Written by: Monika Mudranincová
Photo: Jana Labuťová
In the nineties, Jan Koukal (52) was one of the most influential men in local politics, serving longer than anyone to date as the Lord Mayor of Prague. This long-standing member of the ODS party ran Prague from 1993 to 1998, and then, after two years in the Senate, he departed from the main political stage. He now divides his time between Pražská plynárenská, where he chairs the board of directors, and his family’s business firm. In addition, he is striving to be named chief of Prague House in Brussels.
HE WAS NAMED Lord Mayor after a fifteen-year career as a scientist. He achieved the position of chairman of the scientific council of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences Institute of Physics, but after the regime change he couldn’t resist the attraction of politics and started his career in that field, first as a Prague councilman, later becoming the City Hall boss. As Lord Mayor, Koukal received varying marks – some said his reign was one of pandering to clients, while others stress his vigor in pressing the war on criminality and the scandalous practices of taxi drivers. He himself describes the situation of that time as a complex period in Prague’s transformation from post-communism to an entirely new system. He thinks he did well, although he acknowledges that the best choices were not always made. “I think we were overly ambitious and hasty, perhaps forgetting about communicating with the public,” he explains. He often neglected his media image, especially in connection with the První městská banka affair, when it collapsed under debts of many millions of crowns, but also with respect to his membership in several supervisory boards.
From 1996 to 1998 he served as a senator, but he wasn’t reelected. Since 2002 he has been the chairman of the board of Pražská plynárenská, but his main source of income comes from his family firm, Katres, which focuses on chemicals and the sale of engineering equipment. Katres has 80 employees and enjoys annual sales of around CZK 250 million, and Koukal is the financial director. There has recently been talk of his appointment to director of Prague House in Brussels. His appointment was supposed to be announced by the end of February, but it was not officially confirmed before this issue’s deadline. He says that if selected he would leave his position in Pražská plynárenská and cut down on his work for Katres. He wouldn’t take his wife or his three daughters to Brussels, but says that he would visit them as often as his job allowed.