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The top prince

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For the third time, Karel Schwarzenberg has switched parties, and he also didn’t fulfil his pledge that he would give up his beloved ministry post if he were forced to work with Jiří Čunek, a man suspected of corruption. But Schwarzenberg gets away with it. Having suspicions about this power- hungry prince runs tantamount to treason. Recently, a slightly different Karel Schwarzenberg appeared. This one exchanged Václav Havel’s truth and love for Miroslav Kalousek’s pragmatism. Or he just staked his reputation to an almost impossible objective: to combine these two approaches. “Somebody has to do that,” the 71-year-old former foreign minister said, explaining why he took charge of Kalousek’s Top 09, a new party full of old faces. “They asked me, so I said yes.” The answer is typical Schwarzenberg: He distances himself from power, politics and politicians. He speaks as if he weren’t among them. But his answer still doesn’t explain why he recently fought tooth and nail for power – as his involvement in Topolánek’s cabinet implies.

Schwarzenberg brings moral cred and public life experience from the exile the communists forced his family into in 1948. By 1989, when he returned to the Orlík castle, which he got in restitution, he managed several things: wild parties featuring the cream of European society and public activities with a human rights angle. He hadn’t forgotten the fight against totalitarianism, and he strengthened his friendship with Václav Havel to secure a posting after the playwright assumed the presidency. This was how Czech society, newly freed from communist decay, learned to love the aristocrat. People remember Schwarzenberg for his imperfect pronunciation. He has turned his weakness into a strength, adjusting the degree of comprehensibility by topic. When he needed to promote the US radar, he pronounced words with the excitement of a first-year pupil, but when it came to Čunek, it was hard to hear a clear word. The kindhearted prince has some shortcomings.

In the late 1990s, Schwarzenberg was reserved, describing himself as forester and innkeeper. But his professions also included media and liqueur magnate. From 1993 his money supported Respekt, a magazine of the Havel circles. Two years ago coal tycoon Zdeněk Bakala acquired a majority stake in Schwarzenberg’s R-Presse publishing house. Their partnership didn’t materialise from nowhere. These two became co-owners of Becherovka in the late 1990s. The national elixir’s sale ranks among the most criticised privatisations of the Václav Klaus era. The consortium Salb – consisting of Bakala, Schwarzenberg and French liqueur producer Pernod Ricard – acquired the stake even though its bid was far from the highest.

Schwarzenberg entered top-level politics in 2004. He won a Senate seat on the ticket of the Freedom Union, which no longer exists, and as a member of another dead party: the ODA. Society had to decide definitively what to do about the nobleman in 2006, when Martin Bursík’s Greens began pushing him toward the Foreign Affairs Ministry. Schwarzenberg gained popularity by telling Austrian anti-Temelín activists they were “lunatics”. Czechs started to enjoy his straightforward comments. Europe recently succumbed to his charm when he challenged Nicolas Sarkozy to a duel after European media said the French president wanted to steal the Czech EU presidency. Schwarzenberg hasn’t even shown excessive respect to the US, although he apparently regarded placing an American radar base in a Bohemian forest as key to his role as foreign affairs minister. To him, the radar is part of a fight for a central Europe torn from Moscow’s influence. After a new leader went to the White House, Schwarzenberg found that Obama is not as excited about the radar as George Bush was.

One wonders what cemented the inorganic group of Schwarzenberg, Kalousek, Topolánek, Bursík and Alexandr Vondra. Perhaps the fragile EU presidency did it. Perhaps the macho feeling that Topolánek’s government got from negotiating the radar played a role. Perhaps it was unity in the face of the bulldozer- style opposition led by Jiří Paroubek.

What many people find surprising is Schwarzenberg’s confidence in the wheeler- dealer Kalousek. Maybe it’s because they sat side by side in the government. But the way Schwarzenberg talks about colleagues gives a better hint. He has said Topolánek was a prime minister with more luck than sense, that he only shares the diplomatic portfolio with Vondra because of their long friendship, and that Kalousek was the only “non-amateur” in Topolánek’s cabinet. Schwarzenberg’s friendship with Havel, a supporter of the Greens, brought Bursík’s party into this lot. However, this line seems a bit broken now. Maybe Schwarzenberg has concluded that truth and love can only prevail over lies and hatred if they’re backed- up by the unseen hand of “Richelieu” Kalousek.

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