PRAGUE (Reuters) - Former Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, one of the leading figures in the country's post-Communist era, has died, officials said on Sunday. He was 85.
Schwarzenberg was born into a prestigious Czech family and became a senior aide to his friend Vaclav Havel after the former dissident won the country's first free election in 1990. He later served twice as foreign minister between 2007 and 2013.
He was a strong backer of closer integration in Europe, and while he was a declared conservative, his appeal stretched to urban liberal groups and younger people in politics.
The Vaclav Havel Library, which Schwarzenberg co-founded, said he died on Saturday, calling him a "patriot and true European". Czech media had said he had been transported to hospital in Vienna last week.
"He was one of the most important and kindest people in my life," Miroslav Kalousek, founder of the TOP09 party that Schwarzenberg led from its start, said in a social media post.
"May he rest in peace, the Czech Republic should be forever grateful to him for everything he selflessly did for it."
Schwarzenberg had spent a large part of his life in exile as his family was among major targets of the Communists who took power in a 1948 coup, confiscating the vast Schwarzenberg property which included chateaux, forests and land mainly in the south of the country near Austria, where they also had land.
While in exile in Austria, he took over the family's estate and also supported the anti-communist human rights movement and sponsored a library of banned Czech literature.
After the Velvet Revolution of 1989, which peacefully toppled Communist rule in then Czechoslovakia, Schwarzenberg became Havel's chief of staff.
Czech Television cited him as saying after his return: "You don't know the happiness a person has when he can be home again."
The Foreign Ministry called him an inspiration to two generations of diplomats. Like Havel, he hated idle chatter and would reply to discussions on the wrongs of the world with, "Well, what are we going to do about it?"
"He knew how uncertain and fragile our freedom and democracy and the position of the Czech Republic in Europe and the world were," the ministry said.
Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said on X that Schwarzenberg was an "unwavering advocate" of democracy and the European idea. "He was a Central European in the best sense of the word."
Schwarzenberg became a senator in 2004 and then helped start the TOP09 party, which is a junior member in the centre-right government coalition now in power.
In 2013, he ran for president, but lost to Milos Zeman, another towering figure of post-1989 Czech politics who finished his second presidential term earlier this year.
(Reporting by Jason Hovet and Jan Lopatka; editing by Philippa Fletcher)