Ivan Langer (ODS) hasn’t been really in media since he left politics. As our interview was approaching, I was a little afraid if he would be bitter and wouldn’t want to talk about the past. But my worries proved to unsubstantiated - he is completely happy, talks about anything, and he still has the spark in his eyes, which makes you wonder if he isn’t pulling your leg.
You were not even thirty when you got into the Chamber of Deputies. Is there a big difference between the thirty-year-old Langer and the fifty-year-old one?
Of course - and not only because I had significantly more hair and I didn’t have a beard. There must be some difference, otherwise it wouldn’t be human. And if aging should come with some benefit then it should be experience, which you can’t just learn, read up or listen to. It must be experienced. So no doubt, it is the experience, the broader perspective, and a greater degree of reflection on whether what I do is right - these are probably the main differences between Ivan Langer in 1996 and 2018.
Experience can’t be passed on. Do you face with this phenomenon with your children?
Definitely. I think our ancestors who came up with these simple sayings knew very well why. You must approach this phenomenon with humility, take it into account, while even wanting your children to get burnt sometimes, to make it as little painful as possible, but to learn lessons and so that they don’t repeat the same mistakes.
When your children started to rebel in puberty, did it remind you of yourself?
In some respects, yes. But given the fact that they may end up reading this interview, I will keep it secret to have the strategic advantage in their upbringing.
This was a nasty political move ...
Yes, you’re right. You made me cut my coat according to my cloth.(he laughs).
I can see that politics is still your thing. But having worked in it has brought you a lot of troubles. Does it bother you that past defines you to a certain extent, and few people know about your current life?
What can I do about it? You can’t change past really. And we should realise, at any point in life, that you can’t take back what you have already said. What you have done, you cannot undo.
Another thing is how history is interpreted. What is more, you often perceive it completely differently from your subjective perspective. Unfortunately, it is often true that things are presented as they appear and not as they really are. I have experienced a great deal of different tales, incredible stories of who I am, what I've done and who I'm connected to. Perhaps it could have been published in a book of its own. I am not sure, though, what genre it would be - maybe something between horror, thriller, sci-fi and fantasy.
This would correspond to the chapter titles, because you say the name Ivan Langer a lot of people come up with terms such as Krakatice, Mrázek, Vidkun, and Dočista...
Yes, these are the wonderful stories.
At the same time, few know exactly what was going on and how each of these stories came down.
That’s exactly what those who play such games and make the Internet a pile of all sorts of rumours, slanders and untruths and other rubbish count on. That's why they do it. If we look into story by story of those you mentioned, in a way, they’re fabricated stories of how things appeared, not about what happened. The case of Mrázek alias Krakatice is a story about my alleged connection with a man I have never seen in my life, unlike many still active politicians. I have never talked to him and had no idea a person I was working with was talking to him about me. The result was that after seven years of trials I finally succeeded and the Mladá fronta DNES had to apologize for alleging I was connected to Mrázek. But sadly, the way nowadays society works, you cannot really wash out what you once tarnished, neither you can take back slandering words, and no court ruling can stop defamation.
The Vidkun case is similar. A monstrous police action, with the same people, the same institutions and the same modus operandi as in the coup of 2013, and again built on lies, falsifications and abuse of power. The Dočista case falls into the same category. As Minister of the Interior, I wanted to streamline the functioning of the office and decided not to have a café or a patisserie and voiced that the services it provides could be procured from outside rather than made internally. I decided about the one thing - selling laundries. I did not decide about renting them, nor the operation – it was people behind my back who I could never be suspected of being interconnected and intending to do so. And, Mr Paclik certainly didn’t need to circumvent the law and earn money on getting washed police and fire fighting uniforms. So all went quite differently than the folk tales tell today.
This is nothing you can find about it on the Internet, though.
Yes, the Internet is really a pile of rubbish. Whoever throws something there, leaves a trace, and when you Google something later on, all the garbage bins are poured out on one heap. But you can’t do anything about it; so, I have to accept all the above is there, and that there is much less about me having brought in some essential things during my tenure, thanks to which people can have easier lives today. For instance, ten years ago we had to queue at Pankrác when requesting a criminal record, while today CzechPoint is ubiquitous being one of the most successful eGovernment projects in the Czech Republic.
The truth is that CzechPoint and the data boxes are probably the only things that have happened here as for larger eGovernment projects. Why did everything start stalling so much after that and lag so much behind?
I would add one more as less visible project to these two. But it is extremely important for the functioning of eGovernment, and that's why politicians have been mentioning it for years, "Data have to circulate, not citizens. " It is a system of basic public administration registers that allow authorities to share information and have the necessary infrastructure. And since then, nothing new has really appeared, because it is always easier to break something than to create something, both in life and in politics. I can be at least consoled knowing that the team that worked on these projects was good enough to survive several governments, and even when some politicians tried to break it, they finally realized it was so well set up, useful and effective that it would not be worth it. The more so if they have no substitute solution. And since then, no such eGovernment project of this magnitude has really come to light, unless you want to count in the second millennium unbelievable project of three billion and three hundred million paper receipts that were turned in within the amazing eGovernment project called EET (electronic records of sales). Three billion three hundred million paper receipts - that's eGovernment today in the Czech Republic.
