Former Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, a key role in the country’s transition from Communist dictatorship to democracy, died on Sunday, according to a longtime political colleague. He was 85.
After his buddy Vaclav Havel won the country’s first free election in 1990, Schwarzenberg became a prominent aide to him. Between 2007 to 2013, he served as Foreign Minister twice.
He was a strong backer of closer integration in Europe, and while he was a declared conservative, his appeal stretched to urban liberal groups and younger people in politics.
He was transported to hospital in Vienna last week, Czech media had reported. Echo24 news website, which first reported his death on Sunday, said his family was around him.
“Karel Schwarzenberg died,” Miroslav Kalousek, founder of the TOP09 party that Schwarzenberg led at its beginning, said on social media platform X.
“He was one of the most important and kindest people in my life. May he rest in peace, the Czech Republic should be forever grateful to him for everything he selflessly did for it.”
Schwarzenberg had spent a large part of his life in exile as his family was among top targets of the Communists who took power in a 1948 coup, confiscating the vast Schwarzenberg property which included chateaux, forests and farm land mainly in the south of the country near the border with Austria.
While in exile in Austria, where he eventually took over the family’s estate, he supported the anti-communist human rights movement and sponsored a library of banned Czech literature.
After the Velvet Revolution of 1989, which peacefully toppled Communist rule in then Czechoslovakia, Schwarzenberg became Havel’s chief of staff.
Schwarzenberg took a more active role in politics as a senator in 2004 and helped start the TOP09 party, which is a junior member in a centre-right government coalition now in power.
“Dear Kary, we thank you for everything that you did for our country,” the party said on X.
In 2013, Schwarzenberg ran for president, but lost to Milos Zeman, another towering figure of post-1989 Czech politics who finished his second presidential term earlier this year.