Former foreign minister who steered Czechia's Western integration dies at 85

Karel Schwarzenberg, who had been battling health issues, guided the nation's foreign policy amid its integration into NATO and the EU.


Written by ČTK Published on 12.11.2023 09:29:00 (updated on 12.11.2023) Reading time: 2 minutes

Karel Schwarzenberg, a longtime statesman who served two terms as Czechoslovakia's foreign minister, passed away in Vienna on Saturday at the age of 85, according to sources close to his family.

Schwarzenberg, who had been hospitalized in recent days battling health issues, was a "selfless" public servant who "did everything for the Czech Republic," said TOP 09 co-founder Miroslav Kalousek.

A member of aristocratic lineage, Schwarzenberg studied law and forestry abroad prior to the fall of communism, after which he became an advisor to Czech President Václav Havel.

He held the role of foreign minister from 2007 to 2009 and again from 2010 to 2013, steering the nation's foreign policy amid its integration into Western institutions like NATO and the EU.

Schwarzenberg also ran for president in 2013, losing to Miloš Zeman in a second-round vote.

An outpouring of condolences from fellow Czech politicians and leaders appeared on social media throughout the weekend.

Kalousek said the nation "should be forever grateful" to Schwarzenberg for all he did. Fellow TOP 09 member and speaker of the Chamber of Deputies Markéta Pekarová Adamová, remarked on Schwarzenberg's "immortal legacy."

President Petr Pavel called Schwarzenberg a "great man" who viewed public service as a "natural mission." Former President Zeman said he respected his one-time opponent and enjoyed discussions even after both used wheelchairs. 

Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said it was an honor to sit in the government together with Karel Schwarzenberg, appreciating how Schwarzenberg helped Czech dissent during the totalitarian era, as well as the fact that he selflessly served the Czech Republic in a number of capacities after 1989.

"Journalists often ask who your favorite politician is, who you consider to be the greatest Czech politician of the post-Soviet era, or which politician you would go 'for a beer' with. I would give the same answer to all three questions: it's Karel."

-Mirek Topolánek, former Prime Minister

The 85-year-old Schwarzenberg was flown from Prague to a hospital in Vienna on Monday. On Oct. 28, President Petr Pavel awarded him the Order of the White Lion, which he could not receive due to illness.

Despite ongoing health struggles, Schwarzenberg, known for his kindness, remained active later in life as a senator and lower house deputy. In stepping down as leader of his TOP 09 party in 2015, he continued advocating for Czech democracy as an honorary chair.

He is survived by his children and grandchildren in both Austria and the Czech Republic.

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