Former PM Stanislav Gross bows out of politics

Stanislav Gross, photo: CTK
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One of the political developments over the weekend was the decision by the chairman of the Social Democrats and former prime minister Stanislav Gross to step down. Mr Gross made the announcement at the party leadership meeting on Saturday where he also said he was not even going to run for a parliament seat in next year's general election.

His decision is a landmark on the Czech political scene. After fifteen years in high politics, and at the still amazingly early age of 36, Mr Gross is bowing out of public life.

Stanislav Gross walked into high politics at the age of 22 when he was elected to parliament, through the Social Democrats' youth organisation. By the time he was 28 he was already deputy chairman of the lower house. At 30 he became interior minister and just four years later prime minister, the youngest in Czech history. But the rise and rise of Stanislav Gross was soon to be followed by a deep plunge.

At the beginning of March this year, then Prime Minister Gross spoke on public television and apologised to the nation for a scandal over his private finances that had broken out a few weeks earlier. A leading Czech paper then found out Mr Gross could not have made enough money to pay for his Prague apartment - a question to which Mr Gross never produced an entirely convincing explanation. In April, Stanislav Gross stepped down and the three-party coalition resigned with him, only to re-form immediately under a new leader, Jiri Paroubek. Mr Gross remained Social Democrat leader.

Meanwhile public support for Stanislav Gross plummeted after years as one of the country's most popular politicians.

Stanislav Gross, photo: CTK
Since his resignation Mr Gross's name has been mentioned in connection with a number of unclarified issues, most recently with the corruption scandal surrounding the privatisation of Unipetrol, the country's largest oil and chemicals group.

With the country's general election approaching, Mr Gross said on Saturday that he felt scandalised by the media and tired of the nonsense produced by journalists. Adopting melodramatic tones he likened himself to a wounded soldier who has to sacrifice himself for the good of the whole platoon.

Speaking at Saturday's party meeting, Mr Gross told his fellow Social Democrats he now wants to devote himself to a private law practice but admitted he may return in a couple of years, maybe not as a general but as a mere foot-soldier in his party.