You were a high politics for fourteen years. Can a politician lose contact with reality after so long?
That can happen very easily if you don’t watch out. The world is plastic and colourful, but I am convinced that even though you can make mistakes, I managed to stay in contact with reality, having been able to talk one day in the Oval Office of the White House, in Brussels at the meeting of the EU interior ministers, and to be home in the Czech Republic at the fire brigade in the evening and to have a beer with volunteer fire fighters. Beingin contact with real life is terribly important, as many people get the impression they have gained wisdom and intelligence once they take up office.And they think it will do for the rest of their lives, which is one of the worst mistakes.
Do you ever think of returning to politics?
I'm homo politicus, and there are times when I'm sorry I can’t change things according to the systems of values stand by, according to my experience, according to how I believe things should be done. But what is now called politics I see as amorphous, irrefutable business, where what counts is the number of donuts and billboards sold, with the smiling faces of so-called politicians in white shirts. The essence has disappeared, the ideology is disappearing, past is being revitalised; and what is more, the ability to keep the word, or a gentleman’s agreement and signed contract are long gone. Although, politics back in my day was very tough, and people experienced stumbling blocks and dirty tricks, it was much more correct and straightforward than it is now.
So you would go back but not into today’s politics?
It's a whole different world. I am glad to have worked part of my productive age in politics, but I am also grateful that I still have the opportunity to experience a life of working on my own brand, with my own responsibility. I have so much work in this part of life that I wouldn’t want to drop it – and in fact, I really don’t.
What about standing for election to the Senate in twenty years?
It will be about seventy then ... And I think I will be busy enjoying other things.
Such as? How do you picture a retirement?
I'll be somewhere near the sea, a man with a long-white old beard, in a long white linen shirt, I'll be smoking a thick cigar, drinking fine wine, sometimes painting pictures, writing books or poetry.
That’s a lovely idea. I am noting down to make another interview with you in twenty years.
Yes, put it in your diary. I'd like to invite you to my beach bamboo hut.
Ivan Langer (born 1stJanuary, 1967 in Olomouc) is a former PM and ex-minister of the Interior. At present, he is a partner in the law firm Pečený, Fučík, Langer and board chairman of the CEVRO Institute.
He graduated from school of Medicine at Palacký University in Olomouc. He already had an appointment at the hospital in Šternberk. But then November 1989 came and his plans changed. He switchedin the last year of medicine to study first year at the Faculty of Law in Olomouc and completed his studies at the Faculty of Law, Charles University in Prague.
In 1991 he joined the ODS, three years later he was elected Olomouc City Councillor, and in 1996 a PM of the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Parliament, where he stayed until 2010. He was Minister of Informatics and Minister of the Interior from 2006 to 2009. In the 2010 election voters "crossed him out" on ballots, which was his end in high politics. He has remained a regular member of the ODS.
He has been associated with many striking causes. He was also suspected of being connected to organized crime in the Krakatice case concerning the later murder of František Mrázek. Other cases include police and fire brigade laundering for company Dočista and Vidkun operation, where police officers were investigated. However, he has never been charged or convicted.
He was at the birth of laws leading to start of electronic state administration - eGovernment, he also encouraged the CzechPoint project and data boxes, as well as the reform of the police – it was during his times when the police acquired the new motto "Help and protect."
He is married, and has three children with his wife Markéta - Petra (17), Patrik (13) and Jakub (6).
Ivan Langer has published three books. "Men's Guide Through Pregnancy", written while expecting his daughter Petra, and in 2016 and 2017 were published books "On net" and "On net 2". He describes them as collages of Facebook statuses and ideas, but also as mosaics of images and experiences that make up life. He also drew the illustrations for both of them. He is currently publishing a third book, which focuses on the same topic, but at the same time is also very different. "I am toying much more with both the content and the form," he says. "So not only with the text as such, but also with the shape. I am a fan of Guillaume Apollinaire and his calligrams. I've come up with a new concept, "scuplpoems". I'm curious how my friends will react to it. I love the Czech language; I love the words, playing with them making different new formations and putting texts into various shapes. I hope that I have managed to find the optimal combination in the sense that it will not only look nice but that it will also made the reader to think about who we are, where we are and where we are headed.
Ivan Langer works as a lawyer, but has also contributed to the founding of a private university, the CEVRO Institute, being the chairman of its board. Originally, the CEVRO Institute was founded as a think tank for the ODS. How did it transition to a private university? "At the beginning was the idea of professionalization of politics, because people from different professions enter it and it is a profession that you have to learn. So we created a system of party education in the areas of political science, law, economics, and communication ... Then this idea grew in the desire not only to give home-printed diplomas, but also to give the diplomas with a round stamp, and that was just a step away from establishing a private university. Yet, the university is politics-free, of course. Naturally, it abides by the university law, but it is one of the few private universities that advocates some value system. We are committed to freedom, the rule of law, and market economy. The school is evolving and needs to be evolving hand in hand with the society, so we have grown from a tiny school that offered education in political science and public administration to a number of courses - political science, international relations, public administration, private law, economics, security studies, etc. And then graduate and postgraduate courses.