Jindřich Šídlo – one of the country’s most prominent political journalists, part II

Jindřich Šídlo, photo: ihned.cz

In last week’s One on One, we brought you the first part of this two-part interview with Jindřich Šídlo, a political analyst and commentator who currently writes for the daily Hospodářské noviny. Given that he has been covering Czech politics for some 20 years, we spoke to him about the latest corruption cases, the future of politics in this country and if he ever gets tired covering the Czech political scene.

“I have been in the business for 20 years, so of course sometimes I do get tired. We are just writing, commenting, covering stories. Sometimes we can help something but we are not the police. And I feel that people and the society live in a strange feeling of disillusionment with the situation, but the question is: We know much more about the situation than 10 years ago, media have been covering plenty of corruption cases, and nothing happened. Now, something is starting to happen. And people feel angry because they know more than before, which is interesting. And maybe it is necessary.

“So I think both topics you have been talking about, racism and corruption, are the most important problems in the Czech Republic. And I feel tired a little, because I wrote about both a lot, and I feel that I simply cannot do more. I am just a journalist, not the police, not a prosecutor, not a judge, not a politician. I am just writing stories.

Of course the scandal surrounding former Prague mayor Pavel Bém got a lot of media attention, internationally. You commented on it as it was breaking, as new things were coming to light. Were you surprised at all? Because the relationship between the mayor and Mr Janoušek was something most people knew about before… But when the recordings became public, did that surprise you?

“No, not at all. Sure, it was quite funny in a way, but we wrote a lot of stories about the situation in the capital and mayor Bém and his company at Prague City Hall, about the Open Card, about the situation in public transport, his fantastic Wi-Fi project. So I was not surprised. Maybe a little by the way they were talking to each other, but we have experience with these kinds of recordings from Czech football. So I was not surprised. When you hear it, you are laughing, but then you think: Oh no, what is happening in this city? We are living in this city.

Pavel Bém
“At one point, Pavel Bém was the most popular Czech politician. He gained some 54 percent in Prague in 2006. And this is what he does with that kind of public trust? And that is the most important point: He abused the public trust that people gave him. And I was not surprised, but today, I just cannot laugh about it, it is too serious. These recordings show how safe they felt and that they really did not have any scruples or awareness that they were doing something wrong, something illegal.”

You mentioned public trust. Right now, polls are showing it and also the increasing frequency of demonstrations is an indicator for it, so the public is really fed up. Public Affairs promoted itself as an anti-corruption party and then turned out to be quite corrupt, etc. Do you think that this level of dissatisfaction might mean that something is actually about to change?

“I think that something has started to change. I am not sure that we are at the beginning of a new political era. Maybe a new political era started two years ago, when the two historically strongest parties, the Social Democrats and the Civic Democrats, lost hundreds of thousands of their voters. People were very angry and disillusioned even during the municipal elections in 2010, which in my view were much more important than the parliamentary elections two years ago. People decided to react and vote some politicians out. The important thing is how this will pan out.

“I don’t think that Czechs will take to the streets and ask for a revolution. Czech are different. But I am afraid that the voter turnout could be quite low next time, which maybe is more dangerous than voting for new parties, like they did two years ago.

David Rath, photo: CTK
“I simply cannot understand how anyone could have voted for Public affairs, because many facts about them were known even before the elections. We covered that, too. But people were just so fed up with the two traditional parties and the atmosphere and the mood in Czech politics between 2006 and 2010 that they just wanted to vote for anything that was new and unknown, and maybe different. So I am not sure what these voters will do in 2014.”

The latest corruption case that ahs been making headlines involves a former Central Bohemian governor by the name of David Rath, a vocal opponent of corruption, and EU funds. Is this potentially more harmful because it involves not just our national finances?

“I think we all were surprised that an experienced, clever and intelligent politician like David Rath, because he is, in my opinion, one of the most talented Czech politicians, how he could be caught with money in a box. It brought me back to the 1990s, money in a box. He is the first so-called big fish caught in this way. I am not sure how that will develop and if it will help the atmosphere.

“I think there are many people, mainly opposition voters, who just want to believe that it was not a good job done by police and prosecutors but part of the political battle. Which I think is more dangerous than the fact that many people in Prague are walking around and would deserve the same fate as him. But it seems to me that the confidence and faith in law and order has been missing in the Czech Republic, and I am not sure that David Rath’s arrest is enough to change that. But sure, police did an excellent job.”

You said that after the recordings of Pavel Bém and Roman Janoušek became public and Mr Bém gave an interview regarding the matter, you could not finish reading it because it made you physically ill. How do you keep from becoming jaded and cynical even after such a long time commenting on corruption?

“Because I try not to make politics my life. I have got other hobbies and my personal life, which is quite happy, fortunately. So I don’t think about Mr Rath and Mr Bém every second of my life, which I think is probably the only way to stay mentally healthy.”