"Politicians themselves will not be able to change the heading of the country," says Vice-Chair of the Chamber, Věra Kovářová (STAN). When asked what exactly she means, she answers, "Change has to happen in the entire Czech society. Today, it is not just about adjusting our economic policy, saving public finances, or about building highways instead of saying how pretty they will be once they are built, as well as dozens of similar topics.
All of that will be very difficult, but still doable, according to Kovářová. But the people voted for us because they expect honesty and a change in political style, they expect us to be more calm, systematic, and predictable. They want the exact opposite of what has been going on these past few years."
We can all agree that the results of the election have shown that the Czech people want the direction of the country to change. What would you say to the point that the voters have done their job in October, and it is now up to the politicians?
It is partly true, but not entirely. The winning parties can try to bring back to life the state finances that have fallen into disrepair, to keep inflation in check and save the citizens' savings from losing value, to implement strategic visions and set a rational long-term course for the country as opposed to the finicky micromanagement and chaos we have had up until now. All of that can be achieved by the government through great effort. It is an extremely difficult mission, but it can be done. Coalition politicians, however, cannot change the general feeling of the public and the way we treat one another. That is a change that needs to come from inside the Czech society itself. Coalition politicians are obliged to bolster this change by sticking together and being open, honest, and hard-working. The rest is up to the people.
Are you putting it on the people?
Not at all. All I am saying is that if a truly fundamental change in society, such as the one the election results represent to me, is to happen, it will have to be a joint effort of the entire society, not just politicians. Even more so not just the coalition politicians, who have been elected for this task.
It kind of sounds like you are saying the government should let others walk all over it. How do you, then, feel about the fact that Petr Fiala's cabinet is being criticized on social as well as in regular media before it has even taken power?
I have only seen this in a few regular media sources and I know that there have been waves on social media. Blaming a government that has not even been appointed and so has no authority is such an absurd piece of propaganda that it cannot possibly be taken seriously even by the people who came up with it. So it is not something that worries me. I see it as a part of people overreacting to the election results, they are just angry and lashing out. There is no point in letting this nonsense unsettle us and draw attention away from more important things. The most important being the extent of the crisis that the economy and the society currently find themselves in, as well as the fact that the new cabinet needs to be appointed as soon as possible so it can get to rectifying the fatal mistakes of the past.
But getting walked all over sounds right to you?
That is not how I would put it. I consider it an error when a politician allows another politician, the media, or a few anonymous profiles on social media to manipulate them, to get a rise out of them by mentioning things such as the government that has not even been appointed being responsible for the dire situation we find ourselves in. The more attention we give this issue, the more we allow it to become an exercise in smoke and mirrors and manipulation of the public. These baseless claims are best heard and then discarded, nothing more. That does not mean letting others walk all over you, as you like to call this approach. If there is a dispute that is important and has substance, we must lead a proper discussion, take heed of the opposition's arguments, and look for a compromise that is the most politically sound. But never at any cost. There is compromise, and then there is “rotten” compromise. This word is the perfect expression of the difference between the two. There comes a point in a discussion where we must remember our coalition's accountability to the voters, make a decision, and push that decision through. So no, we are definitely not going to let anyone walk all over us.
But what is the difference between the past and the present that is meant to convince the people that this change in political values is really happening? Is it the withdrawal of the candidacy of a yet unappointed minister?
Mister Michalik withdrew his candidacy for minister even though the responsible institutions have deemed the actions he has taken as part of the business transactions that were being investigated to be absolutely legal. I can see and hear that many people are aware of this change.
You are now the First Vice-Chair of the Chamber, which is constitutionally a very important position. You must have some priorities that you plan to observe. What are they?
No need to play with numbers like first, second, and all that... They do not represent any kind of added authority, only the order in which the vice-chairs are to stand in for the Chair of the Chamber. The first vice-chair does not have any more authority than the second, nor the second than the third, and so on, it does not work like that. But of course, each of us has our own priorities, I do too. Some of them have to do with our platform. In the last term, I was on two committees – the Budget Committee and the Committee for Public Administration and Regional Development. You could also say that I am an economics graduate with long-term experience in being a representative of the Chýně Municipality as well as the Central Bohemian Region. My priorities in the Chamber of Deputies naturally stem from that. We are in dire need of a new budget, the previous one drafted by Minister Schillerová is unacceptable, but we must make sure that the stopgap plan is replaced as soon as possible. That is extremely important.
