I met with the former Vice-Chair of the ODS, Ivan Langer, the day after the release party of his new “ZvukoSochoBásně“ (SoundPoemSculptures) CD. It includes some parts of his books in audio version voiced by himself, accompanied by music from Norbi Kovács and Olin Nejezchleba. And so our talk had political as well as cultural overtones.
What are your artistic plans for the future?
This is a very happy ending to Sochobásně for me (Translator’s note: Roughly translates to PoemSculptures, an anthology of Langer’s politic commentary accompanied by photos of his sculptures). From the two-dimensional medium of the book to the third dimension, meaning sculptures, all the way to the fourth, represented by the current “SoundPoemSculptures”. The lyrics are on a completely different level thanks to Norbi Kovács and Olin Nejezchleba. And now that I think about it, the fourth dimension will not be the last one either. We are still yet to make a music video.
You will turn 55 on January 1st. How does that number sound?
I am in the phase I like to call “the middle middle age.” Early middle age is from 40 to 50, middle middle age is from 50 to 60, and late middle from 60 to 70, and then comes early old age. So there are still plenty of things to look forward to. I do think that “SoundPoemSculptures” is the peak of my life’s artistic work, but I might still do some writing and painting. I did art therapy, painted to make it through all the different lockdowns and closed restaurants, cafés, and bars in one piece. So 2022 will also be mostly about painting and a little bit of sculpting.
So the politician is turning into an artist?
I do not wish to be called an artist. I try to bring joy to myself and to the people who are interested in my work, and in doing so, to keep mentally fresh.
So there are no plans for you to get back into politics?
If there is such a plan in my mind, it is so deeply buried that I would not even know where to look for it. I am focused on completely different things in my life and my work now.
You sounded kind of down when I called you to set a date for the interview...
I still am because I am a person whose core value is freedom. I am sad to see how freedom is being suppressed and infringed upon every day, every hour, every minute, how people’s liberties are being narrowed down more and more. I also see the rule of law being torn down by the government. And as a sensitive person, I am troubled by how society is becoming more and more polarized into people with more rights and people with fewer rights, the vaccinated and the unvaccinated, and by the segregation between the different parts of society.
Is there a way out of this?
I think that things do not have to be the way they are. There would simply have to come a time when we are honest with each other. A time when the government, the bigwigs, and the experts who answer to no one (experts in quotation marks more often than not) stop lying to us. A time when we all openly agree that the virus is here to stay and we have to learn to live with it. That vaccines play an important part in preserving human lives, and that the immune system has an equally important part to play because it has always served us every second of our lives in combating all sorts of adversaries. When we admit that getting vaccinated is no great feat of philanthropy or altruism but that it is meant to reduce the severity of the disease, that a vaccination card does not mean a clean bill of health, and when we implement standards that will apply to everyone no matter if they have been vaccinated. Unfortunately, this is not reality and neither is proper work with numbers. We are being flooded with numbers of the infected, but we do not look deeper into what they mean, into how many have been hospitalized, what the ratio of vaccinated to unvaccinated people in hospitals is, how many vaccinated people have been infected, how many unvaccinated have been infected and vice versa, and the same goes for people in ICUs. If we did look deeper, we would be able to see that these blanket restrictions, this polarization of society and preferential treatment of the vaccinated are not the right way to go. And if this way means that some people are seriously considering mandatory vaccinations or even vaccinations for children, that makes it borderline criminal in my opinion. Who else than children should be able to deal with infections? The numbers clearly point to the most vulnerable group that should be protected through vaccinations, they have for over a year. We can do nothing but wonder why such pressure is being put on the vaccination of the young population and even children.
The current government is leaving. Will the new one be any different?
I believe it will be because it was formed based on the people’s hope for a change. A hope that it will return this land to its people, and stop it from being considered a rental that can be drained of all of its resources by one man and one company. A hope that the rule of law will once again be implemented and that the state capture we find ourselves in will end once and for all. The fact that this new government’s position will be markedly worse than that of the previous one, which lived in times of plenty and budget surplus (that ended in a deficit instead), is clear. It will have to deal with the legacy of Covid and the impact of bad conceptual decisions, and on top of all that, it will have an added burden of this new scope of European politics in the form of the Green Deal. It will have to overcome all of these gargantuan challenges and hurdles if it wants to fulfill the hope it has stirred in the people.
Are you not excited about the resurrection of the ODS?
Part excited, part cautious, part skeptical. Certainly excited about the fact that the ODS is the leader of this new ruling coalition. Cautious about the result of the election being determined in large part not just by the good work of the ODS and its coalition partners, but also by the luck of forfeited votes – the opportunity to put together a government has been decided by three-tenths of a percent that one political entity was missing, and if it had received them, it would have been in the Chamber now and things would be completely different. And as for the skepticism... I am not quite certain that the individual parties, their leaders, and teams of experts were truly ready to take over power and start governing. Compared to how the ODS used to prepare prior to elections, how well-shaped its teams and candidates were. Those people were shaped for many months as bearers of clear, specific ideas and they were ready to start implementing the platform they were elected on, right as they took office. And I am not a hundred percent sure that is the case this time around. Maybe I feel this way because I do not have all the information, but I do so wish to be wrong.
It has been 12 years since your time as minister. But people still remember you...
I am constantly reminded of the fact too... [laughs and buries face in hands] I am still taken aback by how many people in the street recognize me, my name is alive and kicking. So much so that I feel if I did not exist, they would have to make me up! [laughs]
Does it bother you or is it flattering instead?
I am long past being so vain as to let myself be flattered by it. I would much rather be truly forgotten. Nonetheless, I suppose it is due to my nature and the ineptitude of those who are always on the lookout for somebody to blame and direct the public’s gaze away from their own shortcomings. Or perhaps due to my belief – perhaps not even belief, it is just in my nature – that you can be loved or hated in politics and life, but you must never let yourself grow indolent or become the target of ridicule. It might also be due to the fact that I was always ready to share my opinions and was aware that if you do have an opinion, someone will agree, and someone disagree with it, someone will like you and someone dislike you for it. There is nothing worse in politics than a milquetoast who is hard to read.
Ivan Langer (born January 1, 1967, in Olomouc) is a former MP and minister of the interior. He is currently a partner in the Pečený, Fučík, Langer law firm and chairman of the board of the CEVRO Institute.
He graduated from the Faculty of Medicine at Palacký University and the Faculty of Law at Charles University.
In 1991, he became a member of the ODS and was elected as a representative of Olomouc three years later, and as an MP in 1996. Between the years 2006 and 2009, Langer was the minister of the interior.
He was a part of the team that wrote the laws that led to the digitalization of state administration, he played an integral part in the implementation of the CzechPoint project as well as data boxes.
He has a wife, Markéta, and three children – Jakub (9), Patrik (16), and Petra (20).
Ivan Langer still likes to keep fit. “We are a sporty family, my wife was a professional volleyball player, all of our three kids love sports too. Only I shifted a little away from dynamic sports to performance sports instead. I ride the bike a lot, a little bit of mountain biking, but mostly the road biked. I like to swim quite a lot too, and on top of all that, I keep to the ADEQUATE rule – an adequate amount of stress, sex, food, sports, and fun.”