"As the deputy chairman of the party, I keep abreast of all political topics, but I am most engaged in regional development and healthcare," says former Slovak minister of healthcare and vice-chair of the HLAS-SD party, Richard Raši.
You graduated from medical school and have postgraduate certification in first-degree surgery and a specialization exam in trauma surgery. Do you still work in this field despite your political post?
Being a doctor or a healthcare worker is not a job, it is a calling. That is why the majority of those who study medicine to become doctors remain doctors despite working other jobs, be they managerial or political, as is my case. That is also the reason why I still work some hours in the hospital where I started many years ago. I spend a day or two every month at the trauma department. I do not operate as often as I used to, of course, I simply don't put in enough time for that. The best surgeons are the ones who operate on a regular basis. But I have the honor of assisting my colleagues who are excellent trauma surgeons during their surgeries and I enjoy it very much.
That must be a whole other world compared to politics, right?
It is very inspiring and fulfilling, I must say. During surgery, you get almost instantaneous feedback, validation, and a feeling of a job well done. Whether things went well is clear rather quickly, which almost never happens in politics. There, you often end up fighting for a good cause but are faced with misunderstanding and disapproval. And when the fruit of your labor finally manifests years later, oftentimes it will be your successors or even your political rivals who get to take credit for it. It is simply different.
Is it also a good background to have in the Chamber?
Practicing healthcare on a regular basis brings me one major benefit as a politician, I come into contact with hands-on, practical views, stimuli, and opinions. Oftentimes, politicians (but also people in high management) can become closed off in their own bubble, insulated from real-life, practical input. The best way to prevent this from happening is to get out there, interact with people, and even work a day job once or twice a month. That is where you will get quick feedback from people if they see you "slipping away".
You were formerly the minister of healthcare. How is Slovak healthcare doing?
I am afraid, and this is an opinion shared by many experts, that Slovak healthcare is on the verge of collapse. There have been mass resignations of doctors, nurses were unable to find common ground with the Ministry of Healthcare, and the Minister did not even deign to meet with other healthcare workers. The situation is strikingly similar to the crisis and subsequent strike of doctors in 2011 during the rule of the right-wing government of Prime Minister Radičová when doctors would shrug off their white coats in protest and leave healthcare for good.
Why is that?
The reasons are simple. A record number of nurses, doctors, and other healthcare workers have left the field during the pandemic. The government forced them to go to work but was unable to provide reasonable conditions, so they either left for good or went to work in neighboring countries. Because there, the pay for healthcare workers has increased significantly while Slovak doctors were barely given one-time bonuses or compensation and even then, it was paid out with delays. A blanket pay raise still hasn't happened.
You see finances as the issue, then?
An example will do nicely to illustrate. The government pays health insurance for economically inactive people (seniors, children, unemployed, etc.) in both Czechia and Slovakia. For many years, we have been trying to raise these payments, or rather to set a minimum level the state will be obligated to pay for its people to make sure that there doesn't come along a minister of finance who decides to burgle healthcare by paying less than they're supposed to. That is exactly what happened during Matovič's time in power, sadly. The Czech government pays roughly 70 EUR for each policyholder compared to a little over 30 EUR in Slovakia. That is not even enough to maintain the current level of healthcare and will lead to its imminent collapse.
How would you rate the current Slovak government and its policy at home and abroad?
The Slovak government is so extremely unpopular unlike any that came before. What's more, former prime minister Matovič, leader of the biggest ruling party, is polling at less than 10% with the voters, which speaks for itself. This government's policy has failed to garner support from the voters. The people have even signed a petition to have a referendum on a snap parliamentary election. However, despite the claims of the ruling parties that they will respect the people's wishes, the referendum was scrapped due to technical issues. But the ruling politicians still have not fulfilled their promise and have failed to amend the Slovak Constitution in a way that would allow the people to disband the government and call a new parliamentary election via a referendum. This cannot be construed as anything else than an open attack of the government on its people, but seeing how the government has been ravaging Slovak healthcare, it hardly comes as a surprise. That is one of the reasons why we are faced with the permanent government crisis that is going on today, while we are doing this interview. When the readers get to read it, we might not have a government anymore. Which is bizarre, because unless the Constitution is amended, there is no way to call an election.
