Czechs say politicians' private lives their own business

Jiri Paroubek and his Wife Zuzana in June 2006, photo: CTK

Former Prime Minister and head of the Czech Social Democrats, Jiri Paroubek, announced at the weekend that he was to divorce his wife. The announcement came during Mr. Paroubek's vacation with a second woman, Petra Kovacova - one of his former governmental employees, an attractive blonde some twenty years his junior. While elsewhere a politician might have reason to fear for his career, the response from Czechs has been surprisingly muted. In fact, it has left many asking "why shouldn't politicians do what they want with their private lives?" Rosie Johnston has the story.

Jiri Paroubek and his Wife Zuzana in June 2006,  photo: CTK
Mister Paroubek's divorce is the latest in a long line of high-profile scandals to do with politicians and their love-life. The press here has been having a field day over the last week, comparing Mr. Paroubek's situation to that of his political rival, Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek. For those who are behind on the turgid political gossip, Topolanek left his wife last year for colleague Lucie Talmanova, and they are expecting a baby together any day now. At the time, Paroubek came out baying for Topolanek's blood, saying he should pull himself together, and that he was showing himself up to be unfit for office. Fortunately for Paroubek, Czechs didn't really pay much attention and, as a rule, don't seem to care much about politicians and their private lives. According to sociologist Jan Herzmann, Paroubek's divorce could even boost his popularity:

"Mr Paroubek's support-base is mostly made up of males, and if his new partner is good-looking, then it is likely that his supporters will prove sympathetic"

When I scoured the streets of Prague this morning to ask Czechs what they thought of the whole Paroubek divorce scandal, Mr. Herzmann's words definitely did seem to ring true. Time and again, Czechs seemed utterly unfazed by Paroubek's actions, with males in particular saying it was his own business, and he could do what he liked.

"I think people know their own situation better than anyone else and they accordingly decide how to deal with it. I'm not condemning him or criticizing him. It is his private matter."

"I think it is a bit of a flaw in his character, and I don't like it at all. And what's more, when he's so high up in politics, he shouldn't really indulge in such things. I don't think it's a good thing at all."

"I think he let the public down, but it is his own business."

"Well I believe it is their private business. It is no one else's business. It is their own private matter."

As someone wryly commented, this tolerance may come from the fact that Czechs have seen their politicians do this so many times before. Another reason could be that with over half of Czech marriages ending in divorce, Czech's don't see their politicians as being any different from themselves. What's more, maybe all these divorced Czechs don't feel like they can say anything without the pot calling the kettle black. But maybe it is all down to good old Czech pragmatism, as long as a politician does his job well, what he does in his personal life is of little consequence. If you want to get a Czech het-up, then bring up the topic of salaries.