He studied international relations, but diplomacy had never been his dream. Nevertheless, in a short period of time, he practically climbed to the top in this field - since autumn, Tomáš Petříček has been performing the function of Minister of Foreign Affairs. And while hes doesn't lack in traveling abroad and newly gained kilograms, he has less and less time for his two children and his wife. In an interview for Luxury Prague Life, he revealed what kind of dad he is and what he likes to do in his free time.
As a minister you often attend business lunches, dinners and similar meetings. What do you do when the dish you’ve been served doesn't taste good? Can you return it?
I’m definitely not picky - except maybe for dill sauce, which I’m not a fan of, I am able to eat anything. So it hasn't happened to me yet that I didn’t like the food. And if it's not to my taste, I eat a reasonable amount to feel sated, I don't have to finish the meal. Considering the fact that my work is sedentary, sometimes I prefer to skip desserts and other extra calories.
You have been in office for over six months. Have you already had an embarrassing moment?
Faux pas do happen, but I can’t think of anything major off the top of my head. I guess I haven’t experienced any huge blunders yet!
Is it stressful to watch yourself at official visits and events? After all, all kinds of small details matter there, you have to be careful not to say something inappropriate...
There are things I had to get used to, people really watch you and they notice even your facial expressions. It was about gradually getting used to attention. What I find to be a bit more difficult is learning to feel comfortable with the fact that people are starting to recognize me on the street, which wasn’t common before.
And do they say something, or do people just point their fingers?
Sometimes they stop me and ask about what interests them in foreign politics. They are often interested in Russia, for example, sometimes we talk about Europe, even with those who criticize the European Union. But mostly they come with positive questions.
Do diplomats tell any jokes when not in front of the cameras? About Czech people, for example?
Either the jokes are about diplomacy in general, or people make fun of themselves and their own countries. Few dare say something about others that could be misinterpreted.
So how do the Czechs joke about themselves?
Sometimes we make fun of our nature and, of course, references to Švejk are always appreciated - people in Central Europe know and understand the symbolism. And I've heard from some of the older diplomats that when we make fun of ourselves, we are such laughing beasts. (laughs)
How much has your work schedule expanded since you first sat down in the ministerial chair?
Significantly. It is usually about 12 hours a day, sometimes I have to sacrifice a weekend day too, which my family isn’t very fond of, because I have two small children. And sometimes I hear from the younger one why wasn't I with them somewhere... That makes me feel remorse. But it’s also part of the job, there are no "from - to" shifts. Suddenly, you find yourself relying on a lot of people who are planning your life.
It's no secret that a lot of high-ranking politicians have problems in the family, perhaps because they're often gone. Have you taken any measures to prevent your relationship from falling apart?
I'm trying to spend weekends with my family and kids. And it is also important to find an hour here or there during the work week and devote yourself to them. When I go for a longer trip abroad, I try to at least take the kids to school and kindergarten, so that we could spend a while together and they’d know they have a dad who loves them.
How old are they?
My daughter is seven years old and she’s a first grader, my son is four years old.
Aren’t you going to regret some time in the future that you didn’t have more time for them?
I still believe, despite the amount of time I spend at work, that I can spare moments when I'm fully dedicated to my children. And I hope I won't regret it. But I don't have a crystal ball and can't tell what's going to happen in ten, fifteen years. It is true that when it comes to raising the children, my wife does most of the work, but I’m trying to make up for it by doing things with them that they enjoy. For instance, we're going to go camping soon.
Are you able to remain strict enough? Don’t you have the tendency to
compensate them for your absence by giving them a pass every now and then?
Definitely not. (laughs) You can't build a relationship with a child by pampering them. We are quite benevolent parents, but we are able to set clear rules. They know they can't have everything they want. Like when we go shopping and they’re not allowed to buy more than one treat.
How did you meet your wife Iva?
We went to the same university, we met in a philosophy class. We were both studying international relations and political science in Prague.
What are your common interests?
We both enjoy foreign politics, so that’s what we talk about. Although somewhat less lately, because I'm trying to leave work behind the door… We talk more about our children's experiences. Although I am not always a very attentive listener. But I’m trying. (laughs)
I see you’re smoking. But at the same time, I know that you like sports. How does it go together?
