Interviews

Milan Volf: We have changed the image of Kladno

Published: 30. 6. 2022
Author: Karel Černý
Photo: Photo archives of Milan Volf
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He was born in Kladno, has lived his whole life in Kladno, and it is unlikely that he will want to be buried anywhere else than in Kladno. Mayor Milan Volf is a Kladno native through and through. Which is definitely a good thing for the city.

Kladno used to be known for the Poldi iron works, which collapsed in the mid-90s following its privatization by Vladimír Stehlík. That must have been a big blow for Kladno...

Besides the advent of Poldi, there was another big blow, the decommissioning of the mines. Poldi Kladno employed 6000 people, we were lucky that a lot of them found work in Prague due to its proximity, specifically the airport, which is just a stone's throw away. Kladno transformed naturally, albeit with some significant growing pains, from an industrial mining town. This change had the biggest impact on older, essential workers 50 years and up who worked in the heavy industry. Following the Revolution, a lot of people started their own businesses, there was a lot of requalification going on. The heavy industry gradually transformed into light industry, and refined manufacturing facilities started appearing. The city is now full of vegetation, it has one of the most beautiful sporting grounds surrounded by forests. The image of Kladno as a dirty, coruscating mining town is long, long gone.

You have been either district mayor or mayor several times. What is your biggest success and, conversely, what was a vision that did not come to fruition?

All of the important things I and my colleagues wanted to build have become reality. We have changed the image of Kladno. You should never do such a thing for personal reasons, it has to come from your love for a city that is close to your heart. I am very lucky to have amazing people around me who help me be creative. What makes me truly happy is the theater, for instance. I feel that it can compete with the best in the country. And it is something we achieved, paradoxically, by not interfering with the theater's operations on a professional level at all. We simply reconstructed the theater building, staffed it with quality people, and created the necessary conditions for them to be able to work. I feel very lucky for my regular meetings with the theater's current management, which have been going on for almost 20 years now. And I have to say, it is a real joy having Jan Krafka as the executive director and Jaroslav Slánský as the creative director.

Conversely, what went wrong was my inability to win the war against recidivist citizens in a way that we wouldn't have to hear about them anymore, despite the significant blows I have dealt them. I will never understand those people. And what vision never came to fruition? I am a conscientious person, I was formerly a member of ODS. Later on, I thought that my new right-wing party Volba pro Kladno (Choice for Kladno) would be able to align its views with parties such as ODS or TOP 09, which would ultimately give us more power to shape the city. This never happened, unfortunately, I never managed to make them understand and accept my vision and put it above their personal interests and greed. To achieve our plans, we had to win the election in a big way. In this regard, I sometimes have to be a little rough because I have a tough time dealing with the stupidity of certain people. That is a long-term issue I am dealing with internally. Allow me a quote from Jan Werich, "You cannot explain to a stupid man his stupidity." At my age, I have come to understand that there is nothing I can do about it though, it is just a part of life that you have to deal with.

What does the ideal version of Kladno look like in your mind? Where does it now come close to this ideal version and what parts are lacking instead?

The ideal version would be the one where everything is complete, including roads and utility networks, where you only worry about operating expenses and making the city more beautiful. Then you are just maintaining and improving the city. That is a vision every mayor should pursue even though it is something that can never be truly attained. The groundworks need to be laid because the significant sources of finances in larger cities like Kladno come from more than just taxes. We have our own income, which is the added value that determines where we invest and how the city develops. This income will dry up one day, however; there isn't an endless amount of land to sell or apartments to privatize. And the city has to be properly developed when that time comes. When I first became mayor in 1998, Kladno's budget was CZK 800 million, now it is 2.6 billion. Year after year, we were able to put together a bigger budget, which gave us more and more opportunities. For this to work, you also need good people with expertise who you can trust and who aren't just looking for a cushy job. As an example, I might mention my long-term friend and expert, Přemysl Mužík, who takes care of the fiscal side of things. I would go as far as to say that he could work as a minister of finance and do a much better job of it than the current one.

Municipal elections are coming up in September. Are there any projects underway that should keep going no matter the party that wins in Kladno?

