Interviews

Alexandra Udženija: We have been through thick and thin

Published: 27. 12. 2021
Author: Šárka Jansová
Photo: Photo archives of Alexandra Udženija
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"I have always been a firm believer in people, common sense, and personal freedom that ends where that of another person beings," says Alexandra Udženija, Representative of Prague for ODS, and Deputy Mayor of Prague 2.

Your mother is Czech and your father Serbian, do you ever feel your Balkan roots? How do they show in your personality?

We are all a very hodgepodge family. My Czech grandpa was from Sudetenland, grandma was from Žižkov, the other grandpa was Yugoslavian and the grandma was from Bosnia. My husband even has Jewish ancestry. Heaven knows nobody can make sense of our family tree. [laughs] I wear my heart on my sleeve, and if I do not like something, I will say so directly without beating around the bush. Which is not always a quality that people appreciate. I hate lies and injustice. I hate to see people hurt, especially those less fortunate, and those are the kind of people I try my best to help. I could not say if those are my Balkan roots showing, but it is the way I was raised. I might be a bit hard-headed and moody from time to time, but so is every one of us now and then.

When and why did you start considering politics?

My mother opened a small tailor shop in Yugoslavia and so our fashion business began. We came back right after the Revolution, and my parents built a very successful business in importing famous fashion and sportswear brands to the Czech market. Ever since I was little, I was always helping out, and eventually I was managing the entire company for a while. That job has taught me many things and I am very grateful for it. But over time it stopped being fulfilling and I felt as though I needed a change. My first brush with politics was a chance encounter. After moving to Prague 2, where I live to this day, I took interest in local goings-on and how the people's lives are. I decided to take a more active approach and so joined the ODS, which was the only party I felt a connection with. I do still enjoy fashion to this day, but it is from the position of a woman who likes to dress nice and follow the trends.

How are you managing to juggle politics and motherhood?

When the girls were little, it was certainly harder to combine it with work, but that is something that every parent faces, no matter their job. I have an amazing family that has always been extremely supportive. I could have never done it without them. I am so happy to have such amazing parents and sister, and a husband who is also my best friend and whom I can lean on whenever I need to. The girls are now independent and help out at home. I have always raised them with responsibility and independence as key values.

ODS has gone through quite an evolution. Was it what you expected?

ODS is the first and only party that I have become a member of and I would not trade. It represents a blend of liberal and conservative values that is very unique in central Europe, and it suits me very well. Liberal in terms of economic issues and conservative in terms of social ones. We have been through thick and thin, but that is part of politics.

How do you feel about ODS being back in the government, and with Petr Fiala as prime minister no less?

I am very happy about the SPOLU coalition's success. I have put my trust in this alliance from the very beginning and I am glad my instincts did not fail me. I respect Petr Fiala very much. As a person, but also as a politician. If there is anyone I trust in politics, it is him. And Czechia having a prime minister such as him is just great. On the other hand, it is quite clear that the Government is in for a tough time. The previous government has left us with debt, a mismanaged pandemic, and a society in discord. Patching up these holes will not be easy. But we have to do our utmost because we only have one country and it is key for us as a nation and as a society to stand united. That is the only way we will all succeed.

What is the first thing on your agenda? It seems as though you will have your hands full…

First of all, there is a new wave of the Covid pandemic. It has to be handled rationally in conjunction with the advice of medical experts. We must put an end to chaotic, nonsensical measures issued by the government that ultimately only lead to people ignoring them. Covid talks must once again become rational. Another key thing is coming up with a realistic solution to our energy issues. The current situation only goes to show how important energy independence really is. I see the way forward in a blend of nuclear and renewable energy. We must start working on it right away unless we want people to be affected by energy poverty, that much is clear. Yesterday was already late. The same goes for protecting nature. We only have one environment and we must take good care of it. Ecological issues must be handled without an ideological agenda, otherwise, we will throw out the baby with the bathwater, and it will have the opposite effect than intended. Forcing people into poverty due to imaginary goals is counterproductive and, to me, unacceptable.

Covid is back in force. How do you feel about this pandemic and the way it has developed?

Our city district of Prague 2 was the very first to vaccinate all seniors living in homes and facilities, and we were the first ones to start vaccinating other seniors without the need for any convoluted paperwork or added stress. We were also the first to start vaccinating social and education workers. I must add that big thanks are due to the General University Hospital at Charles Square, and the director, Mr. Feltl, if it were not for him, we could not have done it. My thanks also go out to all the City Hall workers who spent their days glued to the hotlines. You know, there are times when one should act of their own accord and not just blindly follow orders from above. And so, me and my dear friend and mayor of Prague 2, Jana Černochová, decided to take matters into our own hands without waiting for anyone. Today, I am once again afraid of another wave of the pandemic, it encroaches on the lives of every one of us. I definitely do not wish for schools to close down again, for the pandemic to hurt entrepreneurs and sole traders, for people to not be able to meet in the time leading up to Christmas. I do wish for the government to take a more effective approach to motivating people to get vaccinated and follow regulations. That is the only way we will be able to handle another wave.

