Juraj fits in three of the Youropean-categories. His most time-consuming activity is being an entrepreneur; he owns an architectural company in the city, Compass. But in his spare time Juraj is the lead singer of Korben Dallas, a popular rock band, which has given him the status of artist, but also made him a local celebrity. ‘But I’ve only been recognized on the street since about three years; our latest album was the breakthrough. Since then I have been in the media and in the tabloids more often. Everything happened really fast, so I don’t know if this is going to affect me somehow in the long term, but right now I don’t mind it that much.’
Although music is a very big part of his life, he spends most of his time being an architect. ‘Because that’s what I do for a living. I’ve studied architecture and I spend about eight hours a day on it. If I spent all that time on my music, I would certainly be a better musician by now,’ he laughs.
What’s the building your most proud of?
‘We have one big project in the south of Bratislava, where we are building new houses. We’ve designed 72 family homes and 200 apartments. In the second phase of the project there will be another 600 apartments, so that means that we have given 7,000 people a home. And we do all the work, because it’s not uncommon to generalize here in Bratislava. We do everything from urbanism to interior work. The market is so small that we can’t afford to specialize; we have to do everything.’
I can imagine that’s nice for a guy like you, because you have so many interests.
‘Yes, that’s true. Although I like working on the bigger projects, the urban developments, the most. It’s more complex in its connection to society and it has everything: design, quality and economics. Ideology is also a part of it, because I have a vision about how people should live. It’s interesting that it affects a lot of people. Everything that’s going on in a society is reflected in those bigger buildings.’
Compass consists of about 11 people right? Three architects and 11 supporting staff. Is that big enough or do you have an ambition to grow?
‘I’m too busy to think about that right now. I have my music, a family and a little baby and I’m building my own house. So these days it’s about surviving. When I the busy years behind me, I might consider expanding the company. Right now we’re working on a project in Prague, and that’s a new market. We would like to spend the next couple of years doing something nice in that city, but it’s my vision to make something beautiful out of this town as well.’
What’s it like to be an entrepreneur in Slovakia?
‘It depends on your work area, but in general I would say that there isn’t a lot of competition regarding entrepreneurs in Slovakia. If you’re smart and you’re willing to work really hard, and you travel or have studied abroad, then you’re probably going to be quite successful. The only problem is that you have to find out everything on your own. The government or some other institute won’t help you. Although I believe that the economy isn’t too difficult and there are many possibilities, because we don’t have everything yet. There are plenty of things that you can bring to the country.’
You’re 34, so you were 9 or 10 years old when change came to Eastern Europe. Do you still remember how it was before that time?
‘Yes I can, and I’ve heard a lot from family members. My mother is an entrepreneur. She used to be a doctor, but right after the changes she started working at Glaxo Smith Kline, the huge pharmacy company. My father continued to be a doctor and they both became pretty successful after the change. I don’t have many friends or family who are very sentimental about the years before, because it got better for them. There will always be problems, but the problems are different these days. We worry about health and food and stuff.’
The Slovakians in general; are they optimistic?
‘No. Of course there are always people who are, like me, but in general I wouldn’t say we’re very optimistic. You will notice that you won’t get a lot of smiles or hospitality.’
How about your music? Does it help to make the people smile?
‘I think our music consists of really powerful songs with all the emotions in it.’
What is your message?
‘It varies, but in general it’s about what it feels like to be us. So it’s about expectations, establishments, being this age and parenting. It’s not really special, just our feelings.’
We talked about your entrepreneurship, but what’s it like to be an artist in Slovakia?
‘It’s definitely not easy to make a living out of it. My income isn’t coming from the music yet, right now it’s still my job as an architect that pays the bills. It would be possible to live from the music, but then we would have to perform twice as much and it isn’t possible to combine that with the other jobs, so we would have to quit and our lives would be very different. The music industry in Slovakia is totally detached from any government or public money. Most of our gigs and how we make money is directed by fans. We play at venues that aren’t supported by public money.’
How about culture in general? Is it important in Slovakia?
‘There is some room for improvement in that area. I’m quite liberal and I actually don’t believe that the government in Slovakia is going to be the force behind the transformation of our culture or our view of culture. I think it’s going to be the private entrepreneurs in the cultural area who will make a change. The people who have knowledge about culture and know how it works and how it should be managed are turning their backs on the government the government. I don’t think musicians should ask for government money, because it is way better in my opinion to get the money from the people who want to hear your music. The general feeling under the musicians here is quite depressed, because they feel unsupported.’
I heard that Slovakia was happy to join the EU back in 2004, because they already felt European.
‘I think we’re the nation who is most positive about the EU, because we remember being on the edge and having that communist time. Everybody here feels that things are getting better, and the percentage of people who believe that everything was better before the EU is getting lower and lower. Another thing is that we really had to work to become a part of the European Union. We know where we have come from so we don’t take it for granted.’
(interview by Mark, written by Sophie Markvoort)