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Commentariat: Czech pundits divided on Obama

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It was an election all of Europe watched with bated breath, and, if opinion surveys are anything to go by, most Europeans, Czechs included, welcomed Barack Obama’s victory early yesterday morning. Commentaries in the Czech press, however, varied from celebratory and wildly optimistic to cautiously sceptical.

In Lidové noviny, Alexandr Tomský saw the election results as proof of “the unshakable faith of Americans that all people are equal”. Like many commentators, Tomský focused on the race issue: “The half-white candidate had the faith to finally rid America of its century-old racism complex,” he wrote. “Like him, America has for a while now been only half white.” Tomský went on to say that Obama’s win happened at the grassroots level, in spite of the inner machinery of the party apparatus and the “Clinton dynasty”.

At the same time, Tomský voiced scepticism about Obama’s ability to pull America out of “two unwinnable wars” and its crippling credit crisis.

“It might seem childish to us, European sceptics, that Americans need an injection of political euphoria and optimism. We could say that excitement and wisdom do not go hand in hand,” he wrote. “But one thing is clear: From every crisis so far, America has been able to rise up again better and stronger. If it fails to do that this time, our civilisation could be in peril. Maybe even for us, some of that naive American faith wouldn’t hurt.”

Writing for, Petr Dudek cited statistics from 1990, according to which 53% of white Americans believe that African-Americans are less intelligent than whites. And 56% believe that blacks prefer to live off welfare rather than work. People’s opinions couldn’t have changed that much in the last two decades, wrote Dudek. “In order to succeed in this year’s election, Barack Obama had to overcome the deeply embedded aversion of a large segment of the voting population. The skin colour of its presidential candidate is a question that reaches deep within the American society’s collective memory,” he wrote. “Obama is proof that Americans today are answering this question differently than their parents’ generation had.”

But others downplayed Obama’s potential to bring about any revolutionary change to American society. “In reality, Obama is promising what many US presidents promise: that things will remain within the boundaries of the country’s well-trodden path,” wrote Villiam Buchert in “Maybe he will want to shift course slightly. But to bring about change after President Bush is the easiest task that Obama could have gotten.”

Martin Ehl, writing in Hospodářské noviny , agreed: “The world will accept anything the successor does with relief,” he wrote. He went on to defend George W. Bush against some of the criticisms levied against him. “George W. Bush was – especially during his first term – a decisive leader in at a difficult time,” he wrote. “He may not have been the best manager, or hero or a great orator, but Geoerge W. Bush certainly doesn’t deserve the label “the worst American president’.”

Buchert even argued that Obama may not, in the end, do things all that differently. He will not be any socialist, he said, as some Czech journalists suggest. “On the contrary, the dovish Obama of today will mercilessly bomb any enemy country that would threaten the security of the United States. He won’t be any different from Bush in this respect,” Buchert wrote. “No American president (maybe with the exception of Ronald Reagan) brought about as much change, as he had promised in his election campaign. Obama will be no exception – even if, for African-Americans, at least, he has rewritten US history.”

Strangely, most commentators failed to address the possible impact of Obama’s win on Czech-US relations and on the future of the planned anti-missile radar. In a news story in, Tereza Nosálková noted, however, that Obama has not yet taken any definite stance on the missile defence project. For that very reason, Czech Deputy PM Alexandr Vondra plans a visit to the United States 17 November (the day when the US visa waiver program comes into effect for Czechs) to meet with someone from Obama’s team and discuss America’s missile defence plans.

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