Karel Schwarzenberg was about the same age as the dissidents who moved into Prague Castle in 1989 during Czechoslovakia’s velvet revolution. But for many of them, he seemed like a canny elder statesman.
Appeared in print on 19.07.2007
In that year Schwarzenberg returned from four decades of exile. He soon became an adviser to Václav Havel, the playwright-turned-president. Schwarzenberg doled out advice on diplomatic niceties, the ways of western politicians – many of whom he knew – and even advised the scruffy dissidents how to dress, notably persuading Havel to abandon jeans for suits. Pavel Seifter, an academic who worked as a window-cleaner during the communist years, also benefited from Schwarzenberg’s sartorial know-how. Professor Seifter recalls a state visit to Austria when he went without the obligatory white-tie get-up. On his arrival he was given two suits to choose between – both paid for by Schwarzenberg. Seifter says that Schwarzenberg was generous without being condescending, adding “he took care of these inexperienced people who had to enter the adult world”.