Fabrice Martin-Plichta – a journalist helping deliver “waste” foodstuffs to those in need

Fabrice Martin-Plichta, photo: Marián Vojtek

Le Monde correspondent Fabrice Martin-Plichta has been living in Prague since before the Velvet Revolution. Indeed, the French journalist was working here at Radio Prague when those momentous changes occurred. Since 2004, Martin-Plichta has also been the head of the Czech Federation of Food Banks, an organisation which every year saves hundreds of tonnes of food from being destroyed and distributes it among the needy.

Fabrice Martin-Plichta, photo: Marián Vojtek
“I came to Prague for the first time in 1983. I was a student and I had some contact with young people here who were learning French. We corresponded, sent some letters and so on, and after two years I came to visit them.”

What was the reality of life here when you came in the mid 1980s? How did you find it, coming from France?

“It was a shock, of course, because it was very dark, grey. But I found a lot of fine people so it was very exciting. It’s a very nice country too. I was here for two weeks and I visited a lot of towns and places around the country.”

Do you have any Czech ancestry? Your name, Plichta, sounds very Czech.

“I have no ancestors from this country [laughs]. Plichta is the name of my wife – she’s Czech and German.”

I believe you worked here at Radio Prague in the late 1980s.

“Yes, I spent one year here as student, in ‘87–88, and I began working at the radio as an extern. After I finished my studies and army service I moved to Prague in August ’89, and I started working at the French redaction at that time.”

So were you working at the French section when the revolution happened?

“Yes, it was very exciting. Unfortunately, on November 17 I was at the radio, because I had to work in the evening…It was very exciting. I participated in all the demonstrations on Wenceslas Square, which is very nearby.

November 1989 in Prague
“I was one of the founders of the Czech Syndicate of Journalists. I was at the first meeting. It was a very, very exciting, interesting period of my life.”

Did you do reports at that time for the French media?

“Not at that time. I began to work for the French Press Agency [AFP] in March, and I left the radio. That was the beginning, because during the revolution I didn’t have the opportunity.

“We were very busy [laughs] – it was the first time we were providing free information about Czechoslovakia. Because previously, during the communist period, it was a bit schizophrenic; we only had stories about culture, music, tourism and so on.”

You’ve been the Prague correspondent of Le Monde for 20 years. What do you find that French people – or at least French editors – are interested in from the Czech Republic?

“Mainly society, about the changes, the places or the groups who are not able to adapt to the new situation, for example…”

Generally speaking, and I know this is a very big question, how would you say French people perceive the Czech Republic or Czech people?

“There are good opinions about Czech people, I think. Many French visit the Czech Republic, mainly Prague. It’s a very nice city and people are kind, so it’s a place to which French people like to return.

“The perception of the political or governmental sphere is not so good now, of course. Because everyone knows President Klaus and his original [laughs] position on environmental questions, on NATO, in the past Serbia, and now Libya, the changing positions. For many French people it is not comprehensible that the Czech authorities are so eurosceptic.”

As well as being a journalist, you are the director of the Czech Federation of Food Banks. What is that, and what prompted you to get involved?

“The food banks are a whole project that began in the U.S. in the ‘60s. The aim is to fight against waste and against hunger. We are trying to catch products that are arriving at the end of their life, but which are still fresh enough to be consumed, and to give these products that are in stores and so on to people who need some help – mainly poor people, handicapped people, old people, Roma people...”

Around how many tonnes of foodstuffs to you deliver to poor people every year?

“We distribute around 250 to 300 tonnes of products.”

Was it difficult in the beginning, or is it still difficult, to sell the idea of the food banks to Czech food producers and retailers?

“It’s still difficult. At the beginning it was something new, so it was very hard to explain and to convince people that it’s important to work with us, to collaborate. Now more enterprises and retailers find it interesting.

“But now we have to convince politicians – mainly the finance minister – that we have to change the legal framework. It has to be more interesting, financially, for the enterprises, the firms, to give us these foods. Because they have to pay taxes on it and it’s very cheap to destroy these foods. So that’s a problem.”

What do you get personally from your involvement in the food banks?

“For me it’s very interesting to meet the NGOs who take care of such people. We distribute the foods through NGOs, charities and other organisations, as well as through state agencies.

“We work with people from the commercial sector, and of course we have contact with poor people, Roma, the handicapped. You get an insight into their needs and what their expectations from life are, and so on. For me it’s a very rich experience.”