Since November, Zdeněk Hřib has been the Mayor of our capital Prague. And his name is resonating through Czech as well as international media. His decisions tend to be somewhat controversial and not everyone likes them. However, the Mayor himself is relatively satisfied with his actions, although he admits that the position of one of the most powerful men in the country has cost him his good looks. What has changed for Zdeněk Hřib during the last nine months? Find out in the following interview!
You told me that since the time you were elected, your hair has gone a little gray, but what else is new? What have you done for Prague in such a short time?
I think it is noticeable that things are moving forward and the coalition is working. Probably the biggest “highlight” was that we started building the Metro D. We resolved the lenghty disputes with the landowners at the stations and started digging.
In addition, of course, we are dealing with other things that are related to transport and neglect of investment in transport infrastructure. We're repairing bridges, Deputy Minister Scheinherr (Praha sobě) is in charge of that. I've just attended the completion of the diagnostics of the Legion Bridge, where the clock is ticking as well, the bridge needs repair. Hlávka's and Libeňský Bridge are also awaiting repairs and the diagnostics of the rope bridge on the South Connection is underway.
Apart from those, we are also addressing the second most burning pain in Prague, i.e. the issue of the availability of housing. First of all, Deputy Hlaváček (Spojené síly pro Prahu) is intensively engaged in unblocking construction on brownfields, that is in former industrial sites. Within a few years, construction should start in the district Bubny-Zátory in Holešovice. 25 thousand citiens of Prague will find their home there. The situation in other brownfields is similar, whether it is the Freight Station Žižkov, Slatiny in Prague 10 or the former railway station in Smíchov.
Of course, the city is also addressing the issue of speeding up building procedures, efficient management of the city's housing stock, that's the responsibility of our councilor Adam Zabransky from the Pirate Party. We are also dedicated to the promotion of cooperative housing by providing the city with land, where people can build their own house as a cooperative. Councilor Hana Marvanová (Spojené síly pro Prahu) is in charge of that.
So you feel that since you've been elected Mayor, things are moving forward in a better direction compared to your predecessors?
It is not because of the personality of the Mayor, my basic advantage over my predecessor also plays a role. Unlike her, I have real experts on the board who devote themselves intensively to their responsibilities and are moving things forward.
Of course, I devote myself to my own responsibilities, namely foreign affairs and IT. For example, we've introduced a modernized version of the Změňte.to („Change it“) application, which allows citizens to report problems in the city by taking a picture and sending it to us.
I'm going to personally see to it that the reported things will really be addressed and that the application will be even more userfriendly. For example, by allowing people to give the city feedback on whether they were satisfied with how the matter had been resolved in the end. The application also gives you the option to rate your experience at the counter office. Next to this, we are preparing a new website, Portál Pražana (A Praguer's Portal), where people will be able to do their errands with the office digitally, but that will take some time.
I would say that neither member of the council is "slacking". They devote themselves intensively to their responsibilities and I believe that things are changing for the benefit of Prague and Praguers.
What about your image on the international level? Do you feel like the foreign media are giving you a little more „screen time“, because you are not afraid to present opinion that some people may not like? For example, when you throw someone our or fail to ban someone from attending a meeting…
As for the foreign media, I have noticed some interest. But when you're in charge of Prague's foreign relations with its twinned cities, it's unavoidable. However, most of our time we focus on matters that concern Prague in terms of, for example, transport investments or housing and other matters. Such as education or sports investment, we gave one billion to teachers…
I think there were two reasons. One I've already mentioned, and it is the fact that the board presently consists only of real experts.
Then there is also the fact that more often than not, we have a very similar opinion on the issues that the city is dealing with, while those before us didn't have similar opinions. Their coalition was glued together by a variety of political newsstands, where a chart even leaked in the media, showing that everyone needed to get their 100,000 a month so that the coalition wouldn't fall apart. Alright, it might not have been 100,000, they might have had a different price list, but you get the gist.
It all boils down to the fact that in our coalition, there is a consensus. For example, in the social area we prefer people to stay in their homes for as long as possible. Instead of being forced to go into institutional care. Which are things that every citizen of Prague will welcome at a later age.
In Fast Confession, I asked how many enemies you've gained. I understand it can't be calculated. But is there something that surprised you? For instance, have you heard any rumors that someone was backtalking you?
