Czech prince mixes charm and punk in run for presidency

Thu Jan 24, 2013 7:40am EST
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By Jan Lopatka

PRAGUE (Reuters) - A 75-year-old prince with a centuries-old lineage and a taste for the unconventional has won a surprise following in his bid for the Czech presidency with a "punk rock" campaign that has energized Czechs weary of the current political class.

Karel Schwarzenberg has struck a chord among young voters by mixing old world charm with posters showing him with a purple mohawk over the slogan "Karel for PreSident", a reference to bassist Sid Vicious of the punk rock band the Sex Pistols.

In real life, Schwarzenberg wears a three-piece suit and bow tie and smokes a pipe, but his supporters appreciate that he can poke fun at himself.

He is running neck-and-neck with leftist Milos Zeman ahead of a runoff vote in the country's first presidential election this weekend. Previous presidents were selected by parliament in back-room deals which led to public demands for a direct vote.

"He can bring something that is missing in this country, some class and morality," said student Kamil Valsik, 25.

"There is a lot of theft going on. He will not steal, he is 'old money'. That's why I want him," he said, reflecting many Czechs' frustration with widespread corruption.

Currently the foreign minister, Schwarzenberg worked as chancellor to the first post-communist President Vaclav Havel in the early 1990s. Supporters see him as heir to the dissident writer and human rights activist who united the nation in the peaceful 1989 "Velvet Revolution".

His campaign is run by friends from his favorite Prague hangout Mlejn (The Mill), a smoky cafe where students mix with artists and can chat with Schwarzenberg, who can often goes there for a nightcap.   Continued...

A worker adjust a billboard featuring the Czech presidential candidate Karel Schwarzenberg in central Prague January 22, 2013. REUTERS/Petr Josek