“A WOMAN looks at politics WITH DIFFERENT EYES”
Petra Pecková is a Czech politician, journalist and publicist. During the years 1996 – 2012, she devoted herself to investigative journalism. From the year 2010, she was first the representative and First Deputy Mayor of the town of Mnichovice, becoming Mayor in 2014. In the autumn regional elections in 2020, she was elected as a representative of the Central Bohemian Region, as the leader of the common candidate of STAN (Mayors and Independents), KDU-ČSL (Christian and Democratic Union – Czechoslovak Popular Party) and SNK-ED (SNK-European Democrats). On 16 Nov 2020, she was elected Governor of the Central Bohemian Region. In that function, she replaced the controversial Jaroslava Pokorná Jermanová of the ANO 2011 (Action of Dissatisfied Citizens) movement. Governor Petra Pecková has been working in politics for the last five years as a registered supporter of the STAN movement.
Petra Pecková has two children. In her free time, she devotes herself to her children, travel, golf and diving – generally, an active life. However, it’s work that energises her the most. I follow the Governor on social networks. I appreciate her sense of openness and transparency, combined with humaneness and pragmatism. And I admire her energy.
I was very happy that this interview could take place in person. I met with the Governor in the imposing seat of the Central Bohemian Region’s Regional Office, which is located on Zborovská Street in Prague. The office itself employs 700 people. The Governor returned for the interview from Říčany, where she commenced preparatory works for the construction of a large-capacity vaccination centre. The state’s dysfunctional conceptual management system affected regions not only in terms of funding, but also specifically in connection with the organisation of the vaccination against Covid-19.
The Central Bohemian Region is the largest and most populous region in the republic. At the same time, it’s the only region that doesn’t have a capital. As its new Governor, how does she perceive the regional policy’s specifics? What opportunities does the Central Bohemian Region offer? What surprises her about the policy, even after ten years? Don’t expect the question of reconciling work and family life, which we both consider discriminatory. However, you’ll find a few personally tried-and-tested tips on how to work energetically. And the Governor’s concluding appeal made me very happy; I hope other women readers will also find it inspirational.
Governor, contrary to tradition I’ll dive in at the deep end. What’s it like to create a regional policy in the context of a dysfunctional nationwide policy?
I always try to create a policy for the people, regardless of where I’m currently working. Of course, as Mayor, I’m closer to the people than as Governor. But I still perceive that closeness, and the main part of my work is to transform the opportunities we have in the region into concrete tangible results which bring people real benefit. Therefore, through me, not just the state’s but also the local government’s ideas reach the people. My priority isn’t to blindly adhere to what the state orders, but the usefulness of the idea itself. And sometimes even at the cost of a small revolt. Of course, I always obey the law, but when something doesn’t make sense, I’ll go against it. Then I try to explain to the state representatives that their steps aren’t good. For example, that was the case when municipalities lost a large part of their funding due to a compensatory allowance for self-employed persons, with this funding to be replaced by subsidies. This step made no sense. I’m happy that we managed to push through a system together whereby municipalities receive compensation according to the number of permanently registered inhabitants. I find similar illogicalities in many laws, so I try to draw attention to these cases as well. For me, politics is about having a concrete positive impact on people.
Although I strive for timeless interviews, the current chaos in connection with the vaccination cannot be avoided. A dysfunctional state administration is simultaneously a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because it shows us how effective regional self-government is. A curse in that, figuratively speaking, you’re aiming at a moving target.
Yes, so I’m trying to simplify this chaos as much as possible, and communicate so that people have basic information that they’ll understand. From the state’s side, there are only constant changes, so we have no room left for any kind of conceptual phase – we only engage in crisis management. We can’t make decisions on the basis of inputs and data, or plan for the long term. We resolve matters ad hoc.
