Former prime minister Stanislav Gross dead at 45

Stanislav Gross, photo: CTK

Stanislav Gross, who became the Czech Republic’s youngest prime minister aged just 34-years-old, has died following a short battle with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Mr. Gross served as Prime Minister for a mere nine months from 2004-2005. Once viewed as the “golden boy” of Czech politics, Gross’s tenure was marred by a scandal surrounding how the PM had managed to finance a 4.2 million crown apartment in Prague. Gross was forced to resign and subsequently quit politics altogether, and instead began practicing law. Largely absent from public life thereafter, reports emerged in 2014 that the former PM was seriously ill. I spoke with Jakub Janda of the European Values think-tank for his reflections on the life of Stanislav Gross:

Stanislav Gross,  photo: CTK
“In a political sense, I think he will be remembered as a tragic figure. And even a bad example in the sense of how by being young, inexperienced and, with some very bad habits, you could climb to the highest levels of Czech politics and even become prime minister. So in this sense, he will be remembered as a memento of what Czech politics was about in the early 2000s.”

He was the youngest Czech prime minister. Theoretically, one might think that would mean fresh blood and fresh ideas.

“In terms of his background, Gross wasn’t well educated. He started off as a train worker. In 1992, he joined the Social Democratic party. After a number of years, he became, in essence, a crown prince protégé of Miloš Zeman, the leader of the Social Democrats during this period. He was envisaged as the guy who would come after Zeman. And that is what happened. Gross became interior minister in Zeman’s government, and after the collapse of Vladimír Špidla’s premiership [2002-2004], Gross stepped in as prime minister. He stayed in that function for almost a year, a very short period of time.”

How, from a tactical sense, did Gross’s premiership manage to be so badly crippled by scandal?

“It became a real problem for him to explain the movement of his own money – with the financing of his own flat. After almost a year, he was forced to resign. I would say that he had low levels of support, even within his own party. He was viewed as very inexperienced in terms of politics; and he made many mistakes in terms of this scandal. But this was only one of the scandals which dogged his career.”

In later life, perhaps as a consequence of being diagnosed with a serious illness, Gross appeared to have repented and apologized for his past sins.

“Yes, he didn’t appear publicly very much after resigning from politics. But when he did, it was, for example, in some Czech Television documentary. And it looked like he was saying sorry or feeling sorry for himself. In my view, he was looking back over his political life and saying sorry to all the people he had, in a sense hurt, and to the political system he had hurt. He also says he found God. So he became a religious man, and no doubt he suffered considerably as a result of his illness. It was kept largely invisible from the public, because he wasn’t going public with it – only once, I believe, in one television documentary was it evident. So it remained only a rumour until his death.”