Interview with Czech Senator Tomio Okamura.
Business and politics are two areas that seem to be fundamentally different, but under current conditions are unlikely to become disentangled from each other. For example, both sectors attract active and successful people. One could even be considered as a stage on the way to the other. Schemes of “intersection” of business and politics can vary. One of the variants would be: one first proves what (s)he’s worth as an entrepreneur, managing the lives of a small circle of people, and then goes into politics and tries to organize the lives of people across the state in accordance with field-proven models.
The youngest Senator in the Czech Parliament, Tomio Okamura, got into politics following such a scheme. Having started his business at the age of 22, in a couple of years he became the representative of Asia’s largest tour operator in Europe, and that way earned his first millions. Then he decided that he was able to influence not only the development of tourism, but the whole country as well. He found support among the voters, and was elected senator. Recently, Okamura even tried to run for the presidency of the Czech Republic, but unsuccessfully. Meanwhile, he’s not planning to stop his business career.
In an interview with Youth Time, the Czech politician of Japanese origin fairly and openly expresses his views about himself and contemporary politics. We are publishing almost the complete interview, with no omissions. However, we specify that the opinion of the interviewee may not coincide with the opinion of the publisher.
Our magazine is read by people from all over Europe, so it would be only right to start with an introduction. Tell us briefly about yourself.
I am an entrepreneur, a senator, and a bit of a writer. However, all three of my books have sold in the tens of thousands, which is significantly greater than that of some who call themselves writers. In fact, I do a lot of things.
You completed a degree in chemistry, were engaged in the tourism business, and built a career in politics. That’s quite a wide range of interests.
I have never worked in the field in which I majored. At the age of 18, I left home to earn my own living. Although I always loved to travel, I was never really interested in tourism. It was an accident. However, with politics, it’s a different story. You could say that it’s a calling. When faced with a problem, I don’t complain, but instead analyze and look for the best solution, which I then try to implement. I am very disappointed that we live in a plundered country, where people have no trust in the legal system and do not believe that their government can protect them. The government is clearly dominated by dishonest people, and I was left with no other choice but to improve this situation by any means. I’m not one of those who criticize, but do nothing. I am an independent politician, with no affiliation to a political party. Of course, if you’re in a party, you have more political opportunities. However, integrity, hard work, honesty, and altruism are not peculiar only to left-wing politics, or only to right-wing politics. I strive to ensure that these qualities become habitual and implicit by default. I would be very happy to see more young people in politics. It so happens that I am the youngest senator and presidential candidate in the Czech Republic. There should be many more of us.
You are half Czech, half Japanese; you talk a lot about racism and social hierarchy. Have you ever had to deal with discrimination based on your race?
First of all, I am half Moravian, not Czech. For residents of Moravia, contrary to the rest of the Czech Republic, this is very important. Moreover, for the other half, I am not quite Japanese: my grandfather, an orphan from Korea, was adopted by a childless Japanese couple. My grandmother was Japanese. Therefore, I am part Korean, part Japanese, and part Moravian because of my mother. As for the difficulties, of course I had to face them. I was laughed at until I was almost 18 years old and I had no other choice but to work hard on myself. I had a feeling that this would change as soon as people around me would see that I am also “contributing” by working and by paying taxes. Since then, I never had to deal with racism again. Czechs are tolerant and if they see that a person is working and is not a parasite, they accept that individual. Now, I can say that the real problem is not racism, but the fact that some people simply do not want to work. It is necessary to give back to society more than you take from it and not vice versa.
I see my difference as a benefit. I know the Japanese system and I can use my experience in the Czech Republic. Here, I do not feel racism towards myself, but to my surprise, I am faced with a different issue, where “multiculturalists” call me racist and xenophobe. I agree with the fact that it is necessary to raise the national consciousness of Czechs and Moravians, but merging with multicultural Europe is not the right way to do that. It is necessary to maintain our traditions, while the European Union wants to deprive us of them. As an example, just take the EU ban on raw-milk cheese production. I’m sure that many have noticed that the characteristic smell and soft texture of our cheeses have changed. Exceptions were made for the French government because it was against these regulations. We are now being forced to buy expensive French cheese. In addition, Germany and France regularly receive large agricultural subsidies. Even though my opinion makes me a target for Euro-centrists, I am ready to continue defending Czech culture and its traditions.
Is foreign labor a benefit or a problem for the Czech Republic?
It’s a problem. It can be advantageous only in a certain phase. For the state, the interests of Czech citizens must remain in first place. At this point, in this country, young families with children receive absolutely no support. The Czechs are afraid to have children because they do not know whether they will be able to support them. The position of the government is the following: if you do not want to give birth, we are ready to employ foreigners. The state has to take care of its citizens and provide them with a sense of security and confidence. Being an outspoken critic of today’s laws for foreigners in the Czech Republic, I believe that, first of all, all foreigners who would like to buy property here must disclose their source of income (many Russians hate me for this, because there is a lot of money being laundered there). Secondly, I am against granting permanent residence to foreigners after 5 years of residence in the Czech Republic. They acquire the same rights as the Czechs, including the right to unemployment benefits! Thousands of Ukrainians suck our money through allowances. If you came here to work, then go work and pay taxes, otherwise, go home. I think that permanent residence should only be granted in exceptional cases. Our citizens are experiencing difficulties, while we take care of foreigners.