People can see what local government does for them. The first wave of the pandemic showed it. It was local government which managed to organise the sewing of masks, and the purchasing and distribution of disinfectants. I was working on it when I was still in the position of Mayor of Mnichovice. Now, however, the times have changed. Everyone is interested primarily in vaccination. And we, as the local government, can ensure only that the vaccine is injected into the citizen’s arm as part of the most rational process possible. We cannot influence more than that. We might be able to influence the distance they’ll have to travel to get vaccinated whether someone will help them with the registration, and whether they’ll have information. We can’t influence the number of doses, or the delivery time. If we could influence these, the situation would certainly look different.
Let’s now move on to the timeless and more strategic issues. What opportunities and challenges do you perceive most acutely in the Central Bohemian Region?
The Central Bohemian Region has a real chance to become the wealthiest region in the Czech Republic. We have great potential here for science and research – instead of an assembly plant, we’d like to become a brain. Major employers, such as Škoda Auto, are based in the region. At the same time, there’s hidden potential here in the area of the so-called STAR (Science and Technology Advanced Region, which includes the municipalities of Dolní Břežany, Vestec and Zlatníky-Hodkovice).
We have companies here such as Biocev, ELI Beamlines and HiLASE, i.e. clusters engaged in top science and applied research. The Czech Technical University in Prague’s UCEEB (University Centre of Energy-Efficient Buildings), which is based in Buštěhrad, will even represent us at EXPO Dubai. So we have the potential to become a location where science and research will thrive. However, it’s a longdistance race – in four years, we can only start the changes, not change things completely.
Personally, I’m convinced that starting changes must begin with education. And by that I mean primary education, which however is established not by the Central Bohemian Region, but by individual municipalities. I’d like the region to motivate, help and support them, so that even primary schools have a quality content. And fundamental change must also take place in secondary schools, of which the region is the founder. Unfortunately, according to the Czech School Inspectorate, the secondary schools in our region are, on average, in the third worst place in the country. We’d like to improve their quality, while at the same time also fundamentally influence their curricular structure, collaborate with future employers and scientific institutions, purchase quality teaching aids and facilities, and work with principals.
We also strive to ensure that the Central Bohemian Region is not only rich and interesting in the vicinity of Prague; people should have jobs and good living conditions even on our region’s so-called outer periphery, for example in the Rakovník District. There, too, we must be able to offer job opportunities, extracurricular activities, living facilities and quality schools.
You’ve led our interview towards the next question I wanted to ask. What relationship does the Central Bohemian Region have with Prague?
Until recently, relations between the two regions were at a freezing point. I heard that talks often ended at the moment when the two sides began to blame each other – “you come to Prague for work, and you fill our city with private cars” or “you live in our region but you’re registered in Prague, so fees from the state within the budgetary determination of taxes also go to Prague, not to municipalities in the Central Bohemian Region”. I believe that we’re now on the cusp of a new era of collaboration. Both regions’ existing leaderships are in harmony, both humanly and in terms of value. I’m fundamentally convinced that Prague and Central Bohemia represent connected vessels. Services for citizens must be interconnected. I can see that Prague can’t do without Central Bohemia, just like Central Bohemia can’t do without the opportunities that Prague provides. We’ve also already established collaboration on a formal level, and we had the first joint meetings of both regions’ councils. Individual councillors communicate with each other about agendas which we should address together. Specifically, this relates to transport; our aim is to have a single public transport organiser for Prague and Central Bohemia. Other areas, including IT, digitization and modern technologies, are not only topics which fall under my gestion but also topics which both regions must address. Also on offer is the afore-mentioned school system and education, as well as collaboration within the scope of science and research. There are many areas for collaboration, and I think it will be a success.
Let’s imagine that we can travel abroad again. Where do you see opportunities for foreign collaboration and inspiration?
