On Saturday, former Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg passed away. Another prominent Central European figure has left us: a Viennese born in Prague, a Praguer who died in Vienna; an Austrian-Bohemian aristocrat who in Czechia became a liberal politician and nearly the president; a freethinking intellectual whose family and life reflected the contradictions and commonalities of Central Europe – a region disintegrated after 1918, divided after 1945, but growing together since 1989.
As a Viennese intellectual and as the President of “International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights”, Schwarzenberg advocated for the peoples of Central Europe who were oppressed under Soviet communism. When Czechoslovakia regained its freedom in 1989, he returned to his birthplace, Prague, where he initially served as the chancellor (chief of staff) to President Václav Havel, later becoming the foreign minister of Czechia.
He was a close friend of Erhard Busek, the longtime chairman of the Institute for the Danube Region and Central Europe (IDM). Together, they embodied a type of politician who remained intellectually open, thinking and acting across borders in Central Europe.