The descendant of a well-known noble family, Karel Schwarzenberg, who died on Saturday in Vienna at the age of 85, was one of the most prominent personalities of the Czech political scene. Among other things, he was the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the chairman of TOP 09 and a senator. Until the 2021 elections, before which he announced his retirement from politics, he was the oldest member of the Czech Chamber of Deputies.
Karel Schwarzenberg came from the Eagle branch of an ancient noble family. He was born in the Prague maternity hospital in Bubenč as the eldest son of Karel Schwarzenberg and his wife Antonia. After the February coup in 1948, the family lost all their property in Czechoslovakia and went to Austria. In exile, he studied law in Munich forestry and law in Vienna and Graz. After the death of his uncle Jindřich, who adopted him, in 1965 he also became the heir to the property of the Krumlov-Hlubock branch.
In the 1980s, he chaired the International Helsinki Committee for Human Rights and placed an archive of literature banned in Czechoslovakia at the time in the family residence in Scheinfeld, Bavaria. Thanks to his position, he was also able to visit communist Czechoslovakia, where he discussed the issue of human rights and met with dissidents. He returned to his homeland in the fall of 1989 and in the early 1990s became the head of President Václav Havel’s office.
He joined the Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA) and in 2004 was elected to the Senate for Prague 6 with the support of US-DEU. He later resigned from ODA. From January 2007 to May 2009, he was foreign minister in the government of Mirko Topolánek (ODS), nominated to the government by the Green Party.
In June 2009, he became the leader of the new party TOP 09, the creation of which was initiated by the former chairman of the KDU-ČSL and Minister of Finance of Topolánk’s government, Miroslav Kalousek. In November, he was elected chairman of TOP 09 at the first party congress. In the elections to the House of Representatives in May 2010, TOP 09 became the third strongest party, Schwarzenberg became an MP, and after the party became part of the government coalition, he again took the seat of foreign minister.
He remained in the government of Petr Nečas (ODS), where he also held the position of first deputy prime minister, until its end in July 2013. In 2013, he was re-elected to the House of Representatives, where he was the chairman of the foreign affairs committee. In December 2015, he no longer defended the chair of TOP 09 chairman and was elected honorary chairman of the party. In 2017, he was again elected as an MP and, at 79 years old, became the oldest elected MP in history. In 2021, he no longer defended the parliamentary mandate.
Fire-ridden land scraper in Klettgau
Karel Schwarzenberg, whose (cancelled) titles read Karel Jan, XII. the Prince of Schwarzenberg, the philistine Landskrabe in Klettgau, the Count of Schulz and the Duke in Krumlov, was not only a well-known politician, but also, until recently, the administrator of a large family estate. “I was raised to believe that all possessions are entrusted, not mine. He was put in my care to take care of him and pass him on,” he said in one of the interviews. He attracted attention with his classy demeanor, his pipe, the occasional doze while speaking, and sometimes even his provocative directness and vernacular. He often called himself a forester and an innkeeper.
Before 1918, the Schwarzenbergs were among the richest in Europe. In addition to 200,000 hectares of land, the family also owned more than a dozen castles in Austria, Bohemia and Germany. In 1941, the property was expropriated by the Nazis, but it was returned to Austria and Germany after World War II. In the Czech Republic, the property was seized by the Communists and partially returned to the Schwarzenbergs only after 1990.
The property of the Orlicka branch, including the castles of Orlík, Čimelice, Zvíkov, Sedlec near Kutná Hora and more than 11,000 hectares of land, was returned to the Schwarzenbergs in restitution. In Austria, Schwarzenberg’s property includes, for example, a palace in Vienna, Murau castle and forest plants. In the Czech Republic, Karel Schwarzenberg participated, among other things, in the privatization of Karlovarská Becherovka and sat on the supervisory board of Patria Finance. Until June 2007, he was the majority owner of the company that published the news weekly Respekt. In 1997, he bought the Dřevíč castle near Beroun, which became his permanent residence.
Holder of a number of domestic and foreign honors (e.g. the TGM Order), Schwarzenberg had Swiss and Czech citizenship. In 1967, he married a doctor, Terezia, born Countess of Hardegg. They divorced in 1988, but remarried twenty years later. They had three children – daughter Anna Karolina and sons Jan Nepomuk Ondřej and Karel Filip (stepson).
Schwarzenberg had a number of health problems, among which he said he had problems with his heart and kidneys, for which he was repeatedly hospitalized and which this year deprived him of the opportunity to personally receive the Order of the White Lion, the highest Czech state award, on October 28. A few days ago he was airlifted to one of the hospitals in Vienna. He spent a large part of his life in the Austrian capital, where he had part of his family.