victory. 

Mr. Topolánek, my first question is “why”? Why are you returning to politics?

They’ve annoyed me enough. (laughter)

No, seriously. Imagine there’s something growing inside you. A bad feeling, fear, something like that. You have a good job, a beautiful and happy family, and a great life. But then there’s some impulse that forces you to fundamentally change your perspective on it all. For me, that impulse was the recent press conference of Miloš Zeman and Andrej Babiš – the whole comedy, how they want to play with the constitution… maybe those who don’t know the constitution and don’t understand it might have not noticed, but those who know it and are aware of how it should be used, they had to me mortified. For me, that was the deciding factor.

What does your family think about it all?

I was returning from a TV broadcast and on my way home I was thinking about it all. I was in deep thought, perhaps too deep. Later, at home my wife told me: “You were great”. But she saw that I’m serious and immediately understood what I’m thinking about. “I know, you might call me crazy now, but I agree. You need to do it.” Well, and we’ve been in the whole thing together ever since…

I have a large family. Lucie’s greatest focus lies on our ten-year old son. That’s why she answers various silly questions about her “future role” by saying that she wouldn’t be the first lady, but the first “mom”. She’s doing her best to keep our Nick away from it all. And she helps me. My older son Tomáš is also very actively trying to contribute. I’m keeping the others on the sidelines for now. I’ve already been through it – the media chasing after me and my family. I mean, it’s me running for president, not my family.

It must be really difficult to prepare a campaign in such a short time period. Surely it must show, somewhere.

Yes, that’s true. At the beginning, we had to improvise a lot, since we had nothing at all. The media wizards said that if we’d been preparing this for five months and announced it now, it would be excellently timed. Well, that might be true, but we really had nothing prepared at all. So, yes, it’s really hard. But now we’ve all calmed down – everything that’s critical has been setup and is running. Nevertheless, I do have to say that we’re all fairly tired and I’m a bit ill. We need to gather our strength and get well during the holidays. I’m a man who, once he decides to do something and starts working towards it, will often exhaust a lot of people around himself. Those who’ve worked with me in the past know what it’s like. They had to actually take turns working with me. (laughter) But my team is truly excellent!

Sure, there’s stress. Every day we need to handle unexpected situations ad we need to improvise a lot. But inner strength, energy and optimism are what drive me forward. As long as I’m motivated, I’ll also stay concentrated and active. I’ll do everything I can to reach my goal – and usually I succeed.

Well, I’m very curious about how it’ll all end up. I think you might have changed the vote for many people…

Well, I mainly brought actual competition into the race. From the very beginning, we have this setup game where both of Babiš’s negotiated candidates – Miloš Zeman and Jiří Drahoš – were to get to the second round uncontested. But then I came in, and everyone needed to react to the topics I brought and the setup game started to show some cracks. In this sense, the presidential campaign only became really interesting once I entered it. And I’m happy to see that while they were saying all kinds of things before I entered the race, now they’re saying what I say…

What did you do the eight years before that? I expect you had a great life.

I don’t know whether you’ve ever experienced hitting rock bottom and needing to pick yourself up again. After all, I did not leave politics of my own will. After entering politics, I sold all my shares in my companies – I believed that politics and business should not mix. Today, if you were to force politicians to do the same, they’d merely reply that it’s their opponents targeting them with smear. The state as a company and all that… Anyway, I didn’t have any place to return to. Back then, I got help from a friend in a company which I helped found a long time ago. On business trips, I traveled the world – Asia, Latin America, Africa (about ten times), countries that nobody dares to visit – Sudan, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda, Chad, South Sudan, Angola, Ghana…

Later I got an offer from Daniel Křetinský to take over the Heating Plant Association. But to start there, I needed an actual position in a heating plant, and so I joined the Opatovice power plant. And as offers gradually kept coming from EPH, I needed to close my positions in VAE Controls. I worked in the Slovak company Nafta which stores and mines gas – that was very interesting. I was responsible for foreign projects – in Ukraine, Turkey… and for some time, I was also on the supervisory board of the German company Mibrag.

