Analyst: Obama address significant and symbolic for many Czechs

Barack Obama, photo: CTK

Not surprisingly, US President Barack Obama’s visit to Prague eclipsed all other news in the Czech Republic at the weekend. At the centre of everyone’s attention: the US president’s address on Hradčany Square. In his speech he outlined his vision of a world without nuclear weapons. How good a speech was it and how significant was it for Czechs? Those were questions Radio Prague put to political analyst Jiří Pehe.

Barack Obama,  photo: Štěpánka Budková
“It was a very ambitious speech, definitely. I think that Mr Obama managed to outline a very courageous plan for nuclear disarmament and the fact that he chose to make this speech in Prague is quite symbolic and quite important. Of course, it is a big question to what extent this plan is realistic and can be put into force. Nevertheless the fact that he came forward with such a plan here was very flattering for Prague and for Czechs.”

As you say Prague was a good choice for his address because of its history, as it was behind the Iron Curtain for 40 years. During his speech Mr Obama also said the US would stand by the Czech Republic in the future; was that a message for Russia?

“I think that President Obama was definitely trying to make an important point with this statement – it wasn’t just a statement delivered out of courtesy. I think that the reason was that he knows a lot of Czechs are worried by Russia and various dangers that could come from the East. Second, because he’s still non-committal about the future of US missile defence plans in Europe, he wanted to assure the Czechs that even if the radar is not built in the Czech Republic in the end that we remain allies. The United States, within the framework of NATO, would protect us.”

He mentioned Article 5…

Barack Obama and Václav Havel,  photo: CTK
“Absolutely. And that was very important and something that many, many supporters of the anti-missile radar missed. They see the radar as some kind of additional security dimension for the Czech Republic which would add to our security. Which it probably would, but at the same time radar supporters forget that the Czech Republic is in NATO, together with the US, and that Article 5 of the Washington Treaty states the US along with other allies would come to our help if we were ever attacked. The fact that Obama emphasised this is I think very important.”

One other point I’d like to bring up: during his visit Mr Obama also met with the former Czech president Václav Havel: how significant, in your view, was their meeting?

“I think it was very symbolic simply because both men represent history: they made history and in some ways belong to a very small group of people who will be the subject of textbooks and will be remembered for a very long time. Both are a part of history: Havel for his role in helping down communism and serving as a symbol of transformation in central and eastern Europe, Obama as America’s first black president. In that context they share common ground.”