Chasing down Miroslav Matějka is no mean feat. When I called him in the morning, he was at a construction site, in the afternoon, he was at a local council of the ODS. Despite his company specializing in structural analysis and building dynamics and him also being in the restaurant business, we got to talking about many other topics.
I tried to reach you the whole day to no avail. Is that how your day usually goes?
Pretty much, yes. [laughs] I do a lot of work for other people because there are just not enough of them. Not enough anywhere, so even suppliers are having a tough time meeting deadlines, and so on.
You work in construction, but also in the restaurant business...
And we are short on people at construction sites and in restaurants. What is more, their productivity and mental wellbeing have declined in these strange times. People have changed their habits and needs, they only handle things through their phone or email, they have stopped meeting in person. And while some may have welcomed the opportunity of working from home, others see it as a burden. They were forced to create their own office space at home, often having to work around their children who are studying remotely, which can lead to cabin fever, marital disputes, and more. We, business owners and managers, have to keep much more in contact with people, take interest in them. Which takes up a lot of time that could otherwise be used to grow the business. I see it all around me, people are down, tired, overloaded. And on top of that, all of these restrictions, often so absurd as to have the opposite effect. Bars close down at 10 pm and thirty people crowd into an Airbnb rental so they can keep partying until the morning.
So the government should ease off the restrictions instead?
A change in the way they communicate with people should come first. They hardly ever get a reasonable interpretation of what the government is doing. Even lawyers have a tough time understanding what the exact rules and conditions are, what are the potential penalties, and so on. Official communication is in such a state that government publishes a decision that contradicts the one they have put out a week earlier and that's that. Their statements should be made with the people in mind, provide more background. With the way things are, people have gone numb, they often do not even react to some things. Hand in hand with communication goes the disruptive nature of these measures. There is no way to plan ahead, no way to set a strategy for the coming months because we have no idea whether the things that stand today will hold true tomorrow. While the calmer summer months were such a good opportunity to come up with something – if this or that happens, we will implement this or that measure – and then stick to it to give the people at least a semblance of certainty. Just look at those ridiculous work restrictions. What can be done indoors will be banned outdoors. We have the clients, the means to follow all sorts of restrictions about distancing and disinfecting, but we are not allowed to work. When we are forced to close down at ten, the last calls come in at around nine. Try telling an electrician that he is not allowed to fix people's sockets from a certain hour onwards! There is no money to be made, you are just stuck waiting for the next stimulus from the government, not even knowing how much it will be. And even that had a simple solution – EET (Electronic Sales Records). If you have paid your taxes, you get your due. If you have not, you get nothing.
How are you, a member of the ODS, in favor of the EET?
I am not. I merely mentioned it as a tool to help with the current situation. Originally, it was a “let's get those business owners” kind of thing. Of course, they did not get anyone, it just added another mindless administrative burden. Stimulus? Seventy percent of your EET revenue. Done. Sadly, it was not to be.
Do you feel that the time has come to accept Covid as just another illness?
It is not something I would downplay. Vaccines are the way forward and we will not be rid of the virus unless we find a cure. But it should be more about the people, finding and protecting the endangered parts of the population. And give the others space to function normally. Sure, let's implement regulations to be followed. But there needs to be a system. If the government says I cannot work but gives me compensation in a matter of days, I will keep my mouth shut. But we waited months before the money came back around, which is a cash flow disaster. So I will repeat my mantra: systems and communication. And stop sowing panic. We can see how things are working right now: We are allowed, with some restrictions, to organize events, but people and companies are cancelling them because they have no idea what new restrictions that apply from the next morning the government will come out with the evening before.
The new government led by a member of your party is just around the corner...
I will admit to having felt a little skeptical prior to meeting Mr. Fiala, his rhetoric is a bit different, he is a professor after all. A lot of people are having trouble believing that he, as a professor, can grasp why grapes will not grow, for instance. Seeing him as just a professor with a bowtie in political debates, locked away in his little university world, and then meeting him in person, it just brings things to another level. Kind of a parallel to what I mentioned before – talking to someone over text or email, and then meeting them for lunch. Those are completely different ways of meeting someone. By the way, meeting with him energized me and convinced me that he has a very good grasp on real life despite having to follow the rules of the state apparatus.
I went to meet you, thinking we would be talking about how things are in the construction or restaurant business, but here I am feeling like I am talking to a politician. Do you have any political ambitions?
I do... [laughs] I feel that politics, be it local or high, has lost touch with reality. Even the ODS would once have admitted that it was labelled as a bit of an entrepreneurial undertaking due to some issues that have now been solved with Mr. Fiala, and it would focus on other groups than entrepreneurs because of that. But they are a substantial voter base that needs our help. Clearly outlined help, coming through official channels so they can see that the politicians have taken an interest and are aware of their issues. The worst is the kind of “interest” when some muppet comes along, takes a picture with you, and says that times are tough and you are in their thoughts, only to later add that there is nothing they can do to help you.
You are on the ODS local council in Prague 2, so you are active in politics so to speak...