Then I saw another challenge. I took up a position in the board and company management of Eustream, a key transporter of natural gas in Europe based in Bratislava. I’m a person who likes to accept challenges and this job was great for me – extremely interesting, well paid, even though it was abroad. Well, depending if you consider being in Slovakia really abroad… Anyway, in the end I was at home just as little as when I was in politics. Nevertheless, what I promised when leaving from politics still holds – when I’m home, I spend time with my family. I wanted a job that would be interesting for me, and as entertainment I for instance give lectures at the University of Economics in Prague and elsewhere in Europe, write some text in a newspaper from time to time… Actually, I’d say everything was going very well. Until November. That’s when I was heading home from a TV broadcast and…

Let’s move on to your family. You said your youngest son is ten years old, what is the favorite way of spending time with him?

We divided our duties with my wife as follows – I’m the one who does sports. We ski, play golf, tennis, sometimes go biking. He’s a young promising youtuber and blogger, but sports always manage to take him away from the virtual world at least for a while. He’s an introvert and likes being alone. He programs his own games, animates movies, communicates with people all over the world and as a consequence can speak excellent English.

Luxusní byt na Praze 2 - 90m
Luxusní byt na Praze 2 - 90m, Praha 2

But he’s only ten!

Yes, he’s ten but also very talented. I love him. For me, a loud extrovert, it was a little hard to understand such an introvert boy at first. But now he’s sensational. He’s like a fantastic being to me.

I’ve heard you’re now a grandfather…

Indeed, I have four grandchildren from my daughters and two additional grandchildren from marriage.

Wow, you really are a big family. What does it look like when you all come together?

That’s a bit more complicated. I have a second family. Of course we keep in touch, but not artificially or in a forced way – with my first family we now unfortunately meet mostly at funerals or various birthday parties. But we have plenty of things to do with Lucie and Nikouš, with a different set of friends. On the other hand, my kids and grandkids often visit us in our house, or we go to the mountains together. I don’t even really want to have the whole family meet at one place – I think I’d go crazy. But I am happy to say that I have children I’m proud of, they all completed their university studies and all of them are doing well. They have good foundations in their education and perhaps also in their genes. (laughter)

I’m really happy. All I wish for now is that everyone stays healthy.

Now that you might become the president, you’ll need to put more care into what you wear, your appearance. I don’t mean to say that you look bad, definitely not, but I’m wondering – what do you think about today’s world of fashion and stylists?

When I started doing state politics, I think it was in 1998, we had some consultation about colors, what to wear and so forth. To be honest, I’m not really the right person for that kind of stuff. But I was somewhat positively influenced by both of my wives. I like wearing nice things, but don’t care for some highly exclusive brand clothes. I usually go shopping in multibrand stores in Vienna, where I can get things for a third of the price than in the Pařížská street in Prague. There I buy suits, jackets... and price-wise it’s worth it. When I’m abroad, sometimes I treat myself to a “Pink” shirt or something similar. I do have a few more expensive casual suits; sometimes I have my clothes sewn at Hartl. My favorite type of clothes is jeans and T-shirts.

And my bad habits in terms of clothing are being fixed by my stylist and greatest critic, my son Tomáš. He has a real feel for that. Once he saw a photo of me with a napkin hanging out of my pocket and was really horrified – he thought I must have gone crazy and screamed “Dad, just a thin strip is enough!”. So, I don’t really need a stylist.

Being sixty two years old, I know that I need to have a good night’s sleep from time to time, that I need some movement and that I should wear what fits me. I think that a president should be representative, but on the other hand he must also be able to evaluate where he’s going and how he should dress for the given occasion. After our years of experience in politics, I believe that both I and my wife know these things well.

If you become the president, what do you want to change? After all, the president doesn’t have so much power…

He has a number of formal, exclusive powers. Foreign and security policies are the main ones, and these are areas where I have an undeniable advantage against the other candidates. I have a lot of experience in diplomacy and still spend time in the security community to this day. I won’t need to introduce myself anywhere. But perhaps the main thing will be to return pride and decency to the presidency. I would like to return Havel’s heart and Klaus’ intellect to the Prague castle. That’s also symbolized by the symbol of my campaign – the Czech lion in a red heart. I want to use my heart as well as my intellect – and will even add the famous Topolánek smile on top! Basically, I want to return strength, energy and competence to the Prague castle. And, after the shorts, I also want to return the standard to the castle!

