You don’t become President in one year; the preparation starts earlier. If Danuše Nerudová runs her campaign for the next five years incorporating her newly gained experience, then her chances increase exponentially, of course, said businesswoman and philanthropist Michaela Bakala in a newstream.cz interview. Danuše Nerudová was among the winners of the TOP Czech Women Awards, of which Michaela Bakala is a patron.
In the middle of March, you presented the TOP Czech Women Award. What interested you most this year? What was different compared to previous years?
It was an enjoyable evening for about two hundred guests. Before the outbreak of covid, we held a gala evening for almost 500 people, but we could not gather like this during the pandemic. The two previous years were therefore organized in a very small circle. I couldn’t travel much to the Czech Republic either. I greeted the ladies via Zoom or a pre-recorded video we’d have ready.
The evening is not just a ceremonial event to announce individual results and celebrate the winners but also a space for personal meetings. This year we were able to focus more on content than form. That was probably the biggest positive shift for me.
But then again, a smaller format can feel less lavish, right?
Well, some guests objected, “Why isn’t this lady or that lady among the invitees yet?” So we’ll also have to look at it from that point of view because the ladies in the Czech Republic know each other. Some of those who are nominated have stayed the same over the last 30 years.
Since I have been active in this field in the Czech Republic since the early 90s, I know most of the ladies, including those in our Hall of Fame. We have nominated women who have won this award more than once so we can give space to other women and make other positive stories visible. In the Hall of Fame are ladies like Libuše Šmuclerová for the media, Google boss Tatiana Le Moigne or Magdalena Souček, and Lenka Bradáčová. Fortunately, we are constantly adding new faces, new names nominated by the public, suggested by the jury, or the editors of the Czech daily Hospodářské noviny.
Who personally caught your eye this year?
For me, too, there are new stories, such as Ivana Šachová, who won TOP Businesswoman (owner of Scanquilt- editor’s note). It turned out that the vast majority of those present bought their bed linen from her, which made her very happy. Her business has been growing for a long time, even during the pandemic, even opening more branches, so she has almost 60 of them today.
Or another award winner – Katarína Kohlmayer. She already belongs to my generation of women who first studied at home, then studied abroad, or lived abroad for a long time. She returned thanks to the opportunity to work with the Czech entrepreneur Mr. Karel Komárek on their significant foreign investments. She has worked in Moscow, in London and has a lifelong commitment to finance; she has two children and a super husband who made it possible and has supported her entire career. There are a lot of interesting stories going on there that are not just about professional success but also in their personal lives.
Is that still an important topic for women, that work-life balance?
That’s why it’s still a topic; women can never ignore the personal side of things. We must still fulfill both roles if we choose to have a family. There’s also a powerful story with Danuše Nerudová this year, although, of course, it’s known to everyone. In 2022, she probably drew the most attention to herself through her presidential campaign. Not because she was the first woman to run but because she got a huge chance to advance to the grand finale. There were moments when she leapfrogged other candidates in the polls.
Realistically, she had a chance to win; her story was interesting, she involved her family in the campaign, and she was able to mobilize young voters. However, I would add that you do not become President in one year. The journey is much longer, and the preparation starts earlier. And that is why I was not surprised that even in our country, when asked whether she would run again in five years, she said she was seriously considering it and probably would. I see a big opportunity there. If she runs her campaign for five years calmly with that experience, then her possibility of winning increases many times over.
Your family has been publicly active and has had a great socio-political influence, so to speak, since the 1990s. Would you be willing to support Mrs. Nerudová’s candidacy in any way?
If anyone thinks that, as owners of Economia, we have any major influence on the content, they are mistaken. I think it’s shown over the years that journalists within Economia and Respect are independent and are never told what to write. There is the independent Committee for Editorial Independence, made up of experts from the Czech Republic and abroad who would not sign off on anything inappropriate. Our role is to protect free media, educate and give journalists room for growth in this day and age in our country. Not to break them but to help them grow and keep educating themselves, to make them feel that they have support so that they don’t have to be afraid to write openly and take on difficult cases, political and economic issues, and causes. I think we have built our position. I see our influence as protecting part of the media and part of freedom in the Czech Republic.
