I first met Monika Oborná when she was just starting out in the Chamber of Deputies as a newcomer. She herself has not changed, remaining fresh, smiling, and armed with the knowledge necessary for politics. From the outside, however, she has been subject to some major shifts – the latest election meant that she switched from the coalition bench to that of the opposition.
You have been through a four-year period in power, now you are in the opposition. How does it feel?
Switching to the opposition was certainly a major change but we accepted it with humility. As for the work, when you are a coalition MP, you are in charge of drafting amendments or bills in conjunction with the government and you feel a strong sense of responsibility because you are creating something, heading in a certain direction. In the opposition, you are pretty much waiting for what the ruling coalition comes up with. But there is another aspect that I have come to feel much more as an ordinary MP – working and communicating with the citizens. When people come to you as a coalition MP with their questions and requests, it is much easier to help them. Also, the ministers in our previous government were very forthcoming and had an open-door policy. Whenever we needed to discuss anything coming from the citizens, it was much easier. I still try to advise and help people but it is much more difficult from the opposition ranks.
I have come to like a sentence you posted on Facebook where you wrote during an extensive filibuster of the opposition MPs that, “Everything has already been said, alas, not everybody has said it yet.” You seem to be returning the favor to the current coalition recently...
I wrote that sentence back then with a healthy dose of humor. Nonetheless, filibusters are and will remain a reality. I wouldn't say that we are returning the favor out of spite, not at all. But perhaps by chance, the coalition MPs included certain points in the Chamber's agenda that we previously said were pivotal and controversial for us. Such as abolishing e-Sales. There were multiple such points included. We certainly do not wish to filibuster everything by any means, but there are some topics that are important to us. We have experienced plenty of obstructions during our past terms as well, it is simply a tool that is readily available for anyone in the Chamber to use. But we did our best to honor certain rules. Currently, the time one is allowed to speak often gets limited. We would only ever do that in extreme situations verging on crises. But now, it is almost becoming common practice. I personally feel like they are sometimes trying to bend the Rules of Procedure, which is something we never did. I understand that the current coalition MPs, flush with euphoria, may have come to feel that the opposition will let itself be bossed around and take it all in stride but things simply do not work that way.
The current ruling coalition came into power at a difficult time. It proclaims to have inherited hundreds of billions in debt, and is now facing the war in Ukraine, inflation, price hikes, and more.
I do not envy them, I have been open about that, and I do admit that they truly are in a difficult situation. But on the other hand – people are dealing with energy, fuel, food prices rising, etc. And then we have an extraordinary session where we discuss abolishing e-Sales instead of these fundamental issues, which is something that escapes me. It makes no sense.
Is there something you truly regret not being able to finish during your time in power?
I cannot think of one thing that I regret the most. What did take a heavy toll, however, was the pandemic. When we started dealing with the Covid situation, everything else was sidelined. The pandemic trumped anything else we were doing, which is a shame because I feel that we could have done a lot of good things that ended up in oblivion, so to speak.
The ANO movement just had its tenth anniversary. Was there any celebrating?
We met up. There was a party together with a conference, with analysts, political scientists, and other experts in attendance. We evaluated how the ANO movement developed over time and where it can evolve in the future. It was very nice. I was there in the very beginning during ANO's inception when we were building it from the ground up. But it feels like much longer than ten years. Eight of those years were in the government, and they were successful years at that, if I do say so myself. That was perhaps also one of the reasons why we switched to the opposition with true humility, not in an uproar.
You are on the board of the Agricultural Intervention Fund. There are many aspects of agriculture and food where Czechia is not self-sufficient by a sizeable margin. Is there a chance that this could change?
