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Vášáryová asks voters to ignore her diva past

After Vaclav Havel, she has been one of the most recognised faces in the former Czechoslovakia, and after Wonderbra supermodels Eva Herzigová and Adriana Sklenáriková, she has maybe the best known body. Now, like her close friend, the former dissident playwright Havel, she wants to be president.
But Magda Vášáryová - who has starred in some of the most popular films to come out of Prague since the Czech New Wave of the 1960s - wants to put her screen life aside and talk about her more serious credentials to lead her native Slovakia.
"I pushed away my acting career 10 years ago. It's history, one part of my life, a very successful history, but it's over," Vášáryová, now 50, told Reuters in an interview during a visit to Prague to promote her latest book on social behaviour.


Magda Vášárová starring in the 1967 Czech film 'Markéta Lazarová.'
photo: Courtesy of SFU

After Vaclav Havel, she has been one of the most recognised faces in the former Czechoslovakia, and after Wonderbra supermodels Eva Herzigová and Adriana Sklenáriková, she has maybe the best known body. Now, like her close friend, the former dissident playwright Havel, she wants to be president.

But Magda Vášáryová - who has starred in some of the most popular films to come out of Prague since the Czech New Wave of the 1960s - wants to put her screen life aside and talk about her more serious credentials to lead her native Slovakia.

"I pushed away my acting career 10 years ago. It's history, one part of my life, a very successful history, but it's over," Vášáryová, now 50, told Reuters in an interview during a visit to Prague to promote her latest book on social behaviour.

"Of course I am well known and popular, I have made many famous films and TV plays - it's good for the campaign, but everybody in Slovakia knows that I am not acting any more."

A trained sociologist, she speaks eight languages and has been running her own independent foreign policy think tank for the past seven years. She wowed the often stodgy Vienna diplomatic corps as Havel's ambassador to Austria from 1990-93. "I am representing the changes," she said. "The really clear pro-integration process... I have been a successful woman with many careers and I want to bring my success to Slovakia."

Recent opinion polls show the non-aligned Vášáryová stands a fair chance in the first direct election of a president in Slovakia which peacefully split from its Czech partner in 1993.

She has come second in several early polls behind Mayor Rudolf Schuster of the eastern industrial city of Košice. Schuster is a deft politician backed by the broad ruling coalition, who has gathered 26% support to Vášáryová's 10% in a very fractured field.

But in the two-round election expected to be called at the end of April, where only the top two candidates advance to the finale, her prospects look strong, analysts say.

A Bardot of central Europe

Still, any discussion about Vášáryová inevitably leads back to memorable film roles which made her into a sort of Brigitte Bardot of central Europe.

Vášáryová burst onto the screen in her birthday suit in 1967 starring as an angst-ridden teenager destined for the convent in the epic historical film 'Markéta Lazarová,' the consensus choice of critics recently as the best-ever Czech film.

In a career spanning 170 films and TV plays, she won the Monte Carlo festival 1968 award for "excellence in aesthetics" for her starring role in the film "Krotká" ("Tame"). She also played the object of a village's affection in Oscar-winner Jiří Menzel's 1980 ode to the simple life "Postřižiny" ("Cutting it Short") in which she is remembered for a scene where she bathes in a brewery vat.

In covering the launch of her candidacy, the leading Czech station TV Nova led its newscast with a montage of her most famous scenes, some of them nude, and stressed her friendship with philosopher-president Havel.

"I'm probably more realistic (than Havel). I am a sociologist, not a philosopher, and sociologists are more pragmatic in the positive sense of the word. I want to present this realistic vision," Vášáryová said.

She said she wants to bridge the gaps in society which have grown wider in recent years in Slovakia, a country kept off the fast track for NATO and EU membership because of what the west says are shortcomings in democratic reforms of the previous government under the authoritarian Vladimír Mečiar.

Modernity the key

The west has taken a second look at Slovakia after general elections last year replaced Mečiar with a pro-western ruling coalition, and eased tensions over issues such as relations with Slovakia's large ethnic Hungarian community.

"What we don't have still is a really clear, modern, successful vision of the Slovak Republic," said Vášáryová. "I want to present in my campaign this modern vision - for our youngsters, for women, for minorities - all minorities."

Vášáryová said that through the direct election, instead of giving parliament the vote as before, the new president will have more legitimacy than the mostly ceremonial role previously served by the heads of state in Slovakia and Czechoslovakia.

Her victory would also inevitably lead to a further warming of relations at the highest levels in the Czech and Slovak republics, which have often been strained since the split. "My background, as with Mr Havel, is with Christianity," she said. "That means the values of Europeans for 2000 years: don't lie, don't steal, be kind to your neighbours."

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