But people can move to another country for various reasons…
It’s not normal when unemployed foreigners get allowances from our state. We allow them to come here because of the lack of manpower. However, many foreigners work here illegally or otherwise declare only minimum wage, hiding their real earnings. For a country, this is a loss. The state should regulate employment policy: with growing unemployment, there is a need to limit the number of foreigners, freeing jobs for Czechs. In the first place, it’s necessary to solve the problems of Czech citizens. I don’t mind foreigners and I have a lot of friends of different nationalities, but, in fact, if our country is in debt, and there is nowhere to take the money to cover this debt, we have to cut our expenses somewhere. Therefore, Czech citizens are a priority for me.
How do you see the global situation of immigrants in Europe? How should EU policy in this area be changed?
This problem was underestimated. I would not want us to have the same situation as in England or in France. I do not understand why immigrants go abroad, if they are not willing to adapt to local laws. If you want to live here, you need to work, obey the laws, and accept our culture. The Czech Republic is not among the richest countries in the EU. We do not have the means to take care of poor immigrants. However, we could help foreigners who live in our homeland in other ways. Another problem is the delinquency among immigrants. For example, in the United Arab Emirates there is a system of rotation, where foreigners are given a residency permit for 2 to 3 years, without the possibility of returning. In our country, foreigners repeatedly commit crimes, but we still can’t get rid of them permanently. If people want to violate the law, they can do it at home. We do not need such individuals.
You have worked a lot with Asian tourists. What are the main differences between European and Asian mentalities?
Asia is several times larger than Europe. Out of Asian nationalities, I only know the Japanese. If you compare them to the Czechs, they have a high sense of national consciousness. This is especially evident in situations of crisis. When this is called for by the Japanese prime minister, people understand and agree. During a critical situation, such as the Fukushima accident, the Japanese act together. Haiti experienced a similar earthquake, but it still can’t fully get over the humanitarian disaster. Another example is hurricane “Katrina” in the United States. For what reasons did the U.S. president send the army to the affected areas? To help? No! They had to shoot the maddened Americans who were stealing and raping. This, in the opinion of many, is the most successful country in the world! If we want to create a sustainable society, we need to remember that foreigners will not identify with us. They will be against us. Most of them use us as a source of employment and housing. We all have friends from all over the world, but today we’re talking about a nation, and what it will become in 50 years. Even the Japanese, only 19 years after two nuclear bombs and a war, hosted the Tokyo Olympic Games and had established the production of motor vehicles and machinery, which were being sold all over the world. As for our country, nothing has changed during the last 20 years and we cannot even achieve an acceptable level of wages. This is happening because some people work, while others just sit back and do nothing. This is the main difference between the models of behavior.
What methods and strategies did you use in order to become successful in business?
There are no secrets. I have never studied management and I don’t have any special education. The only thing that I always had was my desire to prove that I’m no worse than others, even though I am somehow different. I have learned everything on my own. At the age of 18, I started working as a garbage collector and then as a vendor. I was 22 years old when I put an ad in a newspaper offering Japanese lessons. I was approached by 15 students and was earning 5,000 Czech crowns a month, which was quite enough for me. Then I got a call from a travel agency and was told that they needed a Japanese speaking guide. It was a bit scary, but I decided to try it out. In one day, I was earning more money than I did in a month when I was teaching. Later on, I got the necessary permit and went to see five other travel agencies which were working with Japanese tourists. After a year and a half, I realized that there were a lot of possibilities in this market. I visited most of the Asian travel agencies in Europe, offering them my services. One of the partners “Miki Travel,” the largest tour operator in Europe, which is used by 50% of all Japanese tourists, appointed me as their representative in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. During the first year of our collaboration, I had 9000 customers, and then this number increased to 100,000 per year. I started to work for free in the Association of travel agencies, offered a marketing business plan for the reorganization of the Association, and I succeeded. I also wrote several books. Then I became interested in politics and started to express my opinion in the media. I still do this today.
Tell us about your involvement in the project “D-Day.” What experience did you gain from communicating with young people?
I was surprised by one thing – the majority of entrepreneurs who had received funding were liars and frauds. I invested 10 times, but only two were real investments. In other cases, it was found out that people were bluffing. The project in which we have invested is called “Break2Win” (www.break2win.com). It is a unique tool for tennis match analysis, which is still being worked on. I liked this application. I gained great experience and met a lot of interesting people.
Why did you decide to run for president?
I would be happy to be able to influence the development of the Czech Republic for the better. I would change the constitution in order to have direct democracy, so that the people could have real influence on the leadership of the state. Currently, the government is not capable of doing what it needs to be doing, but it still claims to be all-powerful. People are tired of this, so they start to vote actively. I want people to be interested in public events. I put forward my candidacy for the presidency in order to implement the above mentioned changes. The stronger and the more influential position I have, the sooner I will be able to achieve this. My family discourages me from participating in the elections. They say that I have everything: work, money – but I want to change the country.
What advice would you give to young people? How does one succeed in business or in politics?
Honesty and hard work will do the trick. Nothing more is needed. Just don’t be afraid and don’t steal.
Photo: From the archive Tomio Okamura
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