Alexandr Tomsky - publisher, journalist, politician: Part 2

06-04-2005

In yesterday's programme, the journalist and publisher Alexandr Tomsky recalled his early life and the decades he spent as a rather reluctant exile in London. Now, in the second part of this One on One special, Mr Tomsky talks about his return to Prague, his career in politics and why believes in monarchy. But first he recounts his impressions of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

"She was not only a very learned lady but she was very keen to understand the world; obviously for a top politician this is important. Her interest went so far that she visited Keston College on several occasions and in one conversation with her I mentioned the samizdat, underground, anti-communist or non-communist writers who were banned, who couldn't publish officially.

"I said that some of them were among the greatest in Europe, like Solzhenitzyn or Maximov, or even some of the Czech writers like Vaclav Havel. And she became interested. She asked whether there was anything in English and I said, well yes, they are published quite a bit but obviously the circulation is tiny, barring Solzhenitzyn of course, who became world famous.

"But most of these names were not known to her. So she said, why don't you give me a book a month? Like a club, a book a month. And I will read it. And she read it. So for three years I supplied her with a book a month, and I believe that she read it."

Was she as fearsome in real life as she seemed in public?

"She was in a way; she came across as very cold, very rational. But her speeches were so well prepared that even at Keston College, an institute that specialised in relations in the Communist countries she could give a 20-minute speech that was...which was right! I really admired her intellectual abilities enormously."

In 1989 when you saw the Wall come down and then the Velvet Revolution here did you have to think long about moving back to Prague?

Alexandr Tomsky, photo: CTKAlexandr Tomsky, photo: CTK "No, five minutes! It was obvious. The first demonstration was good enough for me. That I think happened on November 17 - on December 1 I was here, to stay. And I've been here ever since."

You got involved in politics in those days?

"Not really. I soon realised that émigrés were not welcome. They were welcome at first, for the first three years. We were very popular here - I would give interviews to newspapers almost every week.

"But after a while it became clear that there was a certain indigenous resentment of people who had left, made their careers in the West, had relatively good lives materially speaking.

"Our traumas and émigré dreams - nobody knew about that here, of course. Or the fact that we lived in a strange and perhaps alien environment, which is always psychologically difficult, people didn't know that.

"They thought, they had a good life, they came back with money, and now they are going to advise us what to do. This feeling of sovereignty, this feeling of independence that people had - we really don't need these kind of people.

"So after two or three years I realised that, and I became one of the top Czech publishers because I was offered a job at the Academy of Sciences, which is a very strong institution. And for 12 years I was their general director, and was able to publish a lot of books again."

But about politics - you were a member of the Civic Democrats. And I understand your politics were quite close to those of Vaclav Klaus, the founder of the party.

"I joined immediately because I liked the rhetoric of Vaclav Klaus - it reminded me of my professors at the London School of Economics. I was introduced to that kind of philosophy and then I heard Vaclav Klaus speaking exactly in those terms. That there is no third way between socialism and capitalism, that we must denationalise everything. That the state's role, although essential, is purely in macroeconomics, state bureaucrats cannot run industries.

"So I joined the party just to give them my nominal, token support. But then in 1996 and '97 the local party elected me to a higher position, they elected me higher still and I ended up in the top echelons of the party, with Klaus.

"When I entered the party was already in crisis. In 1997 it began to split. And I came when they were splitting, but when the new party [Freedom Union] started they didn't want me! So I left politics very quickly!"

How did you find Mr Klaus, now President Klaus, at the personal level? What kind of man is he? How did you get on with him?

"I think he's very much the same man. He's very egocentric, very much likes to style himself as a national leader. This was behind I think his compromise between the state run industry and privately owned industry. Because after 40 years of communist socialism people didn't trust capitalist enterprise, for obvious reasons.

"Although he preached liberal economic theories, and regarded himself as a Thatcherite, in fact he didn't do it. And for someone who doesn't believe in state run enterprise at all, and as someone who shares his liberal economics, this was a big surprise after seven years. We were all duped, we were fooled by this man, who didn't do what he preached basically."

Monument to Jara CimrmanMonument to Jara Cimrman Some listeners may be surprised to learn that in the Czech Republic there is a small monarchist movement. You are a monarchist - could you tell us about your belief in the monarchy?

"Well, it's a bit of a joke. Czechs have a predilection for bizarre things. They have a theatre where they celebrate a non-existent person called Jara Cimrman for 45 years I believe, and write incessant new plays on the genius of this non-existent man!

"The Czech sense of humour is remarkable and I think the monarchist movement - although many take it very seriously - is part of that...bizarre political landscape. I believe there are 40 such little parties believing in all sorts of things. We don't have a flat earth party yet, but we might one day.

"I obviously would like to see a constitutional monarchy of the type that Scandinavian countries have and England of course being established. But it's not politically possible.

"The party is regarded as a joke; in a way it is, even though I'm perhaps more serious...You see the trouble with the Czechs is they have no religion. I'm a believer, even though my belief may be a mix of Judaism and Catholicism. Nevertheless I think that monarchy is a very good substitute for religion in many ways."

Who would your party, or your group, like to see as the king of the Czech Republic?

"That's totally irrelevant. First you have to have a strong party and then you can look around for a king. I think there are lots of people of old noble families all over central Europe, they're not necessarily Czech - the Schwarzenbergs, Lobkowitzs - that wouldn't be a problem. The problem is that the party has a few hundred members and has absolutely no political clout."

06-04-2005