“Politics is an art of compromise. A valuable piece of advice I once received, and have since had the chance to feel the truth of, is that we often cannot change things as quickly as we may wish,” admits Markéta Vaňková (ODS), Mayor of Brno.
You used to work as an attorney for some time. Have you learned anything that comes in handy now in your career as a politician and mayor? Do you have a “defense mechanism”?
People should be learning good habits and absorbing knowledge starting with their time in school already, those may even be the most valuable things in today's fast-paced time. Being prepared is important, as is knowing how to correctly set priorities and work in a team. That is the only way to go about solving things that impact the lives of almost 400 thousand citizens of Brno, or more precisely the 700 thousand people of our entire metropolitan area.
What was your motivation to become the mayor? What was your vision going into this position?
I wanted to help out my hometown. My ambition is and has been for Brno to not be a city of unrealistic visions and visualisations. Instead, I want it to present and then bring to life projects that have a real chance of coming to fruition, that function properly, and are needed. When I look back in time in ten or twenty years, I want to be able to see that we managed to implement things that work and have benefited the city and its people.
This vision was likely at least partially interrupted by the Covid pandemic. How has Brno managed?
The pandemic has definitely held back some projects, but it was a matter of – say – months. Even in the most difficult moments, we tried to work on non-Covid related issues, because we held true to the motto that the city's development must not stop. Likewise, especially when funds from taxes decreased last year, we were able to save on operations rather than divert money meant for investments. The same goes for this year's budget, which, in the end, is looking much better than we had predicted. In regards to how we managed Covid and the restrictions that came along with it, even now, looking back, I feel that all the important and necessary steps were taken in the right direction and at the right time, in some cases even earlier than the decision was made state-wide.
Under your “leadership” in Brno, ODS rules alongside KDU-ČSL, the Pirates, and ČSSD. Is it working?
That is something for the citizens to say. I appreciate any kind of feedback, that is why I invest a lot of my time into answering the emails they send me. I always try to explain everything calmly and comprehensively to people, and if there is an issue, I try to describe the reasons why it arose and how we plan to resolve it. Whether it is working could also be judged based on media appearances. Not too long ago, the previous administration made public all kinds of altercations and personal feuds. Nothing like that has happened since I have become mayor. Almost three years ago, we agreed on how our cooperation will work and we have stuck to that. The same goes for the staffing. The City Council is stable, deputies and councilmen have enough things to work on. I feel that this kind of continuity is important. It is working well if I dare say so myself, and we are able to agree on key issues and collectively introduce and implement them.
What have you managed to improve in Brno during your term?
What I consider to be key, is that we are working on realistic projects that we can actually implement. Let the example be our largest strategic project yet, which we will probably talk about some more, the multi-purpose arena with a capacity of up to 13 thousand people. The fact that Brno as well as the entire region needs an arena of this kind was pretty much generally agreed upon by all the different cities' administrators. What we were handed, though, was a plan that accounted for building a new velodrome, tearing down the current one, and building an arena in its place that would be very difficult to service (with the planned attendance rate). It was also unclear how long it would take to get all the required land in order to execute these operations. We found an area in the western part of the Brno Exhibition Grounds, where the transfer of ownership is easy to manage, and arranging transportation access will not be that complicated, nor does it require a huge amount of investment. And now, the building is approved for construction and has land clearance, the entire neighborhood is being revitalized, which means extending the tram line, building 1300 new parking spots and a cable car, and expanding a part of the greater city expressway. Before the construction of the arena itself starts next year, we should know who the operating entity will be, and the financing should be finalized, which we are successfully working towards. Another important thing for me is that we managed to put in effect a transparent policy between investors and the city of Brno. They have to consult their projects with us and they also take part in building the consequent public infrastructure, be it roads, or even kindergartens. This institutes a set of rules for large investors looking to operate in our city. I dare say that the outward communication of the city administration has also improved.
Now, where do you see issues instead?
