Prominent painter and composer seeks to revamp political culture, mindset
In 2013, Czechs will choose their first directly elected president in light of a new law that does away with the previous system of a Parliament-elected head of state. While many view the new law as a crucial step past the nepotism and behind-the-scenes dealings that tarnished the last election in 2008, others say it will discredit the institution by giving rise to populist currents.
Among those rushing to submit the required list of 50,000 citizen signatures by the end-of-year nomination deadline is renowned painter, composer and dramatist Vladimír Franz, who, aside from his prolific art, is known in local media for the tattoos that reportedly cover every inch of his body. A graduate of the Charles University Law Faculty, Franz announced his candidacy last month at the behest of several thousand Facebook supporters, capturing the attention of young intellectuals and media alike.
With his current following of more than 17,000, Franz spoke to The Prague Post about his move from art to politics, the decay of local political culture and why he does not consider himself an eccentric.
The Franz file
Education Charles University Law Faculty
Current post Professor, Academy of Performing Arts (AMU)
Awards Alfred Radok Foundation Award (1998, 2000, 2002, 2005-07); Theatre News Prize (2001)
The Prague Post: Why did you decide to run?
Vladimír Franz: I expressed a willingness to run based on authentic demand I neither called for nor expected. The question is whether this demand will be sanctified by a minimum 50,000 valid signatures under the nomination petition, which was initiated by young people. I am not among those who would strive for the presidential post sunrise, sunset. But a movement has been created by people I consider very legitimate and who evidently don’t identify with the current offering [of candidates], and these people approached me. I value the fact a generation that cares about the future of this country is coming to the forefront. That’s substantial for me not only as an artist, but as an educator.
TPP: Critics have commented on your eccentricity, claiming your entry into the presidential race is the result of a populist wave spurred by the direct election. What is your reaction?
VF: I do not consider myself an eccentric, first of all. Secondly, if we were to take seriously the evaluation of candidates we’ve experienced in the past few months, it would be enough if the only people who showed up at the ballot boxes were the favorites’ nearest of kin. It would also be infinitely simpler and cheaper.
TPP: The 2013 direct presidential election is partially the result of the scandal-tainted re-election of Václav Klaus during the last elections in 2008. What are your thoughts on this event now, four years on?
VF: The same as they were back then. It was an embarrassment.
TPP: What are your thoughts on the current political situation in the country?
VF: Politics, politicians and the state have become alienated from the people. Citizens are frustrated, and I fear radicalization. But politicians and the state are not the same thing. They do not own the state, but should be its responsible stewards, hired by the owners once every four years. Those owners are the citizens of this country.
TPP: How do you evaluate your chance of success?
VF: I think I have a chance, not only because I am nonpartisan, but as a person without a tarnished political past and an individual free of links to financial circles and their interests. Gathering at least 50,000 signatures for my nomination will be a success, and it will bring hope. It would also be a strong signal that society is finally waking up.
TPP: What reactions have you had from the public so far? What are their main areas of concern?
VF: They ask me what they should ask every candidate. They want to know my opinions about politics and political culture, and how I would utilize my presidential authority. I understand I can be hard to read for many people, because until now I’ve only expressed my views through my art. Now I have to formulate them in a decoded language. However, I try to play down the enormous expectations presented by the direct election. The president is no autocratic ruler.
TPP: Who among the current candidates do you consider to be your biggest rival?
VF: Apparently, the media already has a clear stance regarding favorites and potential rivals. I’m definitely not that certain, and neither are my supporters, whose numbers are growing even as the media tries to maintain the impression that everything is already over.
TPP: Your competitors include former prime ministers, MEPs and other visible figures from the political scene. Do you consider your lack of experience a disadvantage?
VF: No. The benefit is that I am not burdened by inter-partisan games and backroom dealings. The president should not be burdened by this, and he should not even take part in them or be dragged into them. That is where I see the point of his partisan “superiority.” There is no such thing as a school for presidency. But it is possible to get inspired by the positive things that drove the presidencies of such figures as Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and Václav Havel.
TPP: If elected, what would be the first item on your itinerary?
VF: I would pay my respects at the graves of Masaryk and Havel, so that they could put in a good word for me up there.