Playboy minister finished in politics

There has been a great deal of speculation as to who will take the cabinet posts in the government currently being formed by the Social Democrats' Vladimir Spidla. However, one thing is certain - the youngest ever minister to serve in a Czech government, Karel Brezina, will not be remaining in power. Brezina, at the age of 29, is - in political terms at least - yesterday's man. As Ian Willoughby reports now, Karel Brezina's fate sealed when his local branch of the Social Democrats refused to put the controversial minister on their electoral list.

Karel Brezina had never been elected in the first place. He was appointed minister without portfolio by his friend, Prime Minister Milos Zeman, in March 2000. Up to then he had been head of the Government Office. Another ally of Brezina's, the former top communist Miroslav Slouf, was Mr Zeman's chief advisor.

Brezina cut an unusual figure to say the least at the time of his appointment. He was 27 and looked his age; but he did have a real air of confidence, some might say cockiness, about him. There were questions as to what he could achieve as minister without portfolio; Mr Zeman put him in charge of drug policy, family and youth affairs and a committee for the handicapped. Brezina also took an interest in the Internet.

It didn't take long for Karel Brezina to become a regular fixture in the Czech tabloids. There was no two ways about it, Brezina - despite not being classically handsome - was a ladies man, and proud of it. He was a judge at a beauty contest, and said on television that he had slept with 30 to 40 women, something he himself described as a pretty good performance. And that's not something you often hear a cabinet minister say.

And few ministers can have appeared in a colour supplement with their partner's hands covering their nether regions. Brezina's partner was herself a tabloid regular; Barbora Nesvadbova was a writer of racy novels, a TV presenter, and the editor of Czech Playboy. Brezina and Nesvadbova got married in August 2001. It was an intimate affair, with just the bride and groom and two witnesses present. That is if you don't count the scores of photographers and cameramen who somehow got word of the 'secret' ceremony.

The path of true love never did run smooth, and Karel Brezina had hardly had time to unpack after his honeymoon before the tabloids reported that Prime Minister Milos Zeman's secretary was expecting a baby. The father? You guessed it - the minister without portfolio.

Into the middle of all these scandals waltzed the magazine Reflex, when its weekly Zeleny Raul cartoon depicted Brezina in poses for which the word compromising is hardly adequate. Let's just say they didn't leave much to the imagination, and were perhaps lurid beyond the imaginations of many. A gentleman must defend his honour, and Karel Brezina took the magazine to court for defamation. The magazine's defence - he had only himself to blame for presenting himself as a playboy. Even prime minister Zeman calls him a sex maniac, argued the lawyer for Reflex's publishers. That argument didn't impress the judges, who ruled in Brezina's favour.

After two years of scandals, and low ratings in the popularity polls, Brezina can hardly have been surprised when the Social Democrats said they wouldn't dream of letting him run in the elections. His protector Milos Zeman stepped down as partly leader, and Brezina has not been embraced by Zeman's replacement, the more sober and moderate Vladimir Spidla.

Never one to miss an opportunity, Brezina hoped to spend the last few weeks of his term as minister on a foreign tour which would take in the World Cup. But that was too much even for Prime Minister Zeman, who scotched the plan.

Brezina has spoken of a career in business, and was once mentioned as a possible head of the Czech football association. Whatever he does, politics will be a duller place without him. Karel Brezina - will we ever see the like of him again?