It‘s been a month since Prague received a new Mayor into office, and since Zdeněk Hřib‘s life has turned upside down. A few weeks ago seldom anyone would recognize him, but now the media has him covered - The doctor, who doesn’t practice, but who went on the path of politics, because he wants his three children to have a bright future in this country. He found a chink in his busy program, and found time for an interview for Luxury Prague Life, and talked with us of his experiences from studies, family life, and of his vision he has for Prague.
How does it feel to be the Mayor? You haven’t been long in office, how are you getting on?
I’m setting up a team of counselors, somehow I‘m making the rounds of all the individual duties, so it’s all a bit fast-paced right now. It’s a train that isn’t stopping. But I think it’ll soon settle.
Is it difficult?
I would say that it is, yes.
Why did you decide to do it? I remember you as a doctor, who doesn’t treat. You are the member or director of various organizations, and for your young age, you have quite a lot on your plate. Why be a Mayor as well?
From my point of view, it isn’t as much a desire, as a service. I want Prague to move forward, and it can’t be expected, that when you want something, someone will do it for you.
How does it happen, that you come from small city into Prague and you tell yourself: “I’m going to make a change here...”?
I’ve been living the better half of my life in Prague. My three children were born in Podolí, and I wouldn‘t be happy, if in thirty years they told me: “We‘re going someplace else, where we can afford an apartment, for example to Vienna.” I wouldn’t want to live to see that.
And that is why I want to change Prague in such a way, that it’s standard of living rises. So far it doesn’t rank very high up. But other European metropolises, which aren’t so far from us, geographically or historically, for example, Vienna, are there. I dare to say, that we have what it takes to live a better life here.
How do you want to achieve more accessible housing? Prices have incredibly gone up…
We’ve left the problem to fester for a very long time. There is some perception, that it is the fault of the previous coalition, which had been four years in office. But when it takes seven years to receive building authorization, it becomes evident, that it can’t be the fault of those, who were here only four years. This is a problem, which had to have been created a lot sooner. By the lack of action of those, who were here even before that.
The problem is big, and it is necessary to tackle it in parallel on other lines, it is necessary to use a balanced mix of measures. We need to, on the one hand free up brown fields in the wider center, those are the previous industrial areas, and with the help of digitalization and standardization, accelerate building management. That alone will, however not be enough. It could then happen, that we will only build expensive apartments in Prague, which only certain speculators could afford, and the locals won’t get their turn. We will have to use other methods as well, like solving the problem of Airbnb or the supporting of cooperative housing. This could be solved, for example, by giving a cooperative some land from the city, it would then build a building from which it would give some of the flats to the city. This can develop the fund of municipal housing. Also we should use the money, which the government plans to free up for social housing. It is extra money for Prague, which it can use for investment purposes. It would be a shame, if we let the opportunity slip.
And of course, the effective management of the existing Prague housing fund, is important. We have around 1800 flats, which haven’t been repaired and are uninhabitable. Prague owns them, so it is necessary that someone approaches this issue, and repairs them. Of course, the question is, who should live in those municipal apartments. As we’ve found out from the opposition in the previous election period, a lot of people who could afford a very good apartment in good locations live there. Even a state representative who underwent disciplinary proceedings had lived or still lives there. These matters are now being handled by our counselor, Adam Zábranský.
What are the priority goals that you want to achieve in your term in office in Prague?
There are many priorities. To build the metro line D, to forge ahead with preparations for the ring road, to solve the housing accessibility crisis, and of course, the digitalization of the bureaucratic office. My colleagues, the Pirates from the Chamber of Deputies, have told me that there will be much to deal with, and that foremost I shouldn’t lose my head. So, I guess that’s also my priority.
You have three children, but being the Mayor takes up a lot of time. Are you not robbing them of it, by working and not having time for your family?
That’s unfortunately a sad truth, that politics in general is a kind of exodus from the family. But at the moment, my wife supports me in what I do.
What do you do with your family in your free time?
At the moment I have barely any time at all. Mayoralty takes up 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
I don’t know what age your children are, but there are certain performances at school…
Of course, children go to kindergarten, the two older ones. The school organizes the cleaning of the garden every year with the help of parents of the children, who attend. So I helped as part of the autumn cleaning – raking of leaves, shearing of bushes and so on. The school also holds Easter, and Christmas afternoon activities, where the parents create various things with their children. On Halloween, we carved pumpkins at the school.
