Experts blame gaffes and gov't for 'Prince's' defeat
Schwarzenberg's candidacy marred by links to Cabinet
Posted: January 30, 2013
On any normal Saturday, the Lucerna Music Bar is one of the happiest spots in Prague, but there was no mistaking the gloom and despair inside the popular nightclub as Karel Schwarzenberg's bid to become president came to an end.
Hundreds of hopeful supporters, led by dozens of celebrities and society A-listers, had crammed into the historic building, which was designed by the grandfather of the country's first president, Václav Havel. However, as the enormity of Schwarzenberg's defeat became apparent over the afternoon, the candidate's faithful began contemplating what had gone wrong for their "Prince."
"I hope in the future people will recognize their fault, their bad decision, and maybe in the next election change will happen," lamented a despondent Karolína Hanušová, who, like so many of her generation in urban centers such as Prague, had backed Schwarzenberg.
On the first day of polling in the runoff second round, there had been an ominous sign for the 75-year-old political veteran when his own vote was rendered invalid. The presidential candidate had failed to put his ballot paper in the official envelope before placing it in the ballot box, a mistake captured by cameras onsite.
"Such things happen now and then. It would be worse if I broke my leg," Schwarzenberg later remarked.
On the same day, Schwarzenberg's team had filed a criminal complaint regarding an ad in the tabloid Blesk claiming he was preparing the way to return property to descendants of war criminals. Zeman's campaign said it had nothing to do with the ad, which was placed by a former StB (State Security) agent, lawyer Vladimír Zavadil.
Once Schwarzenberg's defeat was eventually confirmed, many of those who had gathered at his official campaign reception were readily acknowledging the TOP 09 chairman's race had struggled because of his links to the deeply unpopular government of Prime Minister Peter Nečas. While Schwarzenberg was unable to distance himself from the corruption scandals that have tainted the reputation of the current administration, they agreed Zeman was fortunate that after a decade of semi-retirement, many voters had forgotten about his own scandals when he was last in office.
The aristocrat's bid for Prague Castle had also suffered a severe setback when he suggested the Czech violence against Sudeten Germans after World War II would today be "condemned as a gross violation of human rights." Zeman exploited the comments, accusing Schwarzenberg of "speaking like a Sudeten German, not like a president."
The insult was particularly effective given that Schwarzenberg, whose family fled Czechoslovakia after the communist coup in 1948, is regularly lampooned for his accent and often archaic use of the Czech language. A STEM/Mark poll conducted for Czech Television confirmed the top factors working against Schwarzenberg were his indistinct articulation, his dual citizenship and his unfortunate comment about the Beneš Decrees.
Political analyst Zdeněk Zbořil says Schwarzenberg was not helped by the "furious" campaign waged by some media, and he agrees Zeman's past did not seem to concern voters.
"Almost nobody remembers the affairs of the 1990s. There have been dozens of other scandals since," he said, adding the media and the celebrities who had openly backed Schwarzenberg were too aggressive.
Dozens of those stars responded to the election defeat by sending a message to Miloš Zeman declaring that "you are not and will never be my president." The petition was signed by artists, intellectuals and personalities who had been close to the late Havel. "Winning by means of lies and Communist StB secret service methods is a Pyrrhic victory," said film director Monika Le Fay.
Economist and former Havel adviser Tomáš Sedláček was one of the disappointed supporters who'd gathered at Lucerna, but he acknowledged "the era of Václav Klaus is over." The internationally recognized academic says the Czech Republic will still be able to improve European relations and the new president could even help convince the United Kingdom to remain in the EU fold.
"This is not the time to be hysterical. I mean this is not a one-night stand," he told The Prague Post. "European integration is a marriage for good and for bad, and this is of course a hard time but not only for Europe, also for America, for Japan, for the whole global economy, and it would be a tremendous mistake to start dismantling something that we've been building for 50 years."
In the meantime, Schwarzenberg has declared he will remain leader of the TOP 09 party in Parliament and continue in his role as foreign affairs minister in the center-right coalition. In October, he is expected to run unopposed for his party's chairmanship.
Colleague and Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek says that while the country has missed the chance to have Schwarzenberg as president, there is still a significant chance Czechs could one day have him as their prime minister.
Andrew Greene can be reached at