Gross Metamorphosis

Imagine being only 34 years old, yet hobnobbing with European heads-of-state, even with the American president, as an equal. This man lived that dream. (Even today he is only 44 years old – still looking pretty spry there, yes?)

That’s the “Grosse” (-> “Gross”) there, Stanislav Gross, premier of the Czech Republic for the ČSSD Social Democratic Party for roughly nine months from August 2004 to the end of April 2005. It’s remarkable to climb so high at such a young age, yet it was also reflective of Czech society at the time. First as Czechoslovakia, then as the Czech Republic, the country was suddenly thrust into the modern Western world with the “Velvet Revolution” of late 1989, and there immediately arose a sharp dichotomy between those coming to adulthood before and those after that turning-point. The former were largely considered much too tainted by forty years of Soviet-type attitudes – “they pretend to pay us, we pretend to work,” and the like; those of literary bent are referred here to the early works of Milan Kundera – to be much use in the new, real worlds of business and politics, so that the short history of the Czech Republic is already replete with many amazing tales of very young people with very great responsibilities. Stanislav Gross in 2004 was merely the tip of that pyramid.

But wait: only nine months in office! Perhaps Czech politics is unusually turbulent (like Italian politics, for example)? Not really, but that abbreviated period perfectly illustrated yet another characteristic of Czech society that has proven all-too-enduring: it is the Czech Republic of Bling! That is, after those forty years of Socialist deprivation, an altogether unhealthy obsession with money and possessions plagues contemporary Czech values. Among its more disturbing manifestations – other than the alarmingly fecund proliferation of shopping-centers within Prague – is corruption in politics: it’s crystal-clear that Czech politicians don’t get involved in that to serve their country, but because gaining access to state power and finances means that, if they play their cards right, they can get rich.

It was notable that Gross’ stepping-stone to the premiership was his position as Minister of the Interior in the previous government – that’s the cabinet office in charge of the police, with wire-tapping powers, if you get what I mean. At the other end, Gross was finally forced to resign when he could not satisfactorily explain how he had been able to afford the purchase of a luxury apartment in one of Prague’s tonier neighborhoods on his government salary. Five months later he was forced to step down as leader of the ČSSD party over alleged kickbacks in connection with the privatization and sale of a state-owned chemicals company. So yes, he was at the top, but he blew it – his reach exeeded his grasp, you could say (but that’s a literary reference from here).

He’s Found Jesus!

Now, check out that other name in the above tweet: “Krista” (-> “Krist”), or Christ. I bring up Gross now, not out of some Czech nostalgia kick, but because he is back in the news: that Lidové noviny article to which you can click through via the tweet is headlined “I have accepted Christ, and I apologize to all those I have disappointed.” That was Gross’ surprise message in the broadcast last Sunday of a snippet of a documentary about him that Czech TV will show in full in a few months’ time. The documentary also is said by the LN article to showcase the many lies he issued about his personal finances ten years back.

Christ – and Gross’ Czech constituents – still has a lot on his plate to forgive him for. Since leaving politics he went to work as a private lawyer, but of course only after earning his law degree and passing the bar; he earned that degree at a law school (in Plzeń) that has since been investigated for being a diploma-mill. (He did pass the bar exam, although not on the first try. But can we be certain that, in the Czech Republic, even that credential is not corruptible?) Meanwhile, he and his wife have continued to pursue their real-estate hobby, with purchases of a $735,000 luxury condo in Miami, FL together with a CZK 10 million (= $505,000 at current rates) house just outside Prague. That lawyering sure must pay well; or perhaps it is more accurate to say that, much like Pig-Pen in the “Peanuts” cartoons of old, this guy walks around in his very own fetid cloud of corruption.

So what are we to make of his claimed conversion to Christ? Many of those who watched on Sunday probably didn’t even know what he was talking about. It would be different if this were Poland, still thoroughly Catholic, but as for the Czech Republic it is notorious as one of the most secular societies on Earth. If there is any general guiding life-philosophy one can derive from recent societal trends there, as mentioned, it might be summed up by “The winner is the one who dies with the most toys,” and in that light Gross has shown himself far closer in solidarity to his compatriots with his conduct up to now than with this new plea for forgiveness.

Lidové noviny actually tried to add a follow-up piece to the initial Gross news; the question you see there in the tweet is essentially “What are we to make of this?”

Why Gross
The thing is, in that follow-up piece they ask the wrong people!! That is, they ask “What do you think about Gross?” to figures from out of the contemporary Czech political scene. This was either a horrible premise for this piece, a series of mini-interviews – or else maybe the journalist in question (identified here only as “Server,” i.e. anonymous) had a fiendish sense of humor. It would be as if a reporter made the rounds of the US Congress asking for comment after – oh, I don’t know, to choose a theoretical example – one of their number had been busted by the FBI for selling his committee vote to approve the Comcast/Time Warner merger directly to Comcast lobbyists, and was now begging for forgiveness. All of them would want to protest “Hey, why didn’t these lobbyists get in touch with me?” but they couldn’t actually say that; all they could say would be some meaningless mumblings.

As certainly is the case in this Czech context: the LN “Server” guy even gets the response of Czech President Miloš Zeman: “This is the personal confession of a former premier, and now it is up to Czech citizens to decide whether they accept or reject it.” Thanks, Sherlock (another literary reference).

But that’s OK, because these days we’re inundated with media – in the Czech Republic as well – and we don’t have to settle just for what the major outlets serve up. For me, the most appropriate comment to Stanislav Gross is what I found as a reply to Lidové noviny’s tweet of its original article, from one Tonda Blaník (no, I don’t know who he is, just some citizen; note that “Stando” is the diminuitive for “Stanislav,” like addressing a buddy “Hey, Stan!”):

“Well, you know very well, Stan, that Christ lived in poverty. We all believe that you will follow him devotedly.”

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Comments are closed.