Former foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg was already transferred to a Vienna hospital last week. According to his surroundings, it was a planned stay.
Schwarzenberg was airlifted to a hospital in Vienna. The Echo24 server, citing a source from the family, wrote that the politician had been in critical condition and in artificial sleep for the past two days. “He passed away surrounded by family,” the website also said.
His death then on the X social network https://twitter.com/kalousekm/status/1723513617151078604 co-founder of TOP 09 and ex-Minister of Finance Miroslav Kalousek.
The former foreign minister and honorary chairman of TOP 09 had to be hospitalized repeatedly due to unspecified health problems. But he communicated with journalists during his stay in the hospital – the last time he commented on the sentence against former TOP 09 MP Dominik Feri last week.
On October 28, Schwarzenberg did not take part in the state honors ceremony, when Petr Pavel awarded him the Order of the White Lion. His son Jan took over the highest domestic order for him.
He defended the legacy of 1989
The Czech Republic could not have asked for a better guide on the journey from behind the Iron Curtain. Karel Schwarzenberg was educated, had a deep-rooted sense of service and extraordinary contacts around the world. And thanks to his family wealth and background, he was incorruptible.
How do you get to the prince in Vienna? You will walk through Schwarzenberg Square, past the equestrian statue of Karel Filip Schwarzenberg until you reach the Schwarzenberg Palace. Perhaps only when walking through the Austrian metropolis does one realize how big a personality one had the opportunity to meet in Karl Schwarzenberg.
In Czech politics, he paid attention to accessibility as well as popularity. Some might say that he is a much better bon mot than the man who eventually became his lifelong rival, Miloš Zeman. And political gags were part of his communication even before Facebook was discovered by Andrej Babiš and his PR magicians.
“Since I know the Magors a little, I know that the demonstrations will continue,” declared Schwarzenberg, for example, in the address of the Austrians and their anti-nuclear positions from the end of his tenure as foreign minister. It was then that the cautious Czechs, massaged for decades by anti-nobility propaganda, for the first time melted a little on a wider scale.
Karel Schwarzenberg’s peak moment came in 2013, when he stood up to Miloš Zeman and his dirty campaign in the presidential election to defend the legacy of 1989. Even with painful personal commitment. Every day of the following Zemanov decade showed how fundamental and deep the clash was. And it stays on.
Love of life Theresa
Schwarzenberg, who is known in political and social circles as the Prince, was born in Prague in 1937. He spent his childhood in Orlík and Čimelice in South Bohemia. After the communist coup in 1948, his family’s property was confiscated as undesirable aristocracy, and the “eagle” Schwarzenbergs took refuge in Austria.
Karel became the head of both branches of the Schwarzenbergs, Orlicka and Hlubock-Krumlov, in 1965, when his ancestor Jindřich from Schwarzenberg died. Due to his duties in managing the Schwarzenberg estate, he then interrupted his studies in law and forestry.
Two years later, he married Theresa Schwarzenberg, a doctor with pedigree. Their love story was lifelike, but also complicated.
Three children were born during the marriage, but the middle son came from Therese’s extramarital relationship with the Austrian politician Thomas Prinzhorn. Even Schwarzenberg did not live monogamously. In 1988, the couple divorced. But they never broke the bond. Twenty years later, Karel married Theresa, who in the meantime had a skiing accident with serious consequences, as his wife for the second time.
Havel by his side
Schwarzenberg did not forget his native country even in the whirlwind of Viennese public life. He founded the Czechoslovak Documentation Center, an archive of then-forbidden literature, in one of his castles. In 1984, he became the chairman of the International Helsinki Committee for Human Rights. And even from this position, he was involved in supporting Czechoslovak dissent.
After 1989, he sided with the velvet leader Václav Havel, with whom he already had a long-standing friendship at that time. In the summer of 1990, he became Havel’s chancellor. In addition to the formal agenda – according to legend – he was an adviser on all fronts, including how to dress for a meeting with the queen. At the time, the Czech delegation was also supposed to buy the jacket.
As long as Václav Havel was politically active, Schwarzenberg stayed more in the background. For example, his residence, the Dřevíč Castle, became an informal center of political and social life.
From 1996, he was also the publisher of the influential political weekly Respekt. Even during his political activities. He was a minority owner until 2012, when Schwarzenberg’s former business partner, financier Zdeněk Bakala, became the publisher of the magazine.
Into the political mire
He entered politics on his own shirt in 2004, when he won the Senate elections. He represented Prague 6. Three years later, he reached the top – thanks to the nomination of the Green Party, especially its head at the time, Martin Bursík, he became foreign minister.
It was at a time when Czech diplomacy found itself in the international limelight – the first ever Czech presidency of the European Union (2009) was about to take place, and Mirko Topolánek’s government was negotiating with the USA about the placement of an American radar in Brdy.
