Born in Prague in 1937, Karel Schwarzenberg (1937- ) spent many years abroad, mainly in Austria and Switzerland. Schwarzenbergs had to leave after February 1948, as the family was seen as a symbol of the German influence (or oppression) and the feudal terror of the past by the new regime. Between 1984 and 1990 he chaired the International Helsinki Committee, trying to improve the human rights situation in Eastern bloc countries. At the beginning of the 1990s he was an advisor to former President Havel.
He was appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs as an independent for the Green Party in 2006.
Schwarzenberg has a fine position among European diplomats: he is respected, and is familiar with the diplomatic language and the ways to communicate with various partners, each of them following different agenda. As a noble, he has a sense of responsibility for his family name and that may be one of the reasons for his distinguished behaviour and the strangely archaic version of Czech he uses. His nobility is, however, a problem for some Czechs. Czechs are generally not very happy about noble status. The dominant image is of a cruel, abusive idiot, who rests in luxury thanks to the hard labour of those below him. There are of course good reasons for this image, since many noblemen were indeed abusive and the life of their subjects was often terrible. But it’s difficult to see how much this has to do with today’s nobility, mostly lacking political power, their major sin being that they just have a lot of money.
Anyway it seems Schwazenberg’s appointment turned out well with Czech public. He’s not arrogant or haughty. Mostly, he is seen as a bit tired, as bit peculiar patron, who seldom gets cross and now just happens to be a minister for some time. Somewhere he called himself part of the “degenerate nobility”.
There is a problem with his role, which is only remotely tied to his own actions. When becoming the minister, president Klaus was very reluctant about his nomination. As a result, the government managed a strange compromise: they made a new ministry, a post of Deputy PM for European Affairs and this position was designed for Alexandr Vondra, a man much closer to Klaus’s opinions. The result is not very positive for Schwarzenberg: a large part of his agenda was taken away from him. In fact, one could say that the CR presently has two ministers for foreign affairs, each with quite a different view of the country’s foreign policy.
His recent actions were also questionable: as he refused to be in a government with Jirí Cunek, who was cleared of corruption charges under very suspicious conditions, he got under strong pressure from his colleagues. Apparently struggling to find a middle way between satisfying his conscience and not breaking up the government, he paid for an audit of the controversial minister Jirí Cunek´s incomes. The result was unsatisfactory and some blamed Schwarzenberg for bowing to the PM and the Green Party leader’s demands.
Anyway, he is mostly seen as one of the very best of Czech politicians in terms of handling the job, manners, personal history and ability to communicate.