Czech PM seeks early visit by Barack Obama in early 2009


The Czech government and Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek in particular have signaled their intention to invite Barack Obama - the new President-elect of the United States - to the Czech Republic in early 2009. The purpose: to attend an informal EU summit to be held in Prague in the spring. The visit would coincide with the Czech Republic’s term presiding over the EU, which begins on January 1. Dominik Jun spoke to political commentator Erik Best and asked him how important a visit by the newly sworn-in President Barack Obama would be:

Barack Obama, photo: CTKBarack Obama, photo: CTK “I think that it is a very good step. Clearly, the Czech Republic will lead the European Union, so it is quite appropriate and by making the announcement now, it is kind of claiming the territory. There was perhaps some discussion about edging aside the Czech Republic and by saying this, the country is clearly saying ‘No, we will be hosting the presidency and we are taking the initiative, and we would like to have the new US president attend.’ So I think that it was a very good tactical move.”

And what kind of an impact is a visit by then President Obama likely to have? Are we likely to see the kind of Obama-mania that we’ve seen in other parts of the world?

“It will depend a bit on what happens between now and then. I think that it won’t happen right away. The date that I saw was April, which means that it is quite a way. But I can imagine that he will be treated much the way that he was when he went to Germany recently – that is with great rapture and large crowds if he made a public appearance. But at the same time, it would be within the bounds of a much bigger event with the heads of twenty-six other countries, so it is possible that his public exposure will be limited.”

And there have been other visits by US presidents prior to this – President George W. Bush, President Bill Clinton and President George H. W. Bush before that, so how will this visit compare to those? Obviously we remember how President Clinton played saxophone in a Prague jazz club and was very well received.

“If it were tomorrow, I think the Czechs would try to portray it as a very big event; they would try to have some kind of outdoor event at Wenceslas Square or Old Town Square, and I think it would be very well received by Czechs. The visits by other US presidents were more working events, with small gatherings – I attended a small panel discussion with President Clinton and it wasn’t of course this kind of mega-star atmosphere that Obama would have if he came now. But much depends on what happens between now and the actual visit.”