You said, that you will spend Christmas with your family. What are the main traditions in your family?
I have great memories of Christmas from childhood. In our family, we maintain this tradition, that we have a very opulent Christmas dinner, which is made up of six courses, there are two soups. Those are my memories of Christmas. And then lego, which me and my brother regularly received as gifts. It is quite complicated these days, to prepare a six-course dinner, so we will spend this Chistmas with grandparents, at my father and mother in laws. They are a bit more „concise“ with things.
You studied medicine. Even though you don’t practice, can you remember any story from your life as a doctor?
I remember, that I went to the same class as the young Ondra Měšťák, the son of the famous plastic surgeon. We went to assist on a surgery once, and at the end, the surgeon said: “Alright medics, patch it up.” Ondra went ahead. I never inclined in the direction of surgery, he of course did. He snapped the needle into the holder and started to sew an impressive surgical stitch. The patient was an old man, who wasn’t expected to promenade in swim shorts, but Ondra was very careful anyway. When he was half-way through, the surgeon came up to him, stared for a while in disbelief, and then said, “What are you doing? Are you playing a plastic surgeon? Just patch it up normally!” So he finished sowing, and then we heard, “We’re writing a protocol, report your names, medics.” When Měšťák announced his, the nurses were falling off their chairs in laughter.
Because of the surname?
Yes, back then no news article on beauty competitions could exist without the evaluation by Měšťák Sr. Which miss has undergone what kind of operation… By the way Měšťák junior, is already an associate professor in the field of plastic surgery.
And do you practice medicine at home? Are you the house doctor?
There are times, when I tell my wife, that I’m the doctor here. But I do that rarely. And of course, I’d be able to manage some situations.
Can you write doctor’s subscriptions?
See? That’s enough!
I can even write digital subscriptions.
Personally, I’m ecstatic about those. One doesn’t have to visit the doctor for every minor thing.
I also worked on putting this system into effect. But I’m not the author of the legislation, which states that it will be mandatory from January. I’m not such a supporter of making such things mandatory.
What do you imagine, when I say the word “luxury”?
Sleep is a luxury.
How many hours of sleep a day do you indulge in?
So far, enough for me to function, around five hours. Then I compensate somehow over the weekend.
As a public figure you have to dress the part. What about shopping, do have your own stylist?
Yesterday a bought a suit for the capital city Prague ball. I don’t have a stylist.
How do you deal with attention from media and the public?
At the start, I was told I don’t smile enough into the camera, so I hope I’ve improved. On the 17th of November I was on Národní třída, and a lot of people were there, and no one threw anything at me. So I guess good… Otherwise I go to and from work usually by metro, so here and there someone recognizes me. I go from Jižní město to Staroměstská and back, but I don’t have a fixed working schedule. It‘s therefore better to send me an email than to wait for me at the transfer stop Muzeum.
Did you notice any more attention from women? Is your wife jealous?
Yes, I have noticed. Ladies at the magistrate’s secretariat take care of me formidably. I try to take care of my wife, which is however possible now only on the weekend, and only partly at that. My wife is a great person, and I appreciate her a lot. She is always accommodating or searches for a compromise, and she manages to take care of all three children and the house, basically on her own. Somehow, I can’t imagine jealousy in our relationship.
As Mayor, you must also attend various social functions. Do you enjoy them?
Some events are acts of piety, and of those I wouldn’t exactly say that I “enjoy” them. A mayor has many duties, but understandably now the priority ones are the ones in the office. When everything settles a bit, I’ll hopefully be able to manage to attend more social functions.
You will dance at the ball. Do you like to dance? Do you have any funny stories from dance school?
I like to dance very much. In highschool I went through all the various available levels of dance school. And I made attempts to court my first girlfriend there, which was a series of embarressing moments.
I wish you the least amount of embarrassing moments as Prague’s mayor. And I thank you for the interview.
What’s it like to be the mayor of Prague?
Do you think, we should re-introduce obligatory military conscription again?
What, do you think, is the greatest weakness of Czech Republic?
Who is the greatest medicine icon for you?
Why should marijuana be legal?
What wouldn’t you forgive your children for?
Who is, according to you, the sexiest politician in the world?
When did you last play the drums?
Do you agree with the saying “honesty is the best policy”?
How will the new mayor spend Christmas?
How did you charm your wife?
Your three guilty pleasures?
What can’t you imagine your day without?
When will this be over?