Zuzana Klusová, a Pirate politician from Karviná, has been facing insinuations about her appearance since she entered politics. She claims she has learned to “wipe out” their authors with humour. However, she prefers not to read comments about her candidacy for the European elections to her family.
At the weekend, the Pirates presented the front of their candidate list for next year’s European Parliament elections. However, the top three candidates, Karviná councillor Zuzana Klusová, instead of being asked questions about her program and priorities, had to face many vulgar insults, the (overwhelming majority of which were written by anonymous) writers who were concerned that the 38-year-old politician was too pretty.
“I think it’s clear to everyone why this lady got so high on the Pirates’ ticket.” “And which Pirate has already bent her over the table? Your chief of staff, perhaps?” Such messages also appeared under the announcement of her candidacy.
In an interview with Seznam Zprávy, Klusová admits that she has been accustomed to allusions to her appearance in regional discussions since the beginning of her political career. “If you took it personally, you couldn’t do politics, but on the other hand, it doesn’t read well,” she admits, saying she tries not to let such comments pass in silence. “I’ve found it useful to speak out against them, to make it known that it’s not right.”
— People on the internet berate politicians for all sorts of things. They often attack their appearance, which, in their opinion, does not correspond to the standards of beauty. Were you prepared to get such a beating for being “too attractive”?
— Considering that I have 10 years of experience in Karvina, where my appearance is judged under almost every post I write, I was quite prepared. But I must admit that I was a bit worried that the concentration would not be so high with the audience on Twitter or nationwide. I was a little suspicious of Carvians being more critical of me than they might be elsewhere, but I guess it’s a nationwide phenomenon.
— So you were ready…
— Yes, if you took it personally, you couldn’t do politics. I’m sure it wouldn’t have affected me or discouraged me from further politics, because I’ve heard so many insults of various kinds over the last ten years. But on the other hand, of course, it does not read well and does not make one happy.
The current preparation for the European elections has been extremely difficult for me. I am at work until 6 pm, then I have to repeat English, learn the programme, write my speeches, and do my own social networking. That was challenging for me, and then when I really wanted to celebrate it and read the kind of feedback where everybody is talking about who I slept with, I admit that even after all these years, I still regret it. Not that I didn’t.
— You say you have been dealing with this kind of talk for the past ten years that you have been in regional politics. Do you do it the same way you do now, when you tried to take everything with humour?
— I have already practiced my answers to the Karviná issues and it has worked well for me to oppose them. I am not advocating that such talk should be ignored and that you should not pay attention to it. Then it may appear to some that they were right. So I try to respond to even the most vulgar comments to make it clear that it’s not okay, that it’s not true, and that it offends me. This is what leads to women not wanting to enter politics.
— Was it also the case that you considered whether to quit politics?
— It took me many years to get to the stage where I didn’t care about it and I’m not crying about it here. In Karviná it was also like that, I was discussing political issues, like how much the swimming pool cost, but Facebook was full of talk about what to put where and if I was sleeping with Bartos (the Pirates’ chairman, ed.), I should go to Prague. This has been going on nonstop for ten years.
— As a man, I don’t think you’d face this. Do you feel you have to fight harder for your political existence?
— I’ve been saying for a long time that I don’t feel disadvantaged. On the contrary, my colleagues have given me great support from the beginning, for example Lukáš Černohorský (former Pirate MP, ed.), who once took me on as his assistant when I had a two-and-a-half-year-old child. He knew I wouldn’t be able to go to Prague with him as much, but he wanted to give me the opportunity to move on. My colleagues more or less filled me in and gave me courage all the time. And that also applies now to the Euro elections.
When Ivan Bartos suggested it to me, I said no, that I couldn’t imagine how I would do it, because I’m at work until six, I don’t have money for courses and training. All the time he and everyone here in the county supported me that I could do it, and finally they convinced me to go for it. Having my bubble here and its support is one of the reasons I decided to give it a try.
