Obama in Prague: The Speech at Hradcany Square – an Analysis

1 05 2009

About 30,000 people gathered at Hradčanské náměstí (Hradcany Square) on Prague Castle of Apr. 5 to hear U.S. President Barack Obama. The whole city seemed to have turned out to hear this most eloquent of politicians, waiting patiently in the chill morning.

Today, 20 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, Obama praised the role the Czechs had played through peaceful protest:

“The Sametová Revoluce – the Velvet Revolution taught us many things,” he said, pausing, to allow the applause to die off. Not only was his pronunciation nearly flawless, said Czechs in the audience, but it touched those who had taken to the streets so long ago.

“It showed us that small countries can play a pivotal role in the world events, and that young people can lead the way in overcoming conflicts.” As in 1989, “moral leadership is more powerful than any weapon.”

Obama’s visit to Prague came at a difficult time for the young democracy, with a deepening political conflict between President Václav Klaus, first post-Communist Prime Minister and architect of the Czech Republic’s economic success of the 1990s, the conservative minority government of Mirek Topolánek and the Social democratic opposition, led by former Prime Minister Jiří Paroubek

On Mar. 24, just days before Obama’s arrival and in the midst of the EU presidency, Topolanek’s government lost a no confidence vote in the Czech Parliament over whether to allow some of the controversial U.S. missile defense shield to be installed on Czech territory. Topolanek will step down by May 8 to make way for a transition government of technocrat Jan Fischer, head of the Czech Statistical Office, before interim elections in October. Read the rest of this entry »





Obama in Prague: The Ceremonial Act

30 04 2009

Barack Obama in PraguePhotos: Matthias Wurz

It was Apr. 2, early in the evening when I received the confirmation via email: an accreditation by the Czech Presidents Office for the visit of U.S. President Barack Obama with Czech President Vaclav Klaus on Palm Sunday, Apr. 5.

There was only one catch: I could only go as a photographer for the Welcoming Ceremony at the castle, also a chance for getting closer to the man. For Obama’s long-expected speech on his vision of peace and non-proliferation at Hradcany Square, I had to take a pass.

My train journey from Vienna to Prague on Saturday evening was uneventful, and the city itself did not seem to be ‘under siege,’ as in June 2006 when former U.S. President George W. Bush came to Vienna.

But that changed the next morning, just hours ahead of the presidents’ meeting. Following advice from the hotel staff, I took public transport to the castle. When I boarded the No. 12 tram near my hotel at about 6:00, every American in the city seemed to be going the same way.

Read the rest of this entry »