Allow me to interrupt. Why is it truly unacceptable?
I feel that a lot of people do not realize how close to the edge of the cliff we really are. The Czech National Bank's most recent forecasts predict inflation to grow up to 7 percent during the winter and to remain high above four percent by the end of 2022. In other words, the Czech Crown will lose more than ten percent of its purchasing power through the years 2021 and 2022. The CNB wants to counter this with increased interest rates. But that is also something we need to put into context and explain. So here is a very rudimentary example: The amount of money locked up in mortgages and owed to banks by the people is roughly two trillion crowns. If the commercial interest rates were to rise by just one percent, it would mean 20 billion crowns of additional interest every year. The Government also has to borrow money in order to “service” its debt and be able to finance the huge deficits we are currently operating at. Not so long ago, we were able to borrow at rates of tenths of a percent, but now they have risen to over two percent and will keep on rising with inflation rates such as the ones we are facing. So we must be honest and say that next year's budget will have to be much more economical. And we are also seeing many more people having financial issues due to the crisis, the impact it is having on hundreds of thousands of people. That means we cannot make budget cuts when it comes to them. We cannot kick them while they are down by taking more from them. That is unacceptable. However, the new budget must show that the coalition is adamant in its decision to suppress inflation, it must return trust to the markets.
And besides the budget?
Let me come out and say that the crisis will have social fallout, it will impact cities and villages, their ability to invest money and change their citizens' lives for the better. These are other areas where we must also take decisive action and make sure to prevent a domino effect.
If the situation is as bad as you say, how do you manage all this and not ruin the country?
That is exactly the issue – how do we get reasonable results, while avoiding deep social and societal impact, and making sure that we do not further escalate the looming macroeconomic imbalance. If we do not manage the first point, the crisis will last longer, it will damage people's lives and cast them into debt and peril. If we do not manage the second, we will lose our already meager hold on debt and inflation and allow them to wreak further havoc. In general, we really need to cut back, there is no way around it, but it is key to make the right cutbacks in the right places. And we definitely need to be open about it, we must explain honestly and truthfully why we are doing what we are doing, what is the logic behind it, and what impact it will have. When caregiver's allowance and other measures connected with the new wave of the pandemic were being discussed in early December, we were presented with a very budget-demanding plan by the previous government. This plan also did not take into consideration past experiences with aid that was actually helpful for businessmen and sole traders. We made the changes we could in order to bring about a balance between these principles.
Věra Kovářová (born January 20, 1964, in Prague) is the first vice-chair of the Chamber and the vice-chair of the STAN Movement.
She graduated in international business from the University of Economics and later completed the Master in International Management postgraduate program at European Business School Prague.
Between the years 1990 and 2000, she worked as an instructor of business German at European Business School Prague, and later for another 13 years as a German translator and instructor.
Kovářová was the deputy mayor of the Chýně Municipality for two years from 2006, later becoming the mayor and holding the position for another two years. Between 2008 and 2020, she was a representative of the Central Bohemian Region. In 2013, she had success in the Parliamentary election and was elected as an MP. She was elected as the vice-chair of the STAN Movement in 2014.
She enjoys art shows, theater plays, and the arts in general. Kovářová is a part of the Chýně choir, Chláchol, which she co-founded, but she also played basketball competitively for 17 years. She has won several state championships.
She is married and has a daughter, Klára.
How to run a country
Andrej Babiš used to say that he wants to run the country the same way he would a business. How will the new government go about it? “I am sure we can all see where this way of micromanaging things has brought us,” says Věra Kovářová. “A business is run by a general manager or a board of directors who make the rules and the rest of the people have to follow. Or they have to leave and go work for another company. A business has a few owners, sometimes even just one. But a country is not a business, a country belongs to all of its citizens, you cannot order them to “do this or hand in your notice.” After all, that is exactly what the voters voted against. If I had to say something similar to this unfortunate business analogy, I would say that we want to run it like a family. Like a community that we are all a part of, that is our home, and that cannot simply fire someone, because every member of this family is an integral part of it.”
Věra Kovářová with STAN Movement Chairman, Vít Rakušan.