I feel that the chance is there, our farmers are skilled. Of course, some commodities are just not profitable for Czech farmers to grow. Besides, right now, farmers are dealing with minuscule support from the government, leading to a situation where Czech agriculture is no longer competitive compared to other EU states. We have recently been dealing with increases in food prices, due to certain policies of grocery store chains among other factors. There is currently an open discussion going on in the Chamber about an amendment to the Act on Significant Market Power, which deals with this issue. And it is an issue we have to deal with because – and I really do not want to be a fearmonger here – we could be looking at a hundred crown price tag on oil and bread down the line. Having been raised in the country, I can see people all around me going back to growing their own vegetables, raising chickens for eggs, and so on.
Can the government step in with legislation? We are exporting wheat, for instance – could there be a decree that the domestic market needs to be provided for first before any surplus is exported?
Of course, it can set up funding programs in certain ways that would incentivize farmers to grow specific crops or breed certain kinds of livestock. New joint agricultural policy, which is a big topic right now, will also play a role in this to some degree, but that is on an EU scale. The former government did a great job in negotiating finances and agricultural policy changes for the good of Czech farmers. I am sad to see that the current ruling coalition threw all that off the table and in so doing hurt Czech agriculture. The decision about what is beneficial to grow or breed is ultimately with the farmers themselves most of the time, though.
Do you still enjoy politics?
I certainly do. A lot of it is being in contact with people. I enjoy working in the region, meeting people, talking with them, helping them. Working on the different committees is also interesting. So yes, it is a job I enjoy.
So, you could see yourself still working in the Chamber, or perhaps the Senate, when you're, say, sixty?
Jesus, I don't think so. [laughs] Like anybody else, I sometimes think about what comes next. The times are so turbulent, however, and the craft of politics so capricious that it is hard to plan ahead. I try to keep my feet on the ground, I am a pragmatic person. I will see what life brings. I am definitely not afraid of working outside the Chamber, though. After all, I joined it after working in a private business. But still hanging around when I am sixty is not something I could imagine doing. [laughs]
What would you turn to if you left politics entirely?
Agriculture is the field I know best. I have a degree in it, I worked in an agricultural business, and I came to Prague from the country. So that is what I know best and I would likely head in that direction.
You are from the country like you said. But you have been working in Prague for five years now. Aren't you more at home there?
Prague is great. It is a beautiful city, one of the most beautiful ones in the world, and I really like it here. But believe you me, when Friday comes around, I get in the car, drive towards Vysočina, and truly enjoy spending the weekend there. Life really is a little less hectic over there. But I do like coming back to Prague. So, it is all balanced.
Monika Oborná (born 2nd April, 1989 in Třebíč) is an MP for the ANO 2011 movement. Since 2014, she has been a representative of the city of Náměšť nad Oslavou and ANO 2011 party member. Since January 2018, she has been the regional representative of the ANO Movement in the Vysočina (Czech Highlands) Region.
She graduated from the Faculty of AgriSciences at Mendel University in Brno, earning an M.Sc. degree. She worked as assistant to Minister for Regional Development, Věra Jourová, starting in 2013. She also worked as a project manager at AGRO 2000.
She is a co-founder of the ANO 2011 movement. She was elected representative of Náměsť nad Oslavou in the regional election in 2014. She ran for the Vysočina Region representation in the regional election in 2016, but she was not elected. Nor did she succeed in the election to the Chamber of Deputies in 2013. She was only elected in the following election in the autumn of 2017 when she got over 2.5 thousand preferential votes. She defended her seat in last year's election.
She lives in Náměšť nad Oslavou. She is single.
Not too long ago, Monika Oborná became an honorary firefighter. “It is true,” she confirms, laughing. “I am from Vysočina, which is a region with many smaller municipalities and villages. And as part of my work as MP, I visit all the different municipalities and their mayors. Many places I go, it feels like everyone is a firefighter. In Vysočina, you are either a farmer or a firefighter, ideally both at the same time. [laughs] As I attended different events, often organized by firefighters, they started easing me into it, asking me if I would like to become an honorary volunteer firewoman. In the end, I accepted.”