Let us try and motivate unvaccinated citizens. What would you say to those, and there are quite a few of them, who see vaccines as a conspiracy, an attempt at world domination and to kill millions, and who will never get the "jab" at any cost?

I myself have already had three doses of the vaccine. I got vaccinated in Belgrade when Serbia started offering vaccines to foreigners who were interested. I did not hesitate, got on a plane, and got both my doses. I wanted to get vaccinated, but I was not sure when my turn here in Czechia would come. I also had my thirteen-year- and seventeen-year-old daughters vaccinated. I am in daily contact with the elderly, and I could not forgive myself if somebody's life was put in jeopardy because of me. My parents are also of advanced age and I would not like to put them in danger. Vaccines are a choice, I am not forcing anyone to get one. But in any case, what you mention is fanatical behavior and I do not agree with it. Scientists are doing their best to save human lives, and we must listen to them and not some self-proclaimed experts. I recently saw a very interesting documentary on TV that said the very first anti-vaxxers appeared in 18th century England when smallpox vaccines were first introduced. They said to people that if they got the vaccine, they would grow little devils on their backs. In the 18th century, it was devils, now it is microchips. Unfortunately, there will always be people who believe nonsense.

Let us move on to more jolly topics. Prague is twinkling, nativity scenes are in every church, and Christmas music and carols can be heard all over. Do you enjoy Christmas time?

I love the time leading up to Christmas, and we enjoy it very much as a family. We always make time to go for a walk and have a chimney cake and mulled wine. I am very lucky to have one of the best Christmas markets just around the corner, at Náměstí Míru. It is also where I work so I take joy in the atmosphere almost every day. I go there to soak up the Christmas magic, talk to people, and enjoy moments of peace where we can all forget everyday troubles for a little while at least. The question now is how the markets will get on seeing as the numbers of infected are skyrocketing again.

How will you spend Christmas Eve and Day?

On Christmas Eve our entire family meets at my parents' house. My husband and I, both my daughters, mom and dad, my sister, and my husband's brother is likely to join us this year, too. We used to always have my beloved grandmother with us, but she sadly left us earlier this year in February. We decorate the tree together, prepare Christmas dinner, watch fairytale movies, pretty much everything that is a part of the magical holiday atmosphere. I cannot wait.

What would you wish for yourself, the people, but also the tough times ahead in 2022?

Right now I would like to wish everyone a very happy Christmas with their loved ones and all the best in the New Year. Primarily good health, though, as that is the thing that really matters. Many shared moments with families and true friends. And I hope everyone's wishes come true. And the times ahead? I wish that they would calm down and go back to being rational. I feel that the public discourse is leaning more and more towards dogmatism and all kinds of ideological topics, and common sense, decency, humility, and respect for other people's opinions are disappearing or even being purposely suppressed. To me, that is a great shame as it creates artificial divides in society and the much-needed social consensus is only the worse for it.

Alexandra Udženija (born November 9, 1975, in Belgrade) is a member of the ODS, representative of Prague, and deputy mayor of Prague 2.

She got her Bachelor’s in marketing and management from the Anglo-American College Prague and earned her Master’s at the University of Economics Prague.

In 2003, Udženija became a member of the ODS, later went on to sit on the executive board, and between 2016-2020 was the vice-chair. She is a member of the Regional Council of the ODS Regional Association of Prague.

In 2006, she was elected as a representative of Prague 2, and four years later of Prague Capital, and had been a councilwoman for three years from 2013.

Udženija is the chair of the Control Committee of the Prague City Assembly. And one of the founders of the Dvojka Srdcem (Praha 2) Foundation. In Prague 2, she also founded the clubs Klub Dvojka for seniors and Klub Dvojka for children and parents.

#She is married. Her husband Edvard is Croatian. They have two daughters.

The proud Two

"I care about the place where I live. I want Prague to be one of the best metropolises, for it to evolve and for us to enjoy living here," says Alexandra who is very proud of the Prague 2 district. "Not just because I live here, but mainly because of the work we do here under the leadership of Mayor Jana Černochová. We are among the best in the country in senior care, we boast top-notch elementary schools and kindergartens, we have two nurseries, here you will find some of the most beautiful revitalized parks in town such as Riegrovy Sady or Grébovka. We were the first district to install chargers for electric vehicles, we initiated the Náplavka farmers' markets, and we banned gambling establishments throughout our territory. We have been repeatedly voted as the best city for entrepreneurs. The citizens of Prague 2 know that if Jana Černochová or I promise something, we will deliver."

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