The prince

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.

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”.

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