There are certainly things that worry us too because they are hindering the city's development, new construction, and efficient use of certain areas. We are working on all of them, though. We would like to present a new zoning plan – the key step forward in this regard – to the Board of Representatives for approval roughly halfway through next year. We are on schedule, despite the pandemic drawbacks, which presented an issue when organizing public hearings. Anti-flooding measures are another important issue, they constitute expensive and time-consuming projects that we have managed to get started. The greater city expressway (another key piece of Brno's transportation infrastructure) is currently under continued construction, thanks to the excellent cooperation we have set up with the Road and Motorway Directorate, who is the main investor. Each new segment that gets finished makes the transportation in our city that much smoother.
A new train station is another big talking point in Brno. How is it looking?
The new Brno Main Train Station is a long-term project. The construction is expected to finish sometime between 2032 and 2035. The impact it has had on making use of large segments of land and the transportation in the city is huge, however. I am glad that an important milestone was reached in this project – the new train station will be built according to the design of the Dutch studio Benthem Crouwel Architects, who is behind the Rotterdam train station project as well as the reconstruction and finalization of the train station in Amsterdam. This choice of the board of experts, formed among others by architect Eva Jiřičná or city planner Peter Gero, has been ratified by the Brno city management as well as the Railway Administration.
As autumn approaches, so do the parliamentary elections. What should the ODS strive towards? What should it do for its voters?
We are a democratic party, so all of our members will decide what our goals will be. I myself feel that the values we started off with still apply today. The government should be lean and effective, give people as much freedom as possible and practice solidarity. It has to create conditions in which its citizens can find a place to live where they will be happy, have access to schools, social and healthcare services, work opportunities, as well as leisure activities, both in cities and the countryside. We must not forget our Euro-Atlantic ties, which provide us with prosperity, stability, and safety.
Besides your other job, you have perhaps the most wonderful one of all – you are a mother of two twin boys. How are you managing to balance the two? Does your husband help out?
The boys are quite grown-up already, they are in eight-year academy now. They are handling their school tasks well, of course, when schools closed down, we had to step in and help them out with some things. I was in charge of Czech, my husband did Maths. Besides that, we have to manage our household like any other family. My husband is very involved, I could never be the mayor without his support.
How was your summer this year?
I love spending vacations in Czechia, Šumava is my favorite place, and that is where we went this year as well. I like travelling farther too. I have the fondest memories of Australia, where I spent half a year studying, later coming back as a tourist – first with my husband, and then the entire family.
Do you do any sports?
I like running – it helps me relax, clear my head, and also get in shape for all sorts of fundraising running events, which I like to take part in. My husband sometimes manages to get the whole family out for a biking trip. Although sometimes – thanks to his adventurous nature – we end up hiking through the wilderness, the bikes actually weighing us down.
Markéta Vaňková, J.D., (born July 15, 1977, in Brno) graduated from the Faculty of Law at the Masaryk University, Brno.
After passing her bar examination in 2003, she worked in public, corporate, and administrative law as part of her law firm.
She took interest in the issues surrounding municipal administration, later entering public life in her hometown of Brno. She has been a representative of the biggest city district – Brno-Center – since 2002, in the 2006-2010 term she was a councilwoman, the following four years saw her as a full-time representative in charge of legislation and environmental issues.
Between 2006 and 2010 she was a member of the Board of Representatives of Brno, she also had success in the 2018 elections. She has been the Mayor of Brno since November 20, 2018.
She has been given autonomous authority over specific tasks by the Board of Representatives, ranging from finance and budgeting, marketing, tourism and international relations, internal and external auditing, civil distress and defense planning, all the way to public order.
Besides being a part of the administration of city-owned companies, she is also the Chair of the Executive Board of the Brno City and South Moravian Social Foundation.
Brno - a tourist city
“Last year has been a big success. This year's numbers are not available so far, but from what I hear, things should be about the same,” says the Mayor, and goes on to add, “We have expanded the offers that come with the Brnopas tourist card, which will allow you to get into the Tugendhat Villa, normally hopelessly sold out. We supported a number of festivals – Festival Uprostřed, or the Brno Music Marathon, last year we hosted the legend of open-air festivals brought back to life, TrutnOFF BrnoON 2021, this year we had a very progressive event called Pop Messe, as well as the Brno živě festival, the Brasil Fest has been quite popular too. A novelty of this year's season is the Play Brno augmented reality app. It introduces the most interesting sights to see and guides visitors and locals alike through the city center. It is meant mostly for families, but anyone who likes to play and wants to learn something new will enjoy it.”