MEP Vladimír Železný: EU resembles our communist past

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Before becoming a Member of the European Parliament, our guest today had long been an established public figure in the Czech Republic. He was co-founder of one of the most successful television channels in Central and Eastern Europe, TV Nova, serving as the channel’s CEO for nine years. In 2002 he was elected senator for the region of Znojmo, before becoming a member of European Parliament in 2004. In this edition of One on One, we talk to Vladimír Želený.

Vladimír Železný, photo: CTK
Mr Železný, do people still address you director, or pane řediteli in Czech?

“Yes, they still do. It’s very strange. When I’m walking down the street, the most usual title is not MEP, or Mr, but “Mr Director”.

Your critics said you were a politician even before you became a senator in 2002, because for nine years you appeared every Saturday in TV Nova’s highly popular one-man-show show Volejte řediteli, or Call the Director, in which you also discussed political issues. Did you back then feel like a politician?

“No. Any journalist, and I am a journalist by profession, any journalist is allowed to discuss politics. Then, when he enters real political life and assumes responsibility as a politician, you cannot blame him for his previous activities. I have spent all my life as a journalist, and it would be silly for a journalist to be on the screen, and not to comment.”

In 1997, your TV broadcast a report which claimed that then Prime Minister Václav Klaus owned a villa in Switzerland he bought secretly with dirty money but he never took you to court. What was the out-of-court settlement you agreed on?

“You see, you must take into account that if you are a CEO of a big television station, and we were a big television station, your journalists are tempted to play their own games. This was one of two or three such examples when the head of the news operation misused his position and smuggled this news story – by the way, I was in the United States at that time – into the news programme. It was a very unfortunate event; we very soon established clearly through independent sources that it was not true. We apologized and we agreed that exactly the same place and the same duration of the programme will be devoted to the denial of this unfortunate piece of news, and we repeated it, if I’m not mistaken, five or six times. This was the agreement.”

Vladimír Železný in 2003, photo: CTK
There is another scandal involving the current TV Nova in which its reporters worked together with a member of the Czech Parliament, Mr Tlustý, who provided some staged photos of himself in an attempt to show that Czech politics was rotten and immoral. What do you think of this case? Could it have happened under your leadership?

“We must distinguish here. In the first case, I was responsible, I was the CEO; now, I am far from Nova, I only know some details of this case, so I can comment from outside. My opinion is that Mr Tlustý did excellent work. Excellent. He knew already, and there were rumours, that some political circles were preparing a campaign against him. So he prepared a campaign against himself in advance, and he put this material into circulation. And he waited to see what would happen with this material. It was very nice; I should call it a political experiment. And it proved to be successful! In my opinion, it was an excellent defence. Before somebody fabricates some vicious materials against you, you will create perhaps not so vicious, but some sensitive material, and you will watch the fate of this material. So I think it was a very smart move from Mr Tlustý. When a much bigger scandal was revealed involving those political circles, they of course blamed Mr Tlustý. But the blame should really be aimed in a different direction, in my opinion.”

In 2004, during your term as a senator, you were against the accession of the Czech Republic into the EU, and now you are a Member of the European Union. Do you now believe that it’s good we joined?

“I am happy that we joined. I was not against our presence in the EU; I was against the conditions which came with our accession, and that’s a big difference. And I’m still not only unhappy with those conditions; I am outraged as more and more conditions, restrictions and regulations are imposed upon us. The situation is not better, it’s worse. I left the Czech Republic for Brussels as a Euro-realist, Euro-sceptical politician, and now I am a fierce Euro-sceptic. It’s an overregulated environment which strongly resembles what we know from our communist past. They are outraged and very angry when I tell them at the plenary, for instance, “Sorry, we know this; we know what the results of this will be because exactly the same regulations, exactly the same stupidity, was imposed by the communist regime in our country.” They are surprised, and they say, “But we are a democracy, we have democratic structures; that is something totally different”. Well, unfortunately it’s not.”

European Parliament, photo: European Commission
In one of your motions in the European Parliament, you have proposed a moratorium on the use of the word “sustainable”. What is it that bothers so much about this particular word?

“It was the genius of [George] Orwell who taught us a lesson that the totalitarian regime starts with a misuse of language. It’s a loss of meaning, of words. All this is very dangerous, and we know this from our very own experience. We were not a democracy – we were “people’s democracy” under the communist regime, which was stupid because “people’s democracy” means “democratic democracy”. Such strange words improve, as jewels, some sensitive expressions, like “sustainable”. Everything is sustainable in the European Union, or it should be. The misuse of such words is the first step towards totalitarian thinking. That’s why I tried to give a warning that this misuse will change our sensitivity to the creation of totalitarian thinking.”

You term will expire next year. Are you going to run again for the European Parliament, or perhaps for the Czech Parliament?

“In case of the European Parliament – frankly speaking, I don’t know. It would mean sacrificing another five years of living at airports. It’s not the most favourable way you can spend the last years of your life. The sacrifices in your private life are so incredibly big, so I really don’t know.”