To Prague, With Reluctance

hradcanskaIf this is Saturday, and you’re the American president, then that countryside you see down below, outside of the windows of Air Force One, must be the Czech Republic. Yes, today Obama and entourage flies on to Prague, and Dan Bilefsky in the New York Times already has the details about how he has the tricky task before him of visiting a country’s capital while taking care to have very little to do with top leaders of the government there – and pulling all this off without seeming impolite or ungrateful for the hospitality. The first trick involves invoking a presidential desire for a night off in scenic Prague, to grab the chance for an intimate dinner with Michelle at a “secret location,” in order to avoid any extended encounter-over-a-meal with either Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek (who publicly labeled Obama’s domestic budget plans a “road to hell”* only a few days ago; is a rather stolid, apparatchik-type guy anyway; speaks little English – and, most vitally, is now but a “caretaker” prime minister after his government fell this past week) or President Václav Klaus (speaks excellent English, now is in whip-hand position to determine composition of the next Czech government – but who could also bring on an attack of extreme presidential indigestion, no matter how excellent the food served, with his outspoken and negative opinions about the EU and climate change; for more about this in English, from the Economist, see here).

OK, so Bilefsky has his NYT account. (And what luck that he ran across one “Martin Kotas” – last name probably really spelled “Kotaš” – who provided so many pungent opinions about the Americans and enabled him to use the phrase “literally cried into his beer”! But I would counsel Bilefsky to avoid the cheap-but-tempting one-person anecdote in favor of consulting, say, the many polls available that can clearly show how attitudes in this country of 10 million people are against the installation of American radar on its soil, rather than regarding it – as Kotaš seems to – as some “essential bulwark against Russia.”) But the leading Czech business newspaper Hospodářské noviny already had a piece yesterday (Obama cuts consultations with Czechs to a minimum) about Obama’s Prague dilemma, which of course provides further details – like that the EU initially was fighting hard to stage this US-EU summit back in Brussels rather than in Prague. EU leaders don’t like President Klaus much and had no desire to reward him with this summit, but in the end it seems Prague’s sheer “picturesqueness” factor won out. (E.g. fantastic scenery – like Prague Castle, pictured above – in front of which to stage events like a major public speech. And remember that, until the events of this past week, there was no reason to regard Mirek Topolánek as the sort of “toxic” Czech leader that Obama would have to maneuver to avoid, as he always would have to do with regard to President Klaus.) And while there will be a busy schedule of bilateral meetings on Sunday for the American president, the one with Czech representatives will involve President Klaus, Premier Topolánek, and Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg all at the same time yet last only a few minutes. Much more time has been put into the schedule for talks with EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso and the leaders of Poland and Spain – as well as, at the end of Obama’s visit, with former Czech president Václav Havel, who nowadays fills no explicit official or political role and, indeed, has not been in the best of health.

“Undisclosed-Location Restaurant”? No Way

By the way, about that “secret location” for Barack and Obama’s romantic Prague dinner tonight? Remember that this is the Czech Republic and that Central Europe especially has always been a difficult region in which to keep secrets, from way back at the beginning of the Cold War and even before. The Czech daily Lidové noviny has all you might want to know about that romantic evening (Obamas’ dinner? No secret). The restaurant that won the prize of hosting the First Couple turns out to be Terasa U Zlaté Studně (“Terrace at the Golden Well”), rated by the English-language Prague city guide as an “Upscale restaurant, with excellent views” (indeed, see for yourself at their homepage), and located at the bottom of the massive Castle Hill where on Sunday morning Obama will deliver his speech to the gathered masses at the top. (Yes, a “Sermon on the Mount,” you could say.) As restaurant manager Michal Motyčka was glad to reveal to the inquiring LN reporter (and, no doubt, whomever else), “Yes, it’s confirmed. We have Obama and Michelle registered for dinner Saturday evening.” Interestingly, Motyčka went further: “The restaurant is not closed to the public. Obama will be there normally, with other people who come to eat with us that evening.” But don’t go rushing to make your own reservations: they’re already all booked-up. (This probably in itself provides a bit of further commentary on the “secrecy regime” in Prague.) Oh, and on the menu? It will be modern Czech cuisine, so such things as tenderloin and duck with sauerkraut.

* A better translation of Topolánek’s criticism of Obama is probably “highway to hell” – a remark apparently influenced by the Czech Prime Minister’s attendance at the AC/DC concert in Prague shortly before! I ran across this interesting tidbit while scrounging recently through the on-line Czech press, encountering it in someone’s editorial piece. I’m afraid I wasn’t able to go back and track it down to get the reference or the link, so for this I’ll just have to draw on whatever reserves of credibility I have on account with the honored readers of this site.

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