That is exactly how it should be. But sadly it isn't. In the last election, we won by a significant margin of 35 percent of votes to ODS' 20. That is a party that would do anything to get into power. And so, it joined together with an incredible political hodgepodge to oppose our winning party and started tearing down every good and working thing at City Hall. The immaculately run Kladno theater I mentioned earlier was something the Kladno ODS was happy to tear down at a moment's notice and it almost succeeded. While today, it pretends like none of it happened. Halfway through the election term, the coalition comprising almost every political party under ODS leadership turned out to be completely useless. In the wake of that fiasco, I returned back as mayor and started working hard on putting back together what I could.

Did you ever regret getting into politics? Especially in the first decade of this millennium when you ended up getting arrested and it took five years for you to get acquitted.

I never wanted to do politics but I do not regret it. I enjoy what I do and find it fulfilling. I do not really see myself as a politician, whom I actually kind of dislike, but more of a "pragmatician." As for my experience with being unlawfully prosecuted, the Kladno ODS played a dirty trick on me so I had to go through a trial that lasted five long years. I won, but it was degradation absolute. There would have been no way out if I was not a warrior who never gives up. It is impossible to explain the situation on an emotional level but justice had been blinded for far too long. "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger," they say. I came back with a completely different outlook, approach, and wealth of experience.

You have extensive experience in municipal politics. How does the collaboration between the state, the regions, and the cities or municipalities work? Are the processes and jurisdictions set up properly?

I would rephrase that question. It is not about the institutions, it is about the people. The current administration of the Central Bohemian Region, for instance, is planning to take money from cities and municipalities because it does not know how to get it from the state. The only knowledgeable person who was in the administration was Mr. Věslav Michalík who sadly suffered a premature death just recently. There is no way that people who have experience with managing a municipality with a thousand inhabitants can lead the region. The reach is completely different and the disparity between the position of the mayor of Úvaly and a regional councillor, for instance, is disproportionate. Former regional president, Petr Bendl, who was also minister of transportation at the time and previously mayor of Kladno, was a completely different personality compared to the current administration. The region needs to realize that it is in no way the city's superior authority. I might be too harsh and direct in the way I say this but if I have ever said that the current Central Bohemian Region administration is the worst I have laid my eyes on in twenty years, then I will gladly repeat it. There are so many conflicting parties that it can never work. Let's say that each side puts forth a proposal and let's compare them to colors. When they run in the election as a coalition or a grouping, the colors mix together in one big cocktail, which not only does not end well but tastes horrible too. As for the current government, I have probably never seen a more bland cabinet of ministers. And if the government's biggest success is the prime minister's visit to Ukraine, then that might be worth thinking about.

You will turn sixty next year in April. Any birthday wishes?

I would like to enjoy a vacation somewhere together with my three sons.

CV BOX

Milan Volf (born April 20, 1963, in Kladno) is the mayor of Kladno, chairman of the Volba pro Kladno party, and former hockey striker.

He graduated in education and coaching from the Faculty of Physical Education and Sport at Charles University in Prague.

When he was in the ODS, he was elected mayor of Kladno, a position he was in for six years. In 2004, he was arrested on charges of abuse of authority and malfeasance in public office, and he resigned as mayor. He was acquitted following a trial that lasted five years.

In 2010, he left ODS and founded the Volba pro Kladno party. He was a district mayor and then mayor of Kladno from 1998 to 2004, 2014 to 2018, and then once again since 2020.

He is married and has three sons. His father is the former Czechoslovak national hockey team player and hockey coach, Jaroslav Volf.

Wall of fame

In parallel to the reconstruction of the hockey arena, Kladno is working on an extensive refurbishment of the area surrounding the Sletiště sports facility and the grounds of the Aquapark. There should also be a wall of fame... "It's true," confirms Milan Volf. "There will be a beautiful public space built in front of Sletiště and the Aquapark, the meaning and functionality of the whole space will change entirely. We are building a roundabout at the nearby junction, which will dramatically improve traffic. The wall of fame is a sort of cherry on top, we have been working on it with great diligence for almost a year and a half. It will be a unique cross-section of sports history in Kladno showing the city's most prominent athletes on a local, national, and global level. I must admit that it is that much nicer knowing that my father will be on it. Nonetheless, we have many other ongoing investments in the development of the city. Key transportation nodes are being worked on, the Kročehlavy district will have a unique traffic solution with a double roundabout. There will be major improvements in the safety and flow of traffic, and transit through the city will be much easier, safer, and more comfortable thanks to these adjustments."

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