Some rumours are difficult to fight against. For example, rumors have been made that we were spending big money on foreign trips, which was not true.
We were on a business trip in Taiwan at the invitation of a Taiwanese party, which also paid for the trip. We visited the Smart City Expo, where we have met with several political representatives, such as the Minister of Informatics, and gathered a number of interesting ideas that we aim to put into practice in Prague.
However, the word was out that we'd spent some 700,000 on business trips in a single month. But the reality is that we have not yet reached this figure since the beginning of the parliamentary term. I'm trying to resolve this particular problem by displaying montly information regarding business trips at the board and the council, how much we've spent on them since the beginning of the period. But it's not interesting enough to make a headline in Blesk, so the defamation is not easy to combat.
You mean Mr. Černý? I've already commented on that. I was also contacted by a company that, after the media informed that graffiti had appeared on the Charles Bridge, offered laser cleaning free of charge. My team passed it on to the people in charge, but we were told we couldn't possibly understand it and that we should let the pros do their work.
So I let the pros do their work. And I was not happy with the result, because in the end I had to watch them cleaning it with a dish brush and some kind of drugstore product. In fact, I don't blame Mr. Černý for being as desperate as to go and clean it himself. Fortunately, the sandstone was not damaged, as verified by technical road administration.
I firmly hope that we will actually be able to speed up the process at the City Hall and in municipal businesses so that people wouldn't be motivated to reach for similar guerrilla solutions that are quite risky. I have already asked the responsible councilors to see to it.
I understand that, but I was more interested in what was your impression of him as a human being, considering that he was a double murderer. How do you perceive meeting such a person as a man, a husband?
I met Mr. Černý once at a purely professional level, at a workshop where we demonstrated different cleaning technologies. So I take him as a person who provides the city with some services. He makes a living by working for the city, the boroughs and probably for a few private owners. I take him as an expert in this field. I made him an offer that the city would pay him for cleaning, he refused, and with that the matter is closed.
As for the fireworks, the whole city council agreed that we would try something else this year. We agreed on video mapping, so Praguers won't lose their fun and interesting spectacle, but we will embrace modern trends, because after all, Prague is a modern metropolis.
To tell the truth, I have noticed more positive reactions than negative ones, because fact remains that fireworks are not entirely a good thing. First of all for the environment, but also for pets. So, we will try to do it differently this year, following the example of other world capitals.
Because in Prague, of course, there is less traffic during the summer holidays than during the rest of the year. So if you want to make some repairs, you logically do it when it has the least impact on Praguers. In the regular year, the impact on transport would be even more problematic.
Then it is necessary to realize that Prague has a very high internal debt in the transport infrastructure, which amounts to 35 billion, which is half of Prague's budget. For example, bridges have been neglected here for a long time.
When the Troja footbridge during the last coalition, they were not even able to reasonably solve the question of compensation to the victims. We've already handled that. Now we are dealing with other bridges, for example the Legion Bridge is on level 5 out of 7, at least in terms of the state of the bridge. We know that the bridge will not collapse in the next five years, so repairs will be planned within the next five years.
Where possible, which is the case of Hlávka's Bridge, for instance, we are naturally trying to perform the repairs piece by piece. So half of Hlávka's Bridge will always be open, it will be repaired in two phases. We don't want bridges to fall... By the way, bridges don't just run across the Vltava River.
It is also important to think about Praguers when planning repairs. For example, the diagnosis of the rope bridge on the South Link was performed not just during the holidays, but also only on weekends and it had been announced in advance.
My family suffers because of it, of course, I have almost no free time left. I usually work on weekends, during which we have all sorts of anniversaries or other major events that take place in the city. And where the presence of the Mayor as city representative is necessary. So the most prominent change is that I have significantly less free time.
Of course, we do take the children to municipality events, where the presence of children is possible, such as the children's day at the Exhibition Grounds. However, I have to go alone to most events, even those where it would be appropriate for me to attend with my wife, because unfortunately, finding a babysitter can be complicated. Also, not all events are logistically manageable with three children. It's challenging.
That's an interesting question. I probably wouldn't have even considered getting into politics if things had been working well here, but unfortunately that wasn't the case. The way I look at it is that, from my point of view, my work is what the city requires, it's not my desire.