Foreign collaboration falls directly under my gestion. Immediately after my arrival, I met with the Ambassador of Slovakia, Mr. Rastislav Káčer. I’m interested in establishing close collaboration, not only with the Ambassador but also with Mr. Juraj Droba, Chairman of the Bratislava autonomous region. After all, in Slovakia we see a similar phenomenon as in our country. Bratislava is surrounded by the Bratislava Region. I think that we can draw inspiration here regarding the afore-mentioned digitisation, transparency and openness of the given region. I also met with a representative of Qatar, and we discussed investment opportunities for Qatar in our country. Collaboration will certainly be established in connection with EXPO Dubai, at which the afore-mentioned UCEEB from Buštěhrad will be exhibiting. With Yevgen Perebyinis, Ambassador of Ukraine, we’re planning collaboration connected not only with Central Bohemian companies’ business activities in Ukraine, but also stays for orphans who lost their parents in the war, and rehabilitative stays for war veterans. And, last but not least, collaboration was established among the so-called Four Agreements countries, which together with the Czech Republic consist of Poland, France and Germany. It’s taking place in many areas, but the pandemic really reduced certain activities, for example those relating to congress tourism.
Personally, I’d like to establish collaboration with cities and regions which have the same concept as Prague and the Central Bohemian Region. Specifically, therefore, apart from Bratislava and the afore-mentioned Bratislava Region, I’m interested in partnerships with Vienna and Lower Austria, as well as Berlin and Brandenburg.
What do you find most difficult about politics?
I’ll tell you what I find most difficult about being Governor of the Central Bohemian Region. I constantly have to explain to someone that I’m normal… (laughs). I have to explain that I don’t need to drive around in several cars, I don’t need preferential vaccination, and I don’t even need money for a makeover. And I don’t give any favourable positions to my friends. I really think that’s crazy. I constantly have to defend something that nobody in other regions is interested in, because the Central Bohemian Region’s good reputation has suffered longterm damage. Maybe it never had one in the first place. To change this perception will take a lot of work. That’s why I no longer want to comment on the previous leadership. I want to move forward and create values that make sense; I want to leave a positive footprint behind me. Let the law enforcement authorities deal with my predecessors’ history, if there’s a reason for it.
How do you work energetically?
I’m a person who’s energized by work, and in particular big challenges, so I can ride a certain wave of adrenalin. I’m conscious of the fact that it’s not sustainable in the long term. The worst situation occurs when my children leave in the summer, for example for a training camp, my friends are on vacation and I should sit in peace on the terrace and read a book. Then I put on hiking boots or trainers, and run up Sněžka mountain. I work with a coach, with whom I focus on my personal development. I learn to keep my evenings free from time to time, and when I leave the office before 6.00 pm, I take note of it. It doesn’t happen very often. I also work energetically when I’m running. I run by myself, so that I have space for my thoughts, or on the contrary with friends or my children, in which case we chat while we run. We organised regular meetings with the Deputy Mayor by her riding a scooter and me running next to her. And when the weather improves, we’ll definitely get back to it!
I started playing golf. I discovered how calm I have to be, and think only of the game, so that I play at least somewhat decently. But I only make evening games – “sunset tee time” – which is only possible in the summer. And I’ve been diving for a year. When I’m diving, I realise how much I need to concentrate and be aware of myself and every movement. If a person makes a mistake, it can cost them their life. When a person is nervous, they immediately consume more oxygen and work poorly with their body and balance. When a person is aligned with themselves, everything happens easily. And what’s more, when I’m underwater, my phone doesn’t constantly ring!
I’m curious about what you have to say in conclusion…
I’d like to encourage women to go into politics. A woman looks at politics with completely different eyes, and can break down deep-rooted myths and boundaries. At the same time, female and male energy can complement each other well, and be beneficial for both parties. I think people don’t want to just watch politicians arguing with each other anymore. People want peace, harmony and a functional system now. More than thirty years after the Velvet Revolution, they deserve it, and women may have the opportunity to help in that regard.
By Linda Štucbartová
Photo By: Lenka Hatašová