I didn’t mean supporting Mrs. Nerudová through the media, but rather through finance or perhaps your foundation. I asked about the possible support of Danuše Nerudová because many influential people in the Czech Republic supported Petr Pavel’s candidacy. Many billionaires or otherwise influential people have signed up and financed his campaign, and such widespread financial and other support is behind him. So let me ask you in general. Is it important for people who have some influence, whether monetary or social, to try to influence politics in this way?
Yes, I think politics needs money, and business needs a stable political environment. This is what led Zdeněk Bakala in 2010 to openly donate funds to the democratic opposition (namely ODS /Civic Democratic Party/, TOP 09 conservative party, and Věci veřejné /The Public Affairs Party/, a total of CZK 28.5 million – editor’s note) against ČSSD /Czech Social Democratic Party/, led by Mr. Jiří Paroubek, who launched a drastic debt and populist campaign in our country at a time when the economic crisis was raging in the Czech Republic and the world. My husband decided to enter into it openly and without any conditions. If it was because he entered it this way, and it turned out the way it did, that we did not have a government with Prime Minister Paroubek, who will certainly never forgive him, then I think it was a good thing for the Czech Republic. For a few years, it brought something different than the continued rule of the Social Democrats.
From the beginning, your family was behind the creation of the Václav Havel Library, which takes care of his legacy. Is Havel’s legacy still alive?
Václav Havel was both a symbol and an agent of political change in our country, and it appears that his humanism is returning to us in foreign policy as well. Among other things, the election of Petr Pavel, who also openly espouses him, espouses the values of truth, has returned the standard to the Castle. I like that. I think many people over the last 10, 15, maybe 20 years have become skeptical or felt that we don’t need to talk about these things anymore. But, on the contrary, the opposite is proving to be true. We see Russia’s attempts to return to the size and strength of the Soviet Union.
I voted for Petr Pavel
Have you financially supported any entities recently, either Petr Pavel or the ruling coalition, in the last parliamentary elections?
No, the last candidate we financially supported was Karel Schwarzenberg when he ran for the Castle in 2013. And that was no secret; again, we did so very openly.
Otherwise, it has only been support via voting. I voted for Petr Pavel in Modrava. He got my vote.
Do you expect the political situation in the Czech Republic to change now after the presidential elections? You’ve indicated that change seems to have been cultivated. With the President’s embrace of the legacy of Václav Havel, a standard has returned to the Castle, and values have come back into play. Does this mean any change for the Václav Havel Library or your work in the Czech Republic?
Certainly not, because it won’t be enough. Petr Pavel has raised huge expectations, but he is still just one of the players. He doesn’t have executive power or a governmental hold. And the situation still seems to be turbulent. The opposition is strong if ANO puts Andrej Babis up again as a candidate for the next prime minister…
But, for now, we don’t have to worry about having someone in the Castle who would behave unconstitutionally. At least it doesn’t seem to me that he would try to pull strings and work to the detriment of the Czech nation. I don’t expect that from Petr Pavel. That’s why I voted for him. I can already see that he can represent our country in a dignified manner with his wife, and even if this were all they did as their primary activity, they would bring huge points to the Czech Republic. But the period of danger, manipulation, and populism did not disappear with the election of Petr Pavel. It is not about one person in the Castle. It is on all of us. It is up to teachers to teach the young generation to take an interest in how the state works and how we can help it. If they don’t turn out to vote, they deprive themselves of the opportunity to influence it, and then they can grumble that the pensioners decided it for them.
Your family is spread over several continents in many countries. Why is it still important for you to look at events in the Czech Republic in this way? Your children are already very cosmopolitan. What keeps you here mentally?
Wherever my family is, that is my home, no matter what country I am in; and in our case, the family is very mobile. But here are my roots: my friends, my family, the people I went to school with, what shaped me, my views, and my experience before 89. I graduated in 1989, and I’m lucky to remember left and right, freedom and totalitarianism. It gave me enormous opportunities because a person who was 18, 19, and 20 at the time could go out into the world and have huge opportunities because society had changed so profoundly. I took advantage of them; there’s nothing that I missed or that I could have done fundamentally differently. I think everything that was on offer at the time, being young and single, I tried to fulfill.
But I digress from your question. Why are we doing this? I don’t know, I guess, because we are still Czech. I will never be anything but Czech in my life. No matter where I live, where I spend more time, or where I die.