Corruption universal but corruption tourism unique to Prague, says tour boss Petr Šourek

Photo: Corrupt Tour Facebook page

One of the more colourful news stories out of the Czech Republic last year concerned Corrupt Tour, which started running excursions – in Czech, English and German – to sites linked to graft. These include the villas of dodgy businessmen, Prague City Hall and the spot where the city’s “Olympic centre” was projected to stand.

Photo: Corrupt Tour Facebook page
The creator of the unique travel agency is Petr Šourek, a Prague man in his 30s. When he stopped by at our studios we discussed the Corrupt Tour concept – and where they take sightseers.

“Most of the places we take people to we call Monuments of Corruption. You should know that in this country we’ve got something special – the police and the public prosecutors are strikingly inactive in many cases.

“Effectively, they are protecting… well, not only them, but somebody else probably is protecting older cases.

“These cases can be 10 years old and there are many legends. People know about the things that happened there and the media have written about them extensively, even though nothing has really been done about them.

“You know, Prague is full of monuments [laughs]. And we said, these Monuments of Corruption are actually monuments, they are well-protected.

“Just one example – the City Hall of Prague. This place was rented for money that could easily have bought it. The money goes to companies that nobody knows. There are many things like this.

“We take them to the Ministry of Defence, which is famous for such cases.

“And we took them to the Castle. At that time Václav Klaus was outgoing president and we put him on sale…”

What do you mean by that?

“The outgoing president at that time was deeply unpopular. And if the stuff in your shop is not really popular with your customers, what do you do? You put it on sale. You discount it.

Petr Šourek,  photo: Czech Television
“So we decided to discount the president. We just made the tour cheaper.”

The Corrupt Tour has been running for a year and a few months. How has it developed over that time?

“It hasn’t developed so much. The situation actually developed very much – it was not so much us who developed.

“Of course we change our destinations, we keep it fresh. Sometimes we add something, sometimes we cancel something.”

When I first heard about the Corrupt Tour last year I thought it was going to be a media hit internationally, as it’s a great name, it’s a great subject. But I didn’t think it would last for more than two or three months. Did you think it would last so long?

“Well, I was surprised myself as well. Everybody was surprised a bit. But the important thing to know is that we were not aiming so much at the media as it could look.

“Our target group are people who go on tours. Our clients are not the usual clients of usual tour companies. These are people who maybe for the first time in their life sit on a bus and listen to a guide.

“These people are the most important for us. We do our business for them and with them, and they pay for it.

“The media are an important part of it and of course we base our tours on media reports on so on. But it wasn’t done for the media.”

I can understand Czech people being interested in the Corrupt Tour. Because they know the scandals, they know the people involved in the scandals and they know the background. But tourists surely can’t know this. What’s the attraction for them?

Photo: Corrupt Tour Facebook page
“It’s truly unique. Corruption is everywhere. But at this time, corruption tourism is only here, in Prague. They come to see something special that they can’t see anywhere else in the world.”

I saw an old interview with you in which you talked about the Corrupt Tour maybe starting a franchise and being in a sense exported to other countries. Has that happened?

“Negotiations about it are quite difficult. Of course, people have got some idea about us derived from media reports, and they were very different and various.

“People from different parts of the world ask different questions. Sometimes they have a different idea about what the whole thing is about.

“Then we have to explain to them how we do it, what the most important part is to us. And sometimes it’s difficult to swallow, I think.”

Have you had much reaction from the people who you in a sense fingering in your tours? I’m talking about politicians, or dodgy people whose villas you take people to. Have they reacted?

“Basically, they are silent.”

Nobody has threatened you or anything like that?

“No, no. I really don’t want to dramatise it in any way. It’s dramatic enough [laughs].”

Well I’m glad to hear that nobody’s threatened you. Do you think that there’s any chance at all that, through your Corrupt Tour, you can spur even the smallest change in this area?

“It much depends on what is change for you…The big question for me is, why are people scared? Why can’t they speak about something they know for sure? That was my primary target. If people can speak about it, that’s OK.

Photo: Corrupt Tour Facebook page
“And it’s changed a lot actually in the last year in this country. We were part of this. Whether we really contributed to it less or more, I don’t know. But we have seen results.

“At least the people on our tours are very outspoken. They see that other people are interested in the topic, they see that nobody tries to curb their speech or whatever.

“If you look at some prosecutions and so on, that’s not our job at all. Actually to us, these are vandals who are just destroying our precious heritage. Because, you know, corruption is mankind’s heritage, after all.”

I’m sure you’ve thought about this a lot. Everybody talks about corruption here, it makes everybody sick…What do you think can be done to reduce it over time?

“The biggest problem is double standards. The second problem is that people want to be good twice, as I call it. That means, I’m good enough to point at other people and say, they do something wrong.

“On the other hand, I’m good because I don’t want to rat on that. So they are somehow good twice [laughs].”

So you think people should report on other people for being corrupt?

“Well, I think if you know something for sure and you don’t like it… I’m asking myself, what do you do? It’s your responsibility. Because you know.

“It’s difficult. I’m not judging anyone. I’m just trying to understand…People say, I know this. In general terms I will tell you, but if it comes to the specifics I’m silent again. And I’m very loyal, to anyone [laughs].”

Are you optimistic that things can improve in this regard?

“Yes. Two-hundred miles from our borders – I mean, in Germany the situation is like a different planet.

Photo: Barbora Kmentová
“The Czech Republic is exactly of the size of Bavaria. In Bavaria the culture was very similar with respect to corruption as in the Czech Republic. And the culture changed significantly over the last 30 years, I would say. There were shining of examples of how corrupt politicians could be in Bavarian history.

“If you look at Austria, where the situation is pretty bad – or was pretty bad… the delay of the Czech Republic like a year and a half. Because big cases have already been prosecuted now in Austria.

“They are neighbouring countries, so you can compare with something comparable.”