Czech village to honour U.S. presidential candidate John F. Kerry

U.S. presidential candidate John Kerry, photo: CTK

This year's U.S. presidential elections have attracted attention world-wide, but there's one place in the Czech Republic where the contest carries special resonance: Horni Benesov, a village in northern Moravia, that was once home to Democrat challenger John F. Kerry's grandfather, Fritz Kohn, who emigrated to the U.S. in 1905.

U.S. presidential candidate John Kerry, photo: CTK
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U.S. Senator John F. Kerry a few weeks ago, now understandably riding high after recent polls put him back in the U.S. presidential race. Here in the Czech Republic, many are also excited, not necessarily because they support his policies, but simply because Kerry's paternal grandfather, the German-speaking Fritz Kohn, of Jewish descent, hailed from Horni Benesov, a little Moravian town, which has now decided to bestow honorary citizenship on Kohn's famous grandson.

The interest in Mr Kerry began long before he had even clinched the Democratic Party primaries: according to Horni Benesov's Mayor Josef Klech the village would like to honour Kerry not because he might actually win the U.S. election, but because of the success story his family history had come to represent: - going from almost nothing to becoming "something" in just two generations.

"One of the important factors why we want to honour John Kerry is because his family managed something remarkable - going from poverty to producing a son who went on to become senator and - I firmly believe - the next president of the United States."

Eva Otahalova from Media Flow, the media company behind Horni Benesov's campaign, explains that along with granting the Massachusetts senator honorary citizenship, plans were also underway for a plaque and a memorial on the site of the family's original home.

"I think that Czech people, as a small nation, should be proud of anybody who comes from this region, as an example I could give Madame Albright with Czech roots and we shouldn't let this fact slip away. That somebody with forefathers in the Czech Republic could reach the U.S. senate and possibly the White House, and I think that it's extraordinary and interesting and that we should continue with this project."

The mayor of Horni Benesov Josef Klech shows the photo of the house of Kerry's grandfather, photo: CTK
But, are Horni Benesov's locals themselves taken by the idea? After all, their village is part of Moravia's depressed industrial belt suffering high unemployment. The lack of jobs or well-paid salaries indicates inhabitants have more pressing issues on their minds. Town mayor Josef Klech is aware of the problem but remains confident residents will see the benefits of a Kerry plaque - and possibly a democracy memorial - in time.

"The reaction has been mixed but I'd like to point out opinions are evolving. At the beginning reactions were apathetic and uninterested but I believe this is now changing as the public learns more. One reason why the initial reaction was negative was the fact that most of Horni Benesov's residents have no historic roots, or understanding of their town, where most original inhabitants were ethnic Germans expelled after World War II."

Finally, according to Media Flow, Mr Kerry's office has expressed interest in Horni Benesov's campaign and has not ruled out a visit by Mr Kerry to his grandfather's ancestral town. Obviously if and when Mr Kerry does so will depend on how he fares on November 2nd, Election Day. He could then either visit as the distinguished senator he has been until now, or as the 44th president of the United States.