Times are tough. War is being waged just beyond your borders and there is a rampant energy crisis. Are you as afraid of the coming winter and low gas supplies as we are in Czechia?
I visit people in the regions every week, specifically the Košice and Prešov regions that lie on the borders with Ukraine. People fear there won't be enough gas, they fear high energy prices, and all of this at a time when they have already been forced to deal with sky-high food and fuel prices as well as a pandemic during which the government provided minimal support. I would like to point out that out of all the pandemic stimulus packages throughout the EU, the Slovak government's help for its people and economy has been rated the very lowest. And things haven't changed. The toppling government is patching holes in its own boat rather than helping the people. There is no clear strategy on how to help the country deal with these energy issues, any potential solutions are cobbled together overnight while sidestepping the legislative process, which leads to plenty of mistakes. The government doesn't even try talking to experts or its citizens, it simply dictates. The fear among the people is palpable, and the government has provided zero solutions so far. The only thing making me feel a little better is the fact that a fair and sustainable solution to the energy crisis – similar to how the vaccines were handled – can only come from a European level, and I believe it will. It is difficult to explain to people that we have implemented another energy source of European caliber but that we still have to buy energy at exorbitant prices.
What are your suggestions to improve matters?
Over the two and a half years of this election term, we have seen a second government collapse and the ruling coalition is likely bound for the same fate. So the first solution for Slovakia is a parliamentary election and at least a "truce" but ideally peace in society. We need a stable, capable government, stable processes, and for rules to be followed. "Normal politics" to put it simply. The Czech political solution was better, it had its upsides. A wave of antipolitics swept through the Slovak political landscape, leaving behind many incompetent and loud people in positions of power. Can you imagine that many members of the strongest parliamentary club in the Slovak Parliament (OĽaNO) only met for the first time at a parliamentary session? What does the public know about them, what are they good at, what are their views? Nobody knew that at the time, not even Matovič himself – there have been rumors going around that he simply picked some of them off the street and put them on the election ticket. And now they are in Parliament, one of them has even been accused of pedophilia. It really feels like the political system is in decay.
Richard Raši (born April 2, 1971, in Košice) is an MP in the Slovak National Council for the HLAS party, member of the Health Care Committee of the NC, and chairman of the Incompatibility of Functions Committee.
In 1995, he earned a medical degree from the Faculty of Medicine at Jozef Šafárik University in Košice. Three years later, he completed his specialization in surgery and added trauma surgery in 2004.
The same year, he earned the Master of Public Health (MPH) degree from the Slovak Medical University in Bratislava. In 2010, he received a PhD in philosophy from the Technical University of Košice.
He worked as a doctor at the trauma department of the University Hospital of Louis Pasteur in Košice where he also held the post of deputy director of the surgery division. He also worked as a director at the University Hospital in Bratislava for a while.
Raši was the Slovak minister of healthcare between 2008 and 2010, going on to become an MP in the Slovak NC as well as chairman of the Health Care and Mandate and Immunity Committees in 2018.
Between 2018–2020, he was the deputy prime minister for investments and informatization. He had also been the mayor of Košice for eight years from 2010.
He is married and has three daughters.
An MP's summer
"For us politicians, summer is a time of vacation, but also a time to meet with our voters," says Richard Raši. "I managed a little bit of both. I spent a lot of time meeting people in the cities and municipalities of eastern Slovakia but then also went on vacation with my family. The first trip was the usual: seaside, sights, warm Italian weather, but we also went on a quick sightseeing trip to Scotland. There was a heatwave in Slovakia at the time while the Scottish highlands went barely above 20 degrees, but we discovered a beautiful piece of the world, castles, nature, as well as a different culture."