Just who is Social Democrat "heir to the throne" Stanislav Gross?

23-06-2004

We've heard a lot in the last few days about Stanislav Gross, the man most commentators expect to sooner or later replace Vladimir Spidla as head of the Social Democrats, and possibly as prime minister. Mr Gross is of course the interior minister, but what else do we know about him?

Stanislav Gross, photo: CTKStanislav Gross, photo: CTK It is almost a decade now since the then leader of the Social Democrats Milos Zeman described Stanislav Gross as the party's "crown prince". What is remarkable is that Mr Gross is now just 34, so he was still in his mid 20s when he was "anointed" by Mr Zeman.

Since entering high politics Mr Gross has attained a degree in law, but he was actually working as a train driver in 1989, at the time of the Velvet Revolution. He joined the reborn Social Democratic Party in 1990 and quickly rose through the ranks, becoming an MP two years later.

Stanislav Gross was for some time very close to the man who first led the Social Democrats to power, Milos Zeman. In 1993, as leader of the Young Social Democrats, he backed Mr Zeman in a party leadership vote and the two became close allies. In 1995 Mr Zeman gave his favourite son the powerful post of head of the party's deputies group, while Mr Gross invited his party leader to be best man at his wedding. (By the way, Stanislav Gross evidently met his wife at the Chamber of Deputies, where she was working in the restaurant).

Since then, however, the two men have fallen out, to say the least. After the party's poor showing in the recent European Parliament elections, Mr Zeman said it was time for the Social Democrats to "shoot the traitors", meaning both his former favourite and party leader Vladimir Spidla.

Though he is officially party number two, Stanislav Gross has been the most powerful man in the Social Democrats for some time. He is only 34 - and a youthful looking 34 at that - and it seems only a question of time before he becomes party leader.

Interestingly, polls suggest he has remained one of the most popular figures in Czech politics, despite being involved in a few minor scandals since becoming interior minister in 2004.

23-06-2004