— In your comments, among the sexist insults, you also spoke out against quotas…
— I’ve been a quota opponent all along, which distinguishes me from a lot of female pirates. If I were a number three candidate and there were quotas – I would still have to explain if it was because we had quotas: “They don’t have enough girls, she’s pretty, so they put her in.” I never wanted it that way.
I don’t feel handicapped, I want to earn everything by my work and by people electing me on the basis that they think it’s a good choice. That’s where some pirates and I are at odds. But I will always be an opponent of quotas.
— Female politicians nationwide quite often describe receiving sexualized threats of rape and pictures of male genitalia. Did these experiences come with entering politics?
— Geez, I’ll admit, nobody has sent me that, I don’t think they’ve dared to do that (laughs). And I hope it doesn’t happen. I do have some admirers who write to me, but not in an insulting way. I try to answer them. They write me how I’m doing, how I slept.
But I used to get messages in the morning, like, “Die, you junkie cunt, you fat cunt,” and stuff like that. It was around the time that Olga Richter was facing attacks from her opponents over migrants. I was getting a lot of that at the time, too. But lately, I don’t get that kind of stuff. Sexist remarks do appear on social media, but in Karviná the local audience doesn’t do it so much anymore because they know me and know I will wipe them out. But now I have a new field of action, I guess I’ll have to fight for it (laughs again).
— Under one of the posts whose author asked “which pirate bent you over the table”, you responded that you have been with your partner for 19 years. So he has been with you for your entire political career, how does he take all these attacks and insinuations?
— He’s taking it badly. He doesn’t have social media and often tells me he doesn’t even want to know, I don’t tell him. Anyway, even the people around him make fun of him and tell him to calm down at home, why I am in the party, why I keep writing things on the internet. He faced it for a long time, it was a tough debate, we argued about it for years. Which was part of the reason I didn’t want to go higher up in politics, because I was afraid of what it would bring and whether we could stand it. I spent a good six months at home discussing this candidacy. It was one of the hurdles where I wondered if I wanted to graduate.
It’s been hard for my family, my mom cries on the phone regularly after reading my Facebook post. My parents take it very badly because they know what I’ve had to sacrifice to do this, that I’ve been doing everything after work for years and still have to endure these insults. At least I protect my boyfriend by not talking about him anywhere, not taking pictures with him. And the way I see it, I’m gonna keep doing it.
— And is he prepared for the fact that the work of an MEP is largely taking place in Brussels?
— We have discussed this at length and I am currently prepared not to move with my family. I don’t know if it’s realistic, but the way we see it for now is that if I want to stay in touch with the region, I can’t fully move out, but I would have to travel.
My boyfriend is willing to give up his activities and be home with the baby. It’s hard for him, he’s not quite the type that would be comfortable with that. Plus, we’re in Karvina, where macho ideas of how things “should work” are more prevalent than elsewhere, so he’d definitely be a laughing stock. But he’s 45 years old now, nine years older than me, so I’d say that after almost 20 years with me, he’s gotten used to it and has accepted that this is the way I want it and will support me. But I’m sure it would be hard for him and for me.
— Is your idea perhaps too idealistic?
— My idea is that I don’t want to move out of the region. I see it in the MPs too, that the moment they go to Prague they will stop being in touch with the people here, they will stop perceiving it and they will break away. So when I am running on the theme of helping our region, it doesn’t make sense for me to move to Brussels yet. I may not be able to imagine it, but for now I am convinced that we can do it.
— Besides supporting a region that has many problems, do you have another theme? For example, you have now experienced first-hand the issue of gender equality and a form of sexualisation…
— What is very close to my heart is the topic of sexual violence. By working with children in a low-threshold facility in an excluded area, I can see that the rate at which this violence takes place here is absolutely insane. I call it a culture of violence. There are some absolutely crazy things going on here, where a man kicks his pregnant 17-year-old girlfriend and the family says she shouldn’t have gone out. Stories like that are not uncommon here.
I would like to focus on addressing this problem not only in intellectual spheres, but also on finding ways to address it in socially excluded areas or lower social classes, where the incidence is much higher and it is seen as a normal part of life. These children and families suffer terribly.