It used to have no impact for a long time, but that has changed recently and it is time for me to stop.
Do you have enough willpower?
I guess I’m gonna find out in like three years. (laughs)
And are you going to quit overnight, or are you a systematic person who needs to develop a quitting plan?
I'm not very systematic, I’ll probably really quit overnight. If worse comes to worse, I’ll help myself overcome the nicotine addiction with the help of some kind of supportive chewing gum.
Do you have enough time for sport? And what do you enjoy most?
I like to ride a bike because it’s more than just a work out. I also get to see places I don't normally go to. In addition, I have plenty of time to enjoy the landscape and thoroughly clean my head.
To be honest, I‘m not the fastest guy, my friends are better off and they keep leaving me behind… So I try to keep up and I don't have time to think about anything else.
I hear you’re supposed to run some kind of five-kilometer diplomatic run, too…
Yeah, that’s fine.
Do you have any larger running goals?
I’ve already run a marathon…
But you wouldn’t be able to repeat it today?
I wouldn't be able to finish it anymore. One has to prepare for that. But I would definitely like to try again, even though it’s not easy to walk in the two days following a marathon, because your feet hurt. (laughs)
In your Fast confession, you admitted that you’ve gained eight kilos. And you haven’t even been there very long! Why do people gain weight in politics?
I am a fast gainer, but I also lose weight quickly, so I expect it to be gone by the summer. (smiles) But it might be related to stress, that’s how the human body behaves - it stores supplies. And it is also about irregularity, it happens that I don’t manage to have lunch and then I eat all the more for dinner. Which is the worst thing one can do.
Besides sport, what are your hobbies?
I like to read, I’m halfway through several books, mainly fiction. And I like cooking.
Are you good at it?
I don’t think I could make living as a cook, but my family usually eat what I’ve made. (Laughs) And that is probably the greatest reward, when you make a good soup, for instance, and they praise you for it.
What else would you like to learn?
People should be learning throughout their entire lifetime, because once you think you know everything, you become arrogant and you’re no longer aware of your own shortcomings. I’d like to improve in languages, for example. I'm trying to learn Spanish. And I should get a little better at IT related things. Today, smart phone offers so many possibilities... And I’m using maybe twenty percent of those.
You mentioned that you'd studied political science. Have you sobered up from academic debates about international relations once you found out what politics really is like?
I don't think it was a sobering experience. Academic debates about international relations help interpret things currently happening in the world. But it's not like one can take a book and say what's going on in the world. There are a number of theories and you can choose how to look at a certain problem. The study of international relations actually helps me, I can think about these things, knowing how they have been approached in the past and how theorists thought about them. It is a little different from what the newspapers write.
Is diplomacy your dream job? You’ve quickly reached the very top of what can be achieved in this area…
I don’t think I studied international relations with the aim of becoming a minister of foreign affairs, nor did I have a natural inclination to diplomacy. I have always been more interested in academic work, but on the other hand, I like the job of a minister and I enjoy doing it.
Have you already had to make concessions with regard to your beliefs and knowledge in your political function? Meaning you told yourself that it wasn’t completely right, but it was where the Czech Republic was heading to and we had such and such interests…
I have. (sadly)
Politics is about compromise, and I am trying to promote a kind of politics that makes sense and is in the interests of our country. The most important thing in our foreign politics is to make sure our country is safe, wherefore steps that aim towards that security need to be taken. In foreign politics, you sometimes have to accept a compromise, even if you actually want to do a bit more or less.
Czech foreign politics has been fractionalized for the longest time. We had presidential, governmental, and ministerial politics… Does it still apply?
Our politics is not fractionalized, but at the same time we are representatives of a democratic country. Some representatives of other parties have different views and talk about them openly, and Mr. president has his own opinions on various things. But it is important that we are able to agree on what the basic priorities are, which we then promote. In our country, people keep looking only for the differencies - but in democracy, this should be the result of a discussion.
It is mainly about continuously evaluating what is in the best interest of the Czech Republic. Also in relation to China (President Zeman expresses political affection to China, ed. note.). We are trying to improve the unfavorable balance of trade, because we don’t like some of the barriers currently in place. We can’t settle for the way things are.