Current Affairs Mayors of Prague, Moravian village swap jobs
It started as a dispute over the distribution of tax revenues. It ended up as a rather interesting sociological experiment. Mayors of small towns and villages have long complained that far too much tax-payers’ money ends up in the capital Prague, and far too little ends up in their own municipalities. So to see how the other half lives, the mayor of Prague and the mayor of Suchá Loz – a village in southeast Moravia – are swapping jobs.
Prague. City of a hundred spires. Historical seat of emperors and kings. Population: just over 1,200,000. Annual budget: something in the region of 50 billion Czech crowns, or roughly three billion U.S. dollars.
Suchá Loz. City of…four spires. Last made the news in 1663, when 50 people were killed by marauding Tatars. Population: 1,080. Annual budget: nine million Czech crowns, or just over 500,000 dollars.
Two very different municipalities, two mayors with two things in common: a curiosity about the other’s work, and an eye for a good publicity stunt. For the last three days, Prague mayor Pavel Bém has served as the honorary mayor of Suchá Loz. Mr Bém’s duties included inspecting the village septic tank, listening to suggestions for improving the plum harvest and disposing of a beaver that had been run over by a car. So how did he make out? The real mayor, Petr Gazdík, spoke to Radio Prague earlier by telephone.
“Mayor Bém would make a very good mayor of Suchá Loz, and let’s just say that I would be very happy indeed to hand over the keys to the village hall to someone like him. But I don’t think he’s ready to swap jobs, not just yet anyway.”
Mr Gazdík was speaking from a car on his way to Prague, where it will be his turn to take the reins of the capital for a week. His busy schedule will include two hours watching Prague ambulance crews at work, attending a demonstration against the closure of Masaryk train station, launching a new book on Wenceslas Square, opening a new exhibition of photographs, and going to the Slavia-Fiorentina football match. And that’s just part of his schedule for Wednesday.
“I’ve got a very busy week ahead. Mayor Bém wants to show me just how Prague works, how it’s organised, and the problems facing the city. Running the city of Prague is obviously very different from running a village like Suchá Loz, but they’ve also got a lot of things in common, so I think it’s going to be a very useful experience and some of that experience might prove useful when I return to the village.”
The idea to swap jobs originated last year, during a debate over Prague’s Olympic bid and the allocation of tax revenue to small municipalities. There was particular anger at data which suggested Prague received six and a half times more per capita in revenue than Suchá Loz. Mayor Bém tried to point out during his three-day term of office there that this was partly because Prague was not only a city but also a self-governing region, as well as the home of several national institutions.
From local media reports it seems Mr Bém – despite receiving a warm welcome – failed to change many minds in the village, even after plying them with barrels of Staropramen beer. Who knows – maybe Petr Gazdík will have more luck with bottles of Moravian plum brandy in Prague.