PRAGUE – Karel Schwarzenberg, a former Czech foreign minister and member of a European noble family, has died. He was 85.
Milroslav Kalousek, his longtime political ally, and the Foreign Ministry confirmed his death on Sunday.
“It is with deep sadness and respect that we remember Karel Schwarzenberg, who left us today,” the ministry said. “As two-time foreign minister and Vaclav Havel’s chancellor, he shaped our foreign policy and always proved by his actions that he was a true democrat.”
Schwarzenberg had been hospitalized in Prague since August with heart and kidney problems and was flown several days ago to a clinic in Vienna, the Austrian capital where he had lived for years.
“A great man in all aspects has died,” said President Petr Pavel. “Service to his country was a natural mission for him.”
Born on December 10, 1937 in Prague, Schwarzenberg and his family had to flee Czechoslovakia after the Communist takeover in 1948 and lived in exile in Austria. He studied law and forestry at universities in Vienna and Graz, Austria, and Munich, Germany, but did not complete his studies as he had to take care of the family estates in Austria and the German state of Bavaria.
After the 1989 Velvet Revolution led by Vaclav Havel, Schwarzenberg returned home and became Havel’s chancellor – head of the presidential office – when the playwright-turned-politician was elected president.
Schwarzenberg was foreign minister from 2007-2009. During that time, he and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signed an initial agreement to base a US missile shield in Central and Eastern Europe. The system designed to protect US allies against a belligerent and unpredictable Iran was later scrapped by President Barack Obama.
In 2009, together with Kalousek, Schwarzenberg established a conservative political party, TOP 09, which he led until 2015, when he became its honorary chairman.
He again took over the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs between 2010 and 2013.
In 2013, Schwarzenberg ran for the largely ceremonial post of Czech president, but lost to the populist and then pro-Russian Milos Zeman in a runoff.
Before his political career, between 1984 and 1991, Schwarzenberg served as president of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, a position that led him to seek respect for human rights in communist countries, including his homeland.
Schwarzenberg helped establish the Czechoslovakian Documentation Center, which was based at his castle in Scheinfeld, Bavaria. It was an institution that collected banned literature and other materials related to anti-totalitarian resistance and independent thinking under the communist regime. Its collections are now in the National Museum in Prague.
Schwarzenberg was a popular politician, known for his humor. When caught sleeping by photographers, he replied that he sleeps “when they talk stupid.”
Schwarzenberg is survived by his wife Therese, son Jan Nepomuk and daughter Anna Karolina.
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