Karel Jan Schwarzenberg: Noblesse oblige
Written by: Monika Mudranincová
Photo: Vojtěch Vlk
Born into a family of nobles, exiled from his native land, heir to fairy-tale wealth, chancellor to the president, and recipient of restituted property. Karel Schwarzenberg (66) now mainly tends to his legacy and speaks out on behalf of the Czech Republic as an EU candidate.
THE VICES IN MY LIFE haven’t changed. The older I get the more I smoke,” says Schwarzenberg as he begins his interview, interrupted by coughing. And then he lights up his pipe. This member of an old noble family has his office in Prague’s Břevnov section. With its ordinary furnishings, his office is far removed from the luxurious chambers in which he lived as a child up to the age of eleven, when he had to leave for Austria because of the communists. “It’s fascinating – my life changes completely every eleven years,” he says, pointing out another eleven-year cycle with a happy ending. In 1960 he was adopted by his uncle Jindřich, who made him the heir to vast properties in Austria and Germany. He welcomed the revolutionary year of 1989 in Czechoslovakia with enthusiasm. “I decided even the devil couldn’t keep me away from my home any longer!” He returned in majestic fashion – going straight to Prague Castle, where he applied for work as chancellor to President Václav Havel. “Our family always served the emperor. When the country calls, you have to help,” he says.
After he finished working for Havel, he began tending to his restituted property in Bohemia, including the Orlickočimelice estate, buildings in Karlov, Varvařov, Sedlec in Kutná Hora, and Nový Hraběšín, as well as forests and ponds. Repairing the landmarks devastated by the communists cost him no small amount of money and effort. “Now I’m mainly a maintenance man,” he says with a laugh. But he also had ambitions to become a professional politician. Last fall he ran for the Senate in the Strakonice region. Unsuccessfully. He was beaten by Pavel Rychetský, who is currently the chairman of the Constitutional Court.
He says that these days he travels between Vienna, Prague, Orlík, and Dřevíč, near Beroun, and lectures frequently at international conferences on politics and our future EU membership. “I try to convince EU countries that the Czech Republic will be a good, useful member,” he says. His work load is unbelievably heavy, and he admits that after a time he intends to slow down a bit and turn over the care of his Czech estates to his oldest descendant, his son Jan, who already takes care of foreign properties.
You often commit yourself to civic initiatives. Why in your opinion are civic initiatives in this country less active and powerful than they are in the west?
You are at home in Austria, Germany, and Bohemia. What is the Czech Republic’s reputation in neighboring countries?
Can a person who has financial security for life still want anything?