Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 23rd 2013 Contents A49
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July 1-6, 2013
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PRAGUE---It was a moment of high drama:
the Czech prime minister stood up in parlia-
ment to try to salvage a political career tor-
pedoed by the arrest of an aide, and Foreign
Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, sitting next
to him, had dozed off.
Schwarzenberg s habit of napping has, instead
of being a liability, made him popular among
Czechs fed up with their political class and its
endemic corruption, and desperate for someone
who breaks the mould.
A 75-year-old aristocrat, Schwarzenberg
printed posters for the last parliamentary election
campaign which deftly brought together his
penchant for snoozing, his reputation as an
outsider, and the distaste many Czechs feel for
The slogan read: "When they talk rubbish,
The European Union member has embraced
free speech and market reforms since emerging
from Communist rule in 1989 but politics has
been dominated by scandals and Czechs are
tired of the fiscal austerity that has helped
deepen a recession.
Voters disillusionment with the political
establishment reached new lows last week when
prosecutors charged eight people, including an
aide to Prime Minister Petr Necas, with bribery
and unauthorised spying.
Necas resigned on Sunday, but his departure
is unlikely to herald a fresh start. His own party
is expected to nominate the next prime minister
from among its ranks, and the leading candidates
are veteran political insiders.
"The public has grown increasingly disen-
chanted with the political class," said Jiri Pehe,
a former adviser to Vaclav Havel, the democratic
activist jailed under communism who later
became Czech president. "People tend to believe
that all politicians are corrupt."
Against this back-drop, Schwarzenberg feels
like a breath of fresh air. He speaks his mind,
he takes a breezy approach to the rules of pol-
itics, and because of his centuries-old family
wealth, many Czechs believe Schwarzenberg,
a prince, is above corruption.
After early years in a Czech chateau, his
family emigrated to Austria to escape Com-
munist rule. A 16th-century palace next to
Prague castle has his family name carved into
the stonework above the entrance.
He is the most trusted party politician, with
44 per cent support, according to a poll in April
by CVVM, a Czech public opinion research
"He has a completely different view of things.
Whenever I hear him speak I always feel better
and that this country is not such a bad place
to be," said Filip Hanak, 30, the owner of a pub
in the Czech capital.
"I don t know whether it s his archaic Czech
or the way he speaks about things, it feels as
if he were above it all and the dreadful scandals
seem digestible when he speaks about them."
Schwarzenberg s critics say he is a dilettante
unsuited to governing. Others say that behind
the outsider s image, he too is part of the sys-
tem. They point to people such as Finance
Minister Miroslav Kalousek, a veteran political
insider, who is number two in Schwarzenberg s
His irreverent style was on display during
last week s political crisis. At a briefing to
announce whether his party would back
Necas, Schwarzenberg wore a punk-style T-
shirt paying homage to Ivan "Magor" Jirous,
an underground poet.
Asked in a newspaper interview about the
collapse of the coalition government, of which
his party is a member, he said he had mixed
feelings. "It s like watching as your mother-
in-law goes over the cliff in your new Mer-
cedes," he said.
He denied having been asleep when the
prime minister spoke in parliament last Friday.
Nevertheless, his sleeping has become a calling
A Facebook page dedicated to him gives
him the nick-name "Schlafenberg," a play on
the German word for sleep.
When newly-elected President Milos Zeman
gave his inaugural speech in parliament in
March, the foreign minister sat in his usual
position on the dais. His eyes were closed,
and his head dropped lower and lower, before
he suddenly jerked awake.
Dozing prince a cult hero
for disenchanted Czechs
Czech Republic's Foreign Minister and chairman of the TOP09 Party Karel Schwarzenberg naps
during a parliament session in Prague on June 18. AP PHOTO
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