It is impossible to miss Czech artist and composer Vladimír Franz in a crowd: the professor, who teaches Music in Theatre Performance at DAMU in Prague, is tattooed on all visible parts of his body, including his face and hands. Now Mr Franz is also one of the country’s most unusual - and most unexpected – candidates for president.
A year ago successful Czech artist and composer Vladimír Franz would probably not have entertained the possibility of a presidential bid. But changes to the system, allowing Czechs to elect their president directly for the first time, as well as a grass roots movement of students and intellectuals who basically ‘drafted’ him to run, forced him to take such a possibility seriously. Once he said ‘Yes’, supporters gathered more than 88,000 signatures to secure an official candidacy (far surpassing the 50,000 threshold).
All the same, many are still sceptical that anyone so heavily tattooed could – or should – be the next head-of-state. When I asked about his body art, here’s what the candidate told me:
“Tattooing is a private thing but I will say there is always room for more tolerance and the spread of tolerance in society. I don’t know and I can’t influence how different publications write about me, so I don’t really worry about it. I think [the tattoos] should be seen as something extra, as added value on top of my experience as an artist, as a composer and as a university professor.”
More important for many voters choosing among the different candidates will be his stance on a number of issues facing the country today: corruption, the continuing fiscal crisis in Europe, austerity measures and reforms at home. One issue which for Franz is paramount, made clear in our interview, is the state of politics overall in the country, in which many voters have grown jaded and long lost any trust. Vladimír Franz again:
“We live in a country where we have a system and the model works, to a greater, sometimes lesser degree. But it works. The problems, the way I see it, are in human failure. Voters choose politicians to guide the country, but many of them have largely become interested only in themselves and in their own benefit and don’t care about the state. So I see the problem as a ‘moral’ one, not structural.”
As an artist Franz has authored scores for many theatre plays and is a six-time winner of the Alfred Radok award, and he admitted in our interview that if elected the transition from artist to head-of-state would come with certain risks or roadblocks, some of which were no doubt experienced by another artist who became president, former dissident and playwright Václav Havel. As an artist, Vladimír Franz, too, would like to bring a fresh approach as head-of-state, untarnished he says, by the current culture in politics.
“There are risks no doubt. But because I am an authentic people's candidate with a candidacy that was spontaneous, I think it helps. From the artistic world, I am used to analysing things and using concrete terms and trying to avoid old clichés. I was also never a part of politicking in this country, so I have that advantage.”
Whether Vladimír Franz, tattoos and all, will be able to find broader support is a question which will be known shortly into the New Year; to be successful he will still have to pick up momentum: currently opinion polls place him at around 6.6 percent among likely voters, far behind the current frontrunners.