In short, things were happening. The experienced and self-confident Prince – a worldly man balanced the hot head of Topolánek and the hot-headedness of Czech politicians and diplomats in historical settings.
This time, however, the Prince was no longer just a “guide” or some kind of old-world guard, as it used to be under Havel. Schwarzenberg the politician was born.
And it wasn’t just about the lofty stage of foreign policy, where he had a solid place and enjoyed respect and interest from outside like no other Czech foreign minister before him, nor after him. He got more and more bogged down in the “mud” of domestic politics – fertile, but at the same time appropriately dirty.
Game of poacher and hunter
Schwarzenberg was undoubtedly a moral authority when he was at his political peak. It was at a time when the biggest problem seemed to be rampant corruption. And these cases, as a wealthy man by nature, could never even concern him. In a way, he was the forerunner of the grandmotherly, so successful figure: I am rich – I have no reason to steal. Although, of course, in the Schwarzenberg concept, it had a slightly different style – and above all, it was without the aftertaste of privatization and subsidy fraud.
When we say moral authority, we are not talking about a “daddy” figure. The position that was closest to Schwarzenberg was a bit of a hoot. Here, his “duel” with the populist deputy prime minister of Topolánek’s government, Jiří Čunk, is worth remembering. In 2007, he hired American detectives from the private agency Kroll to deal with the confusion in Čunk’s finances – it was like going at a fly with a flamethrower. But it worked.
Also due to Schwarzenberg’s authority, it was a shock for many when he joined forces politically with Miroslav Kalousko, in whose person cases from the non-transparent nineties meet political pragmatism of the coarsest grain. According to legend, they became close thanks to the fact that they sat next to each other during Topolánek’s government meetings – Kalousek was then the Minister of Finance for the People’s Party.
Schwarzenberg and Kalousko founded the TOP 09 political party in 2009. Another – today one would say “Twitter” party – the likening of Kalousko to a “poacher who became a gamekeeper” became a legend – after all, this is how aristocrats have acted since time immemorial.
But no matter how we explain the combination of Prince + Poacher/Hajný today, we should not miss the fact that Schwarzenberg clearly started to enjoy politics. And the party that forced him into high politics, i.e. the Greens, which, at least in the Western European concept of green parties, was really ideologically closest to Schwarzenberg, found itself in a crisis at the time and began to drown in its own disputes – until on the Czech political scene in in the second half of the 1990s, the Pirates overtook their natural voters.
Certainly, Schwarzenberg was not looking for a quick living in politics, like many transformational politicians, nor was there any indication that he craved power. One of the ingredients of Schwarzenberg’s political engagement was undoubtedly his visible joy that his homeland, with which he had a complicated relationship after all, had “accepted” his service.
TOP 09 was a huge success at first. Kalouska’s combination worked out perfectly: Schwarzenberg attracted urban voters, the countryside was supplied by splinters of the People’s Party and the newly formed Starost movement. In the difficult elections of 2010, the top vote reached 16.7 percent, and it was a surprising right-wing government coalition led by the ODS and the extremely suspicious Public Affairs formation.
It was a very boisterous ride – and everything was headed for trouble. Schwarzenberg’s legacy from this time was his fight within the government with the ODS, which increasingly toyed with anti-Union positions and at the same time questioned the value-oriented “Havel” foreign policy and began to look at China.
Similar to the first government in which Kníže sat, i.e. Topolánek’s, Nečas’s also ended with the non-standard collapse of the cabinet in 2013.
The grand finale
But even before that came – from the Czech point of view – Schwarzenberg’s great political finale. It came out of the blue during the first-ever direct presidential election. Even on the day of the election in the first round, there was no indication that Kníže, who entered the race with a punk image, should advance to the second round. But it happened. In it, he faced former Prime Minister Miloš Zeman, who went to the Castle from his retirement in Vysočín.
Today we already know very well that it was a clash about where the Czech Republic should belong – whether to the West, or whether it should have some kind of neutral status, which was only meant to mask the rapprochement with Russia, which was starting to gain strength again with its leader Vladimir Putin. The gloves went down.
It was a rough election campaign. Schwarzenberg withstood all the personal attacks and mainly decided not to betray his lifelong positions – even when it came to sensitive topics, such as the deportation of Germans after the Second World War. These and similar emotions, rooted in the times of communism, eventually dominated the pre-election debates.
The campaign showed a lot. Among other things, the idea of how the Czech Republic could easily and quickly move among traditional Western-type democracies was just a pipe dream. But Karel Schwarzenberg in the campaign, as in his whole life, showed the way how to do it, even though he himself undoubtedly knew that it was not easy.
He received a state award
Karel Schwarzenberg received the highest state award on October 28, 2023 – Order of the White Lion, 1st class from the hands of President Peter Pavle. He bestowed the award on him for particularly outstanding services to the state in the field of politics.
Listen to the interview with Karl Schwarzenberg in the program Gallery of personalities: