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About life in politics, children and digging around in a garden

Fast confession: Tomáš and Iva Petříček: There are easier disciplines than marriage

David Budai
30.Sep 2020
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8 minutes to read

When you walk with them in the park and talk, they look like a perfectly matched couple. They complement each other, have similar interests and adore spending free time with their two children. Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček and his wife Iva gave us an insight into their privacy in an interview for and also recalled how they started dating in university. Did you know that they got married spontaneously shortly before they went abroad for Erasmus, or that the minister likes to "dig around" in flowerbeds? You didn't, right? So continue reading…

Minister, your wife claims that you are a busy beaver. Is it true?

Tomáš: I wouldn't say that I'm a busy beaver, I also like to rest or read a book. But she's right, I can't ever be still and not throw myself into anything. I hate inaction.

Do you still have a pile of work to do as a minister? Can you plan at all?

Tomáš: Something is constantly happening in politics, so planning is not entirely possible and it is necessary to respond to current events. I have to be prepared to respond 24 hours a day, all week long, because in today's world, information is very fast and an equally quick response to any event in the world is expected. But I am trying to make more effective use of the time I spend consulting at the ministry and with colleagues in the Social Democracy party.

Can it be said that working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is an ungrateful job? You're kinda just responding to the whole world…

Tomáš: I don't think it's an ungrateful job, all fellow ministers must be ready to respond to news, and we're all on the phone all the time.

Byt na pronájem Praha 1 - 166m
Byt na pronájem Praha 1 - 166m, Praha 1

Iva, what is it like from the wife 's point of view? It's eight o'clock in the evening, your husband is basically working even during this interview, while having started early in the morning…

Iva: There are two modes in our lives. When the children are at home, I often look to Tomáš as this salvation of sorts. And when the kids aren't home, it's cool, because I can come to him and be with him, which is very nice. I enjoy seeing Tomáš at work.

How often does Tomáš get bugged by his phone when, for example, you have a quiet romantic dinner or you are on a trip?

Iva: Often, but we're used to it. I prefer it when Tomáš always tells me in advance "I'll have something at 12", and I can adapt to it and alter our program a bit. Then he always runs off to a quiet place, I "redirect" the children, and when he finishes, he returns. I admire him for being able to switch back and forth very quickly.

Tomáš: But we also have a rule that when we eat together as a family, the phone should not be on the table.

And do you follow that?

Tomáš: Sometimes I get a clear warning that I broke the rules. (smile)

What does the ideal day look like when you have time off, no work plans in sight…?

Tomáš: We usually have a quiet morning. When we are at the cottage, breakfast lasts an hour. We like to go on trips, sometimes we go out biking or we go to the water in the summer. Or take a break in the garden and "dig around" in the flower beds.

Iva: It is perfect that we have instituted a siesta and the children respect it. Thanks to that, we have time to read something after lunch, which we both quite like. With the birth of children, this hobby got sidelined a lot. (laughs)

Tomáš: Yes, the number of books I read is rapidly declining.

You'll make up for it when the kids grow up…

Tomáš: The library is waiting for me to retire. (laughs)

And what do you read when you get to it?

Tomáš: Various books. I read literature on foreign policy, now I have read a book on artificial intelligence. And I also like to read history books, fantasy and sci-fi.

Iva, I understand well that you are also in politics? You are in a political party…

Iva: I am a member of KDU-ČSL, but I am not active, I am more of a hybernating member. I don't deal with politics, I came from the non-profit sector and the business sector, where I worked a lot with women from top management. But sometimes I accompany Tomáš to ČSSD events, we go together during the campaign and since he's the foreign minister, I accompany him to various receptions or social events.

Do you enjoy social receptions?

Iva: Before the coronavirus crisis, it was really intense, I felt that we were on the edge of our "production" rope - getting ready, getting the children sorted out and other things. I hope that in the fall I will be able to cover it better so that I don't have to do everything and be everywhere.

Tomáš: This is always the biggest challenge - to say that you can't go somewhere. It is not in the human capacity to go to all the conferences or activities of the diplomatic corps that I would like to go to with Iva. It does happen that we have two or three obligations in one evening.

Pronájem luxusního bytu Praha 1 - 55m
Pronájem luxusního bytu Praha 1 - 55m, Praha 1

Iva: It is important to decide where to be and where not to be. To have time for the children. I don't want them to get stressed out when they want to tell me something, and I don't give them enough attention. I try to feel when there is a lot so that I can withdraw and be more of a homemaker.

What does it look like when you invite a diplomat "to your office" and want to scold them for something? It's happened a few times lately…

Tomáš: I could use a literary description of diplomacy - the art of sending someone to hell, and the person in question thanking you for that. (laughs) But of course, when we deal with serious matters in relations between the Czech Republic and another country, it is always proper. As diplomats, we must defend the interests of our country, and at the same time we know that our diplomatic counterpart is doing the same. And just because we're pushing hard doesn't mean we're being undiplomatic.

Tell me, how did you meet and when did you start dating?

Iva: We met at the Faculty of Social Sciences. We both studied international relations and got hitched using deceit. Tomáš claimed that he had a class reunion, and asked if I didn't want to go there too. And I told him I also had a class reunion. But in reality there was no class reunion on either side and we ended up together at a concert at the Acropolis…

Tomáš: No… I invited you to a concert at the National House in Smíchov.

And have you met before?

Iva: I remember that Tomáš took the seminar Introduction to Aristotelian Philosophy because of me. (laughs) I took it because it was an easy two credits, and Tomáš took it because of his interest in…

Tomas: Interest in philosophy. It was with Associate Professor Havlíček and there were good debates there.

When did you have a wedding?

Tomáš: We got married relatively early because we wanted to go to Erasmus together. It was very spontaneous, we wanted to go abroad for a year and it occurred to us that we could go as a couple. I was 23 and you were 21…

Iva: It was pretty spontaneous. The original plan was to get married after Erasmus, but then we thought it didn't matter. So we had about eight weeks to prepare for the wedding.

And how long have you been together?

Tomáš: It has been 15 years since the wedding and 17 years since we met.

Do you still enjoy it?

Iva: There are easier disciplines. (laughs) But it still has meaning to us.

What is the best thing about marriage?

Iva: I can lean on Tomáš.

Tomáš: I agree. When you run out of energy, the other will support you. These are the times when partnership is important. And children are the glue of it all.

Do you complain about politics at home?

Tomas: Sometimes. But sometimes that's why our quarrels arise, because in the evening I don't like to talk about what I did at work and what happened to me. But Ivka wants to talk about work. We usually end up with a similar answer that our children now have when we ask them how it was at school. "Good." And at work it was also "good."

Iva: And then I say, "Put more effort into it." (Laughs) I can tell that he doesn't want to talk, and the biggest gift is that I don't ask him. I just need reassurance that Černín did not burn down. (seat of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, editor's note)

Have you ever been afraid for your life?

Tomáš: What fear for life?

Iva: See, that's exactly his kind of answer. And then he goes off to me about how annoying Navalnyj was, whether to make boxes for him at work. But then I thought it was too much work and we'd better risk it. (Laughs)

Tomáš: I have never felt in danger, there is little that is threatening us in the Czech Republic. You are more likely to meet pickpockets on the tram. I'm more scared when it rains and I ride my bike downhill fast. I don't feel completely stable on a wet road. (smile)

When we talked a year ago, you said that you had gained eight kilos since you'd entered politics. And you wanted to lose those...

Tomáš: I admit that it hasn't improved much. And during the coronavirus crisis, it went the opposite way, I gained a few kilos. Fortunately, I managed lose some of it in the summer, it's also because I do a lot of cycling. But I still have that goal.

Still a few pounds down?

Tomáš: Definitely. You can probably imagine what it's like to ride a bike uphill when you weigh a little over a hundred kilos… If I weighed ten kilos less, it would be better. (Laughs)

What can make you happy in these difficult times?

