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Schwarzenberg – the last Central European

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(es) Vienna, November 12, 2023

The Austrian news magazine profil this weekend published an affectionate obituary of Karl Schwarzenberg (1937 – 2013) by Otmar Lahodynsky, veteran former AEJ President. Otmar spent much of his career at the magzine, of which Schwarzenberg was also a co-founder. 

The last Central European – on the life of Karel Schwarzenberg (1937-2023)

Would-be political leader…

He was one of the last Central Europeans. Karl (Karel) Schwarzenberg, who died yesterday, had a profound knowledge of politics and culture and of everything happening between Prague, Budapest, Krakow, and Vienna. During one of our last conversations, he called for comprehensive support for Ukraine against the Russian aggressor. Vladimir Putin must, he said, also be stopped militarily by the West because he wanted to destroy the EU and restore a Russian empire. The annexation of Crimea was just the appetizer, he said, long before Putin’s attack on Ukraine in 2022.

Schwarzenberg was always a “homo politicus”. Born into the nobility in Prague, he was was denied political office in Vienna.

His Swiss citizenship and therefore lack of an Austrian passport only served as an excuse. Like his friend, also recently deceased, Erhard Busek, “Kary” was too intellectual and probably too opinionated for the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP). As president of the International Helsinki Society, he campaigned for human rights in Communist-ruled countries and established contacts with dissidents. He also sent them printing presses and paper.

The writer Václav Havel, first freely-elected president of free Czechoslovakia, brought Schwarzenberg to Prague Castle as Chancellor (head of Cabinet) in 1990, appointing him Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic in 2007 at the suggestion of the Czech Green Party, and remained so with a short interruption until 2013. Then he was narrowly defeated in the presidential election by his Social Democratic opponent Milos Zeman. His outspoken criticism of the 1945 expulsion of the Sudeten Germans in 1945 probably cost him his election victory. Schwarzenberg never wanted to pretend or submit to any kind of “message control”.

So he did not hold back from criticizing domestic political events in Austria. He saw Wolfgang Schüssel’s coalition with Jörg Haider’s far-right FPÖ as a mistake, and n an interview with me he also turned against Norbert Hofer as Federal President, “because would “undermine Austria’s position in the world”. Austria is “under observation for historical reasons”, he said, and many Austrians still believed that “Austria’s leadership role in Central Europe is natural.”

He was worried about increasing nationalism in the EU. The biggest weakness of the EU was that “foreign policy, defense, energy and economic policy are still shaped nationally and not jointly”, he said. He was also openly critical of the rise of Sebastian Kurz, the youthful Austrian Chancellor. During his time as foreign minister, Schwarzenberg told me, Kurz had failed to develop a staff of experienced advisers. And Austria had too few allies in the EU, remaining too focussed on Germany.

…or just a “forester and landowner”

Although as head of the royal house he owned over 40,000 hectares of property in Austria, the Czech Republic ,and Germany, Schwarzenberg liked to describe himself modestly as a “forester and innkeeper”. He liked to retreat to his castle in Murau, Styria, or to his small country estate near Prague, where the royal family’s flag was always hoisted when he arrived. His son has been looking after the property in Austria for a long time. It includes includes the Palais Schwarzenberg in Vienna.

Schwarzenberg founded a liberal-bourgeois party Top 09 in the Czech Republic in 2009 and was a senator in parliament. Independent media was important to him. In 1970 he helped found profil and later financed the liberal magazine Respekt in the Czech Republic.

His daughter Lila chronicled his rather difficult relationship with his three children in a touching documentary a year ago. Schwarzenberg had been in poor health for some years, dying surrounded by his family yesterday in a Vienna hospital.





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