Czech 'Prince' goes punk in presidential bid

24 января 2013, 16:33
Riding a wave of popularity among youngsters wearing badges depicting him as punk rocker, blue-blooded Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg is proving a serious contender in his country's first direct presidential election, AFP reports.

At 75, some see him as too old for the job, yet young Czech love him, lavishing him with more than half a million "Likes" on his Facebook page, while Schwarzenberg's campaign team rewards them with rock concerts.

Admired for his noble manners, but mocked for dozing off in public, the bow-tied "Prince" takes on tough-talking, leftist ex-premier Milos Zeman in round two of the election on Friday and Saturday, after scoring a surprise second spot in round one of voting two weeks ago.

Schwarzenberg's campaign includes his trademark eccentric touch, with pop-art style posters and badges depicting him as a punk sporting a fuchsia-pink Mohawk hairdo and shouting "Karel for President" and "Karel is not Dead!"

"For me, Karel is the only thinkable presidential candidate, and the only one who is not propelled by a lust for power," said David Cerny, an artist who designed the posters and whose 2009 "Entropa" installation in Brussels mocking other EU nations became a symbol of the wobbly Czech EU presidency.

Bitter over chronic levels of corruption plaguing their country's politics, average Czechs see the pipe-smoking Schwarzenberg as an intelligent man of independent wealth who is an honest, well-connected politician with a solid record of public service.

"If I weren't stupid, I would have enjoyed wonderful retirement, gone to the forest to shoot deer, travelled the world, enjoyed good wine," he once quipped.

"But since I'm stupid, I've entered politics," added the man, who speaks six languages.

Bearing the full name of Karl Johannes Nepomuk Josef Norbert Friedrich Antonius Wratislaw Mena Fuerst zu Schwarzenberg, he cut his political teeth as a senior adviser to Vaclav Havel, the respected hero of the 1989 anti-communist Velvet Revolution. Havel became president of Czechoslovakia in 1989 and of the Czech Republic in 1993.

Schwarzenberg has said he "didn't hesitate a minute," when Havel called him to service and has since vowed to continue the late Havel's pro-European and human rights legacy.

Born in Prague on December 10, 1937, Schwarzenberg and his family fled the country after the 1948 Communist takeover began an era of persecution of the nobility.

After studying law and forestry at universities in Austria and Germany -- without "ever finishing any of that" -- he took charge of the family assets, including forests and the Schwarzenberg palace with a hotel in Vienna.

Still in exile in 1984, Schwarzenberg became president of the International Helsinki Committee for human rights.

After the fall of communism in 1989, he returned to Czechoslovakia to work for Havel and regained a considerable part of his family's fortune confiscated by the communists.

Schwarzenberg, who has Czech and Swiss nationality, became a senator in 2004 and then foreign minister in 2007 in a right-wing government toppled midway through the Czech EU presidency in 2009.

He co-founded the conservative TOP 09 party and became foreign minister in the centre-right government of Petr Necas, in office since mid-July 2010.

Schwarzenberg has two sons and a daughter with his wife Therese, whom he married in 1967 and then again in 2008 following a 1988 divorce.

He is famous for a love of good food, wine, whisky and for dozing off in public during tedious political meetings.

"I fall asleep when others talk nonsense," he once told reporters.

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