But I am not an official. I attend meetings, discuss things, try to learn from all that politicking. Of course, there are plenty of things that are new to me. I understand that the state apparatus is limited when it comes to making decisions, be they time or legal constraints. The often sad reality is that a politician may even want to get something done but before it goes through the whole administrative process and is implemented, the issue he was trying to solve is long gone. I firmly believe that especially in a state of emergency there are ways how to help the people. However, many politicians are so far removed from real life that these ways do not even occur to them – ways like helping entrepreneurs transfer goods that are useless to them somewhere else. People end up helping each other out by bartering and in the end, they have no need for politicians. The “common folk” will start doing things their way and simply ignore any kind of restrictions or regulations.
What does Prague 2 mean to you? Are you a patriot?
Yes. I have lived here my whole life so I know how things have been throughout the years. What is wonderful is that people are still maintaining good relationships with their neighbors. You are just walking down the street and saying hi to people who have owned stores there for many years. You drop something when getting out of the car and you get a call from the shop across the street telling you to come pick it up the next day. They know you, they know who it belongs to. It is a wonderful wholesome feeling. People say that Prague is impersonal and cold, but Prague 2, and specifically Vinohrady, is just not that way. There are events for seniors and all sorts of people, the Two just works, it is a good place. The City Hall is another matter, though.
It is a sad story that has been dragging on for many years. I am still at odds with the fact that the City Hall (and so Prague as a whole) is led by someone who was not born here. The last native who also grew up in Prague and later led the city was Bohuslav Svoboda, which was ten years ago now. I have lived here my whole life and I can see how the roads, pavements, and houses change, I drive through Prague every day, I can see where its bottlenecks are. I live a normal life of a normal Praguer. How can someone who is not from Prague understand that? Whether the politicians like it or not, Prague is a state within a state, it has its quirks. Have you ever had to drive a truck around the Ring? You would see what all those traffic cones in the middle of roads or car lanes turned into bike lanes do to traffic. Try counting how many cyclists you will actually see going through Prague. Being ecological? Cars all stack up into one lane, meaning they take much longer to get going. Or they put a swath of grass between tram railways to make it look nicer and feel more “green” (and save some money too I suppose). But an ambulance will not be able to get through there, and seeing as there is only one car lane it will be stuck in traffic. What is happening around Prague slowly but surely is not an increase in the number of cars, but rather targeted sabotage of driving. Of course, drivers pull up on crosswalks or other places they shouldn't every day. But implementing measures that bully everyone involved is not the right solution. It all comes back to being in touch with reality and seeing how things are connected. If I come up with an idea sitting behind my desk, I need to make sure it works in practice. That should be a priority: knowing and caring about the everyday lives of the people of Prague. Not boosting your ego by seeing yourself mentioned in the news for doing or saying something that ultimately has nothing to do with Prague.
If you get into politics, will you not also lose touch with reality over time?
That is the correct and relevant question. I would do everything in my power for that to not happen. I would still take part in my business, even if only by proxy. Being grounded in reality is key for a politician. I do not mean that a minister should take the tram or go through the aforementioned truck drive around the Ring. But they should have an advisor that can get them grounded. The question is if they are willing to listen.
Miroslav Matějka, M.sc. (born January 11, in Prague) is the owner of MATĚJKA Engineering s.r.o., Asiatika s.r.o., Belgrill s.r.o., and co-owner of Mánes group a.s.
He graduated from the Faculty of Civil Engineering at Czech Technical University Prague. Besides his work, he was active in tennis, he has a coaching license and long-term coaching experience.
He has also taken an interest in the arts, he was involved in organizing the shows of several prominent Japanese artists in Prague and Pilsen, as well as a Japanese art show in Turnov.
Together with the Japanese scientist Jakub Zeman, he is the author of the Bushido project, which seeks to promote Japanese culture in the Czech Republic. The main goal is education, publishing books and other publications and organizing cultural events.
He is single, he has a daughter, Aneta (6). He likes sports, asian culture, and gastronomy.
My talk with Miroslav Matějka was rather serious, bordering on gloomy. Is there anything that brings him joy during these trying times? “My daughter... [laughs] But you know what, I spoke to a colleague of mine and he said, 'I lost a lot of money due to a bad decision, I will have to scrape by during winter, but the sun is out, the snow is fresh on the roads, and we are healthy. We will not get out of this by being negative.' I agree wholeheartedly. You need to be at least a little optimistic and find joy in the little things, no matter how mundane they may seem.”
With daughter Aneta.
He has been ennobled by Pretender of the Georgian throne, Prince David Bagration and nominated for the Order of St. Michael, to be bestowed upon him in January 2022. "I am deeply grateful for the nobilitation by Prince Bagration. Who is, by the way, the direct descendant of the famous general, Peter Bagration (1765 – 1812), whom Napoleon held in great regard, and who appears in Tolstoy's novel, War and Peace. It is with great joy and gratitude that I accepted the title of baron from the Royal House of Bagration, granted based on my long-term extracurricular cultural and charitable activities, which I plan to continue going forward."