“Prague 8 is simply my area”
Text: Martina Hošková and M.Zisso; Photo: Archive
Ondřej Gros was elected Mayor of Prague 8 municipal district five years ago. He was born here, went to kindergarten and primary school here, graduated from the grammar school here, and, as he says, “still wants to live here”. Among his most inspiring political figures he mentions the Teplice’s late Jaroslav Kubera, which corresponds with his belief that “the state should serve the people, not the people the state. Bureaucracy must be reduced, not increased”.
You became politically active long before being elected Mayor of Prague 8. What has your path been so far?
I became politically involved in May 1997 by joining the ODS political party, for which I have been elected as a representative in Prague 8 six times since 1998. In the years 2010-2014, I became a deputy mayor, and in the following period of 2014-2018 I chaired the opposition club of the representatives of the ODS. In 2018, I was elected Mayor of Prague 8.
Do you feel inspired by your party colleagues and their ideas?
I take my primary political inspiration from two historical greats of world politics: Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. And domestically from the Teplice phenomenon of Jaroslav Kubera, also an ODS member, who unfortunately passed away several years ago. I think he is greatly missed in our politics. Thanks to my conservative and right-wing background, I am convinced that the state should serve the people, not the people the state. Bureaucracy must be reduced, not increased. And schools are supposed to teach children how to think, not what to think.
Now, you are a mayor. How well do you know “your” Prague?
I have a lifelong relationship with Prague 8, one of the largest urban areas of our capital: I was born here, went to kindergarten and primary school here, graduated from the Grammar School at Libeňský Castle, and I still want to live here. Prague 8 is simply my area.
I have been involved in municipal politics for 25 years. I was deputy mayor for a term, and I have also experienced the role of being in opposition. I think that my experience was decisive for those colleagues, who supported my bid to become mayor.
What roles are performed by the mayor?
It is only a slight exaggeration to say that the person sitting in the mayor’s chair is the one who “is to blame for everything”. At the same time, our system has also been set up so that the mayor is just one of the town councillors. Nevertheless, the roles are numerous, starting with that of a celebrant, through to the chairman of the town council or municipal board, and on to the social obligations – where the mayor officially represents the borough.
How do you clear your head after being subjected to the excessive criticism?
It isn’t always easy, but you can’t take the statements posted on social media too personally or think about them much. Doing that would not be good for anybody’s mental health. Luckily, I have a great family, and I owe a great deal of gratitude to my wife and daughter. I also still play football actively in the legendary Hanspaul league, which gives me a chance to clear my head. That is, if we don’t lose too badly. Unfortunately, there is not much (free) time now, but I am trying to have hobbies. As I already said, I like sports. I like traveling, especially behind the wheel of an Alfa Romeo, like I did to Nordkapp in Norway or the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey, for example. And I am also interested in history. History helps me in my political work too. When studying history, we can find answers to our current questions and problems – not for nothing is it said that those who do not learn from their history are doomed to re-live it again.
Can you share some of the impressions and experiences that you have collected during your five years of being mayor?
I was elected Mayor of Prague 8 in 2018. The COVID-19 crisis and the associated never-ending state of emergency, when society was subjected to great anxiety and uncertainty, broke out after a year and a bit. And just as that nightmare ended, the Russian aggression in Ukraine arrived on the scene. It was associated with a wave of refugees, and an incredible rise in energy costs. In addition, we naturally also dealt with the “everyday” problems in the borough. It can be said that there hasn’t been a moment’s peace during the five years to date. But we definitely should manage everything together.
What are the “everyday” problems of Prague 8?
The thing that troubles us most is the feeling of unsafety, especially in the environs of the metro stations. This problem is a never-ending struggle that can only be resolved through the development of the localities in question, and, of course, by also reinforcing the municipal police patrols. However, this cannot be achieved without cooperation from the leadership of the City of Prague. The second major problem in Prague is traffic, because we are sorely lacking ring-roads. However, this is also starting to be resolved thanks to Minister Kupka.
Can you share some of the plans you as mayor have for the coming years?
I don’t like making big plans because the term of office often ends before any long-term projects can be prepared. Then, they have to be completed by your successors. However, I will be pleased if people like living in Prague 8, we manage to build the new school on Rohan Island, security is improved, and Prague 8 becomes one of the greenest boroughs.
Imagine four years from now – will people of Prague 8 say that you were effective as mayor?
I guess I’ll find out at the next elections. I don’t know any other reliable way of ascertaining that. However, we still have three demanding years before us, and I haven’t yet decided if I intend to stand again.