Ross School of Business Prof. Jan Svejnar just lost the presidency of the Czech Republic last month, but he’s not wallowing in self-pity. Instead, Svejnar spoke cheerfully about his run to a group of about 60 University students and faculty in Weill Hall yesterday.
“It was a unique experience. I recommend it to all of you,” Svejnar said, drawing laughter from the crowd.
Svejnar, director of the International Policy Center at the Ford School of Public Policy, is a Czech native. He ran for the largely ceremonial post of Czech president but lost by a one-vote margin to the incumbent president Vaclav Klaus on Feb. 15.
When Public Policy Dean Susan Collins introduced Svejnar, she said she was proud he was a member of the University faculty.
“The Czech Republic’s loss is our gain,” Collins said.
Students in the audience were equally excited.
LSA junior Matt Wyble said he found Svejnar’s run to be inspiring.
“For someone who lost an election, he was amazingly upbeat,” Wyble said. “I’ve never seen someone so pleased and insightful after losing.”
In his first public appearance at the University since the election, Svejnar reflected on the challenges he faced as a U.S. citizen running for election in a country where he wasn’t previously well-known. Svejnar fled the country at 17 while the former Czechoslovakia was a communist state.
He returned to the Czech Republic frequently, serving as an economic advisor to many members of the Czech government, including former president Vaclav Havel, after the overthrow of the communist government in 1989.
However, returning to his home country as a presidential candidate was different. Svejnar said his new role required a presidential “makeover.
“The team actually looked at me and said, ‘The way you look, no way!'” Svejnar said. “I got a European haircut. I got European glasses.”
Abhishek Gopalka, a graduate student in the Ross School of Business, said college students often consider politics as “intimidating” but Svejnar alleviated that concern during his talk.
Svejnar had a similar effect on the Czech people, many of whom quickly accepted his message.
“It was such a show,” Svejnar said, adding that he didn’t need to take out any television advertisements because he “was turning down television interviews.”
Though he described the campaign as an “intense but wonderful experience,” Svejnar said it was too soon to speculate about another run.
In an interview after the lecture, Svejnar he would keep his options open.
“The way I look at it is, I’ll continue to contribute as an independent analyst,” he said. “If that leads to candidacy in five years, great. If not, I won’t feel bad about it.”