Iva: I was very pleased to meet Mrs. Susan Pompeo (wife of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who visited the Czech Republic in August, editor's note). I liked her inner peace and was a great encouragement to me. You could see how much she and her husband were in love, and I thought that if two people stick together, they can handle an extremely demanding job.

Luxusní byt na pronájem - Praha 1 - Josefov
Luxusní byt na pronájem - Praha 1 - Josefov, Praha 1

What are your plans for the end of the year?

Iva: An alley! We have a charity project that we are really looking forward to. In October we will plant an alley, each diplomat will plant one tree. It will be on a 300-year-old road that has disappeared, but thanks to the two villages it falls under, it has been restored. If all goes well, 68 pears should be planted, each planted by a diplomat with his expat community. It's Tomáš's idea. He wanted to plant an alley, and now it's finally coming to fruition, thanks to the tremendous help of the Partnership Foundation, which helps us with the know-how and applications.

How did you think of that?

Tomáš: On the bike. A lot of things occur to me while cycling because I have time to think. Alleys are a part of the Czech landscape and it is a pity that they disappeared and were not restored around a number of roads. So we want to plant an alley - as a symbolic expression of tolerance and international understanding. There are similar initiatives in other parts of our country, so it's not an original idea, but I think it's nice.

Iva: In addition, our media coverage will be focused on the need to maintain such an alley. There is a lot of talk about "sticking" a tree into the ground, but no one is solving the need of putting stools there so that birds of prey can sit on them, or that trees that have withered must be replaced.

Tomáš: It's not enough to just come together, but it's important to maintain it. And that is the essence of diplomacy. Sometimes it may seem like a job without results, but in reality maintaining good relations between the two countries requires a lot of effort.

That seems great to me. Does your husband have any other interesting ideas?

Iva: Maybe we'll insulate the ceiling of the cottage, I thought it was very innovative. (laughter)

Will he insulate it himself? Is he such a handyman?

Iva: He is not into DIY at all and the architects say that he is mainly an investor. And when he does do DIY, it's in the style of: "I know I have to do it, you told me last year!"

Tomáš: No, I have to defend myself… But it is true that my grandfather and father are quite critical, because I did not get any manual skills from them. (smile)

Iva: He's just not the kind of Daddy who carves a rocking horse. But again, he will chop a pile of wood.

Tomáš: I can also assemble Ikea. (laughs)

Thank you so much for the interview!

Fast confession:

Are your children naughty or little "angels"?

Iva: They are naughty angels.
Tomáš: Little devils.

What does your ideal family day look like when you have time off?

Tomáš: In the garden or out swimming.
Iva: We like working in the garden. And do something with the kids.

A holiday you like to remember?

Tomáš: We went to Morocco this year with the kids and we enjoyed it a lot.

How do you keep fit?

Tomáš: I try to train and ride a bike. But it is mainly the children who keep me fit.
Iva: We go to the gym, we have a membership.

What is the most difficult part of a minister's job?

Tomáš: Lack of time.

And what is the hardest part of being the minister's wife?

Iva: It's quite fun, because I don't bear the responsibility that Tomáš bears.

Which one of you is a bigger jokester?

Iva: I think we're both pretty boring. (laughs)

What are your bad habits?

Tomáš: A number of bad habits that I am not able to break down. I'm still struggling with smoking.
Ivo: He's still tossing socks in the middle of the room.

Which food do you like best?

Tomáš: I like snacks. But my favorite is pasta with potatoes.
Iva: Spaghetti carbonara.

Strawberries with whipped cream or champagne?

Both: With whipped cream.

What do you like to spend money on?

Tomáš: Sports equipment that I will not use.
Iva: On experiences, we like to travel and we like to taste new cuisines.

What is something money can't buy?

Iva: A good husband.
Tomáš: Time together, which there's never enough of.

The motto that carries you through life?

Iva: Pray and work.
Tomáš: Never give up.
Question by the interviewee to the editor:

The most interesting answer you got?

I asked an economist if "salt over gold" would ever apply. And she said no, because there would always be more salt.
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