The Prague Castle looked like it was going to host an outdoor rock concert on Sunday morning when mostly young people in their 20s and 30s crowded at the gates to Hradčanské náměstí. The gates were open from seven in the morning, but those who had a ticket by the US Embassy that secured entrance to the front sector of the square were let in preferentially.
Later in the morning, the square was crowded mainly with American expats and other foreigners living or visiting Prague, although thousands of Czechs also came to see the American president.
As one of the Britons attending the event put it, US President Barack Obama is a celebrity, and the atmosphere looked accordingly. Women were interested in what Michelle Obama was going to wear, with some joking that this has been the main interest of many tabloids recently. Below are some of the comments from people who came to hear the speech.
Comments from before Barack Obama delivered his public address
“That’s what politics is these days. It’s a media image. Obama is a celebrity. I can’t imagine a British politician getting such a response, well, not Brown, anyway. Maybe Blair.”
– Simon Thaxton, 34, Bristol, works in fiancial services, in Prague on holiday
“Obama may change things in the US but his presidency will not impact the Czech Republic. As lawyers, Obama and his wife have good experience. New thoughts can be inspirational for us. I’m happy I can listen to his speech.”
– Marta Chovancová, lawyer, Prague
“It’s an international event. I voted for the guy. It’s fun to see him. So far I’m satisfied. I’m very impressed in how much he’s done. I am optimistic.”
– Derek DeWitt, 41, San Francisco, English teacher living in ČR
“It is very important for us to be here today. We have great expectations. This is opportunity for things to be different. We are talking about international relations, especially with China and Russia.”
– Francisco Pavão, 22, Portugal, representative of ISMAP – International Students Medical Association in Pilsen
“I live nearby. If I had to travel across town, I probably wouldn’t go. But it’s a historical occasion. When else will we get to see a black president at the White House? And here we get to see him up close.”
– Dáša Potužáková, 65, Prague, accountant
“Obama is a nice guy. I’m looking forward to his voice, what it’s going to sound like. We’re not following politics, he just feels to be a good man, that’s why we’re here. We held our fingers crossed for him in the elections, but we don’t have any rational reasons for it.”
– Radka Buryšková, 22, and Helena Jurenková, 23, Letohrad, studying in Prague
“All our Czech friends are going to the protest against the radar at Wenceslas Square. We’re going there too later. I think a lot of people here think the Americans just want to use them. It’s important that the Czechs get something out of the radar too.”
– Brooke Sahlstrom, 22, American studying sociology at Charles University
“I just want to see Obama. I haven’t seen any president. We’re just joking around. It would be good if there was more music and beer. To make it more exciting.”
– Fernando, 27, Mexico, English teacher living in Prague
“Obama’s speaking in Prague is important for symbolic reasons. It shows that we belong among western countries and that Europe is no longer divided. I came here partly out of curiousity, but I also wanted my children to see an authentic experience. So much of what we see now is second-hand.”
– Martina Vondrová, 42, Prague, teacher, came to hear the speech with her three children
“I am proud Obama is giving his speech in Prague, although I wanted Clinton to be the president as she was a female candidate, and I like her better. I am going to wave to Obama and Topolánek, not Klaus. I am angry with the Czech president. He could have done more to prevent the government from collapsing. In fact, I think he is behind the collapse.”
– Pavla from Prague who came with her family
Comments after Obama’s speech
“The speech was great. The fact he announced his plan for nuclear disarmament in Prague is quite good. You should feel proud.”
– Rick Kovar from the US, who was on the phone with his mother after the speech who had been watching the event on CNN back home.
“It’s a continuation of Bush, only Obama is a better speaker. Obama made it clear that if Iran and Korea will continue in their nuclear programmes, they wil be slapped on the wrist.”
– Pavel, Prague, student
“I came to see the crowd. I knew it was going to be different from the crowds he [Obama] got in the States that I attended and it proved less satisfying. In the US it was an amazing melting pot. I regret there were few Czech people in the front section, I think there should have been more. I voted for Obama because of his palpable honesty and integrity. Unfortunately, people expected him to go and do A, B, C, D and E but that is not the way it works in politics, it is necessary to prioritise and compromise.”
– Joseph Morris, 46, American living in Prague, art consultant
“It gives me power to live in this town.”
– André Gabriel Debrito from Angola, who has been living in Prague since 1992 and now works in computer research, answering when asked what it means to him having Obama as a president.
“Obama’s speech should show people not to be self-absorbed, to free themselves from the so-called ‘čecháčkovství’. Maybe people who were here will take something from it but not those watching the speech on TV.”
– Petr Pluhař, 24, working in healthcare sector
“Michelle Obama actually touched my clothes. We all shook their hands, and we’re still a little overwhelmed. I’m still teary. It was one of the best days in my life. I’ve seen Obama speak a few times, but I’ve never been so close.”
– Jean Bradham, 20, studying in London
“I’m a little surprised. I have children, and I want them to be safe, so I would like to see the radar here. The speech sounded nice, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed, but negotiating with the Russians is naive. The Americans are capable of changing; the Russians are not.”
– Martina Vondrová, 42, a teacher from Prague, came to hear the speech with her three children
“I was standing in the second row, and when Obama came down after the speech and shook hands with me, I told him that if we want peace we should not be building a radar base here, and he replied: ‘I know.'”
– Kristin Barendsen, 41, Colorado, writer/editor, living in Prague