Karel von Schwarzenberg: Unification in Jail

Source: The Freedom Collection www.freedomcollection.org /
Interviewed April 2010 /
Karel Von Schwarzenberg was born in Prague into a Bohemian noble family. After the Communist coup d’état in Czechoslovakia in 1948, he and his family fled to Austria. He studied law and forestry, then became active in supporting the resistance movement in Czechoslovakia and in promoting human rights abroad. From 1984 to 1991 he chaired the International Helsinki Committee for Human Rights.

In the fall of 1989 Schwarzenberg returned to Czechoslovakia. From 1990 until 1992 he served as chancellor to the president of the Czech Republic, Václav Havel. After managing his family company for a number of years, in November 2004 Schwarzenberg was elected to the Czech Senate. On January 9, 2007, he was named foreign minister of the Czech Republic.

The unique thing about Charter 77 was that it united a lot of very different opinions. There were people connected with it who were Catholic believers. There were people who were — in the 1970s, in the Communist Party, left and right, let’s say — who were very dissenting opinions, diverse opinions and views of the world. But by the systems that were developed, the speakers which were elected and so on, and by the unique ability of Vaclav Havel, who was able – which was what he did his whole life – to bring together groups which otherwise didn’t speak together, and help out at least.

The normalization regime made one fault. They didn’t execute anymore, it’s true, like they did in the 1950s. But they sent a lot of people to prison. And suddenly in the prisons they met people who were, I don’t know, secret priests or people of a solid bourgeois background. Very liberal but liberal in the European sense, not in the American sense. Very open-minded people.

And they were suddenly in the same prison and in maybe in the same room with these people who were still, in the 1970s, members of the Communist Party, who for their whole life were avid communists. Suddenly all these people, very different backgrounds, they think that in jail that the other is not the devil person – that he has no horns on the head, no hoof. And they started to discuss between each other. And that was when the things which made the Charter 77 possible, because then when they got out of jail quite a lot of them signed it.