Jiří Stanislav – an actor turned politician

Jiří Stanislav

In this week's One on One, our guest is Jiří Stanislav, a politician and actor who spent half of his life abroad in Canada and the UK. Most recently he appeared in the film Paradise Found in 2003 with Keifer Sutherland and Nastassja Kinsky. But Jiří Stanislav is a man of many trades. He has long been interested in politics, and a few years ago he became the head of a Czech political party. He is now also the mayor of a small community in Moravia. I started by asking Jiří Stanislav, what was more enjoyable – acting or politics.

“Both of these things are on the same level. A politician must be an actor while an actor, in order to be successful, must be a bit of a politician.”

You were born in Ivančice, a small town in South Moravia, but you moved to Ostrava, a large industrial and mining city in 1961, when you were 15. What was Ostrava like in the early 1960s?

“It had very strong positive as well as negative sides. Ostrava was a showcase of the Socialist enterprise, as you know, with its steel and coal-mining industries. The communist government was pouring incredible amounts of money into these industries and supported the power of the workers who, in return, supported the Communist Party. On the other hand, I lived in Ostrava and worked there as a fireman, and I saw the other side of the socialist enterprise. People were pushed beyond limits. We had nights with many suicides, explosions, things that were pushed beyond limits technically and then exploded. I have enough stories for a book about this.”

After you left Czechoslovakia in 1968 after the Soviet-led invasion of the country, you came to Canada. Was that the country of your choice?

“No, it wasn’t. When I was at the Traiskirchen immigration camp near Vienna in Austria – which everybody who went through this knows– I wanted to go to Australia. But when I had a look at the world map and saw how far Australia was from my country and my beloved South Moravia, I got scared, so I had second thoughts. As a boy, I also read books by Jack London and the North was highly attractive for me. I then chose Canada because I wanted to see the true North.”

What did you do when you got to Canada?

“Believe it or not, it’s a classical story in films and everywhere – I started washing dishes in a big hotel. In a few months, I became a bus boy, which was a promotion, and I cleared the tables after meals. I said to myself, ‘this is incredible, I might be a doorman in 20 years’, so I left. Luckily, I was able to join the first ever professional Canadian mime theatre. For two years I travelled across Canada, I went to places thousands of miles above the Arctic Circle. The Canadian government sent us there to perform for Inuit children.”

You were an advisor to the Canadian finance minister John Turner. What did you advise him on?

“I first became his personal guard and driver. I was then promoted to his executive assistant because he probably saw that I was willing to give the job more that was required. Then he realized that I was a member of an ethnic minority. There were many Ukrainian, Polish, Czech and Slovak people living in Canada and he thought it would be a very good idea to use me as an advisor in matters of these minorities.”

He later became the Prime Minister of Canada. What was he like as a person?

“We are still very close friends. I still receive Christmas cards from his family. He was one of the finest men of the Liberal era. My biggest hero though was Pierre Eliott Trudeau, the long-term Canadian Prime Minister, and a man of many possibilities. John Turner was a close friend of his, they were a great team.”

In Britain at the beginning of the 1980s, you picked up acting again. You appeared in several movies and TV series, including Moonlighting alongside Jeremy Irons, White Nights starring Helen Mirren, and the TV police show The Bill. Was it difficult to establish yourself as an actor?

“If you have an internal drive – this sounds like computer talk – if you believe that you must achieve something, things can happen. It was difficult, even in England at the beginning. I started working in a hospital for retired officers, and I slowly moved forward. I moved back to London where I met two wonderful people, agents, who saw some potential in me. I look Slavic, I behave Slavic, and I can sing and dance. It was a good time to start in film and TV. I played Poles, Russians, Czechs, Germans, and I even played a Russian astronaut in Superman IV.”

I understand you came back to the Czech Republic in 2000. Why didn't you come right after the change of the regime in 1989?

“In fact, I returned immediately in February 1990 to have a look around. By then, I had already been active and helping members of the National Socialist Party in exile, and I decided to help again, and between 1990 and 2000, I was here a lot helping as much as I could, especially firemen. I also organized many events for Czechoslovak legionnaires and veterans. A country that doesn’t help its own heroes is plunging into obscurity. In 2000, I divorced my American wife, and said to myself, ‘deep in my heart, I always wanted to be back in my country’. This is without any violin playing in the background and sugar to it. I just wanted to be back home and I did it.”

17. listopad 1989 na Václavském náměstí v Praze
You are currently the chairman of the Czech National Socialist Party. The party’s name may sound dire to an English speaking audience, but this party follows in the tradition of one of the most important political movements in Czechoslovakia. Now it is on the margin of the Czech political scene. Why do you think that is?

“As you have rightly said, your British, American and any other international listeners may think that we are some kind of an offset of the National Socialist Party of Germany. That had nothing to do with us; we were established a long time before them. We are a democratic party. The reason we were nearly ousted and pushed aside to the periphery was that the new Civic Democrats as well as the Social Democrats did not want a third, historic party next to them. We were taking too many votes from them; we were the driving force in 1989 and 1990. But then, things went wrong.”

Your party puts a lot of emphasis on defending national interests. What are the Czech national interests, in your opinion?

“I strongly believe that a thousand years of history, of language, of culture, of music, of happiness and sorrow that we have experienced together deserves to be preserved.”

Mr Stanislav, you are a man of many trades. You are an actor who has been in politics; you are a mayor, and the head of a political party. Which of these roles has been your favourite?

“Being the mayor of our village in South Moravia. It involves daily contact with the people, fulfilling their dreams and desires, fighting against bureaucracy on their behalf. The position is not paid – I only get some monthly contribution towards my expenses. Being the mayor of a small village – I admire anyone who does it.”