The president also has a number of powers in domestic politics, but more importantly has a lot of informal influence. The obligations of the president including giving people hope, giving them pride and protecting the weak, helpless and those in need. A president needs to look forward, have vision and oversight. These are things that Miloš Zeman lacks. People should no longer be ashamed for their president! I always had fairly well-formulated political opinions, and I’m not giving up on those. However, with age these have been merged with a certain “Bush-like” compassionate conservatism, faith and humility. I want to show everyone a path they can take, and teach everyone to get up if they fall down. Help them when they cannot help themselves. The best way to do that is provide a personal example and experience, neither of which I lack.

You said you never wanted to be famous. What would you be doing if you never entered into politics?

Anything. As long as I’m healthy, then I’d never just let my future be dragged around by fate. I’m a fighter – relentless, proud and upright. And I’m also very active; without sufficient activity, I can even be restless and impatient. Activity is sometimes more important for me than the result. Active, hardworking and ambitious people will establish themselves sooner or later in any democratic country – if I didn’t succeed in business or in politics, then I’d be successful in something else. One time during my studies, in Cyprus, I underwent a test which among others claimed to determine which fields I am suitable for – on a scale from zero to ten. And I ended up with a lot of seven-point fields – from flight dispatch up to university rector. I only had ten points (the maximum) in a single field – social work. Back then I protested, laughed: “That’s nonsense, I’m a manager, businessman,” I claimed. And then I went into politics…

What do you think about power? Can it change people? And what about people with an ego such as yours?

There are very few people who don’t find the idea of having power enticing – along with one of those fancy government cars with the special light beacon. I’m one of those who stayed “normal” even after I gained power. Power is good, but you need to know how to use it. With age, I learned one fundamental thing: when two people with egos meet, two fighters – alpha males – then they measure each other, “Show their feathers”. But I got over that with age. I don’t have the same urge as when I was younger – sometimes even in situations where I had no chance at all – to always win. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy winning, but now I’m better at evaluating the price of winning. And I can also handle losses better. Everyone makes a number of mistakes in life – both in their personal and work lives. Only an idiot would not learn from that. With age also comes humility – at least for me. That is why it is expected that the Czech president should be someone with experience, insight, and a life story. Those who don’t know pain and don’t make mistakes will find it difficult to make the right choices in difficult situations, decide what’s right and what’s wrong.

You used to be very aggressive in politics, especially towards journalists…

I was indeed aggressive against journalists, and I had good reasons for that… (laughter)

But that’s behind me now. I stopped viewing that as a huge injustice, even though all those lies and slander did hurt me, hurt my reputation and keep hurting me to this day. An eagle doesn’t chase after flies – it takes too much energy. The media image that the press painted for me basically cost me my political career. However, a top politician must be able to survive in spite of the lies and slander; otherwise, he’s not fit for the job. I stopped fighting with the media. Those who intentionally hurt me know it and know that I know. I feel sorry for them. I’ve forgiven a number of journalists, some even like me. Basically, perfect peace and understanding. (laughter)

Thank you for the interview, and good luck not only in the New Year but most importantly in your candidature.

Fast confession:

What was your worst day in politics?

When I entered into politics.

What will make you laugh now, 100%?

Almost anything.

Why should I vote for you?

Because I’m the best.

What is the weakness of the Czech Republic?

That it doesn’t include Bavaria.

How are you helping prepare for Christmas?

I’m not helping much this year.

Do you believe in God?

Yes.

Construction of the new building in front of the Intercontinental hotel. Yes or no?

No, the city needs to breathe.

Which animal best characterizes you?

Based on the European horoscope I’m a Taurus, based on the Chinese one I’m a Monkey. I think that both animals characterize me pretty well.

What was the last destination you took your wife to?

London.

Facebook or Instagram?

Twitter.

What is your favorite food to cook?

Classical Italian risotto.

What are you willing to sacrifice in order to win?

Everything except family.

Whom did you send a regular letter rather than using an email?

I don’t know.

Out of the politicians you know, whom do you count as your true friend?

Probably Mirek Kalousek.
The interviewee asks the interviewer:

Why will you vote for me?

Because I guess you’re the best. (laughter)
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