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Interview with Ivana Zemanová

“I don’t like the term ‘First Lady’ nor do I consider myself one.”

 The wife of the President of the Czech Republic, Ivana Zemanová, was the recent founder of a Foundation Fund, organized mostly to care for children in need. What would she consider a success for the foundation and how is the program created? In this interview, Mrs. Zemanová also says she doesn’t allow herself to be influenced by the opinions of people she never met.

It’s been a year since the first direct presidential elections. At the end of January, 2013 it was already clear that you would become a ‘First Lady.’ Do you still remember your feelings as you received the confirmation of the election results?

I remember that moment exactly. I had mixed feelings. I was very happy for my husband. He did everything to achieve it and I think that the presidential function is the natural completion of his lifetime career in politics. On the other hand, given my previous experience as the wife of the Prime Minister and the President of the Chamber of Deputies, I knew what was ahead of us – from the loss of privacy to the constant political and media pressure. And this was confirmed. 

The Czech constitutional order does not recognize the term ‘First Lady’ yet it caught on in the media. I even found the expression ‘First Lady in Office.’ Do you see yourself as a representative of an office or, rather as representative of a certain role? What actually are the basic elements of this ‘institution’ and how do you see them?

I don’t like the term ‘First Lady’ nor do I consider myself one. I’m the wife of the President of the Republic and my representative obligations arise from this as well.

In terms of the official visits, the program of the wife of the President is established by protocol. How do these protocol requirements match your own idea?

The program of the wife of the President is created after an agreement between the protocol and the cabinet of the wife of the President. My priority area is help to those in need. The composition of our program developed accordingly – children’s shelters, orphanages and senior homes.

When it comes to your classic daily agenda, how does it look? To what degree do you decide on it yourself?

My daily agenda is composed of meetings, dealing with correspondence and the representative obligations of the wife of the President. I organize my daily program along with my assistant. She in turn collaborates with the other departments of the Presidential Office.

Your every step at the side of the President is carefully watched. This question is a cliché, but still – is it possible to get accustomed to the media interest, particularly the somewhat uncompromising Czech-style of criticism?

I’m not exactly a ‘media type’ person, but I try not to get influenced by opinions of people I never met. On the other hand, I believe that if a journalist treats me correctly and doesn’t step over the line of decent behavior, there is no reason to be unfriendly.

I read that you liked Livia Klausová the most as a First Lady. As an ambassador now, in an interview for our magazine, she said that she tried ‘not only to represent our country well, but also be somewhat of an ombudsman and personally respond to what bothers people in our country.’ Is this your approach as well?

I honor my predecessors. I share the opinion of Mrs. Klausová that one should help in specific cases. That’s actually the motto of my new foundation.

Why did you decide to start a foundation? Did you change your opinion in this area? What is the primary goal of your foundation?

Originally I didn’t want to start a foundation. The reasons were bad experiences with the not-always-transparent financing of some facilities. However, very soon I ran into the issue that even help in one specific case must be anchored within the system and cannot be carried out without such an institution. This is why the Ivana Zemanová Foundation Fund was created.

What will you consider to be your success in terms of the foundation? 

Every directly addressed and applied help will be a success.

During your time in the role as wife of a President, did you discover other areas and issues that need attention? 

My priority is that I want to pay attention to children in need. The statistics for last year, when 28 children were tortured to death in the Czech Republic and 750 were the object of sexual abuse, are alarming and we must pay serious attention to them – from the obligation of reporting suspicions of abuse to resolving the situation in the Klokánek facilities. I really believe there are people out there who will join me.

What do you consider the foundation-stone of a successful career? Is it the strong will that you personally have?

That’s a difficult question. For me, personally, aside from a strong will, it’s also about moral integrity in your surroundings. I truly value such people. The question is whether all those who are successful actually have such characteristics.

Are you still close to the field you studied at the Philosophical Faculty at the Masaryk University – Romance studies? 

I didn’t finish the studies and it had no direct influence on my subsequent professional career. I think I’m more a Francophile than Francophone :)

I mentioned this earlier– the media can be very cruel, creating their own world of opinions and often stepping over the limits. On the other hand, it is in the interest of the public to carefully watch the activities of their highest state representatives and the people around them. 

I agree with that, but only as long as the opinion of the media is objective. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.

Our magazine will be published at the end of February and beginning of March. What will your program be at the time? And if we were to look further into 2014, what are you most looking forward to?

We just came back from the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, which was an unforgettable experience. As for the representative obligations, the Trebbio Gala Evening is ahead of me, where I will be handing the award to world-renowned photographer, Annie Leibowitz. But most of all I’m looking forward to being able to deliver help to the first specific recipients through my foundation.

Finally, something a bit lighter still – did you know that the President will mention your mother in his speech to the newly forming government coalition. That concerns the notion that she had shown interest in a ministerial position? 

I didn’t know that. It was a great exaggeration and you have to accept it that way. Anyone who knows my husband knows that he likes to use similar parallels.

Would you be able to imagine that other people from your immediate surroundings might also be active in high politics?

I have such highly capable people in my surroundings that I would only wish for high politics they would be part of it. But as far as I know, it’s not their goal :)”

Source: Leaders Magazine - Interviewer: Jaroslav Kramer
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