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Cheering and dancing in Prague

Hundreds packed into the modestly sized Globe book store to watch history being made, drink champagne and revel in the ascent of Barak Obama to the U.S. presidency. The mostly American crowd cheered even when Obama first appeared on the TV screen when he first left the White House with President Bush, and cheered more when he walked the Capitol corridors to emerge in front of the crowds.

But there were also Czechs among the crowd. Lawyer Pavel Broum came to the Globe, armed with the Czech daily newspaper Mlada fronta Dnes and a magazine. The page one headline, just above the fold in MfD expressed the hope that Obama would be the next JFK; and that U.S. politics would shift from Bush's hardline to a more diplomatic tone.

As for policy, Obama wants to close Guantanamo Bay, Broum said, with approval.

"The radar is very important" he said, referring to Bush's controversial missile defense plan for Europe."Most people are against the radar but the government is more for it — it is without sense."

Broum also noted the historical significance of Obama becoming the first black U.S. president, and the inspiration that accompanies it.

"I cannot imagine people in the Czech Republic would vote, even in 10 years, for an ethnic Roma (Gypsy)," he said. "It's a nice inspiration; it's beautiful that people in the U.S. can vote for a black man to be president."

Over at the Jama restaurant, the crowds also cheered the mere sight of Obama on TV. They cheered when Joe Biden was sworn in as vice-president. And when that was over someone in the crowd shouted out, with enmity in his voice, "good-bye Dick" referring to former vice-president Cheney.

They cheered loudly when Obama was sworn in, and they laughed with affection when he flubbed a line.

After Obama's inaugural address, Sadi Shanaah, a Green Party member who works at the ministry of education called the new president "a great orator." He applauded what he saw as "indirect criticism of the Bush administration."

He also applauded Obama's economic development plans. "We need to tackle the new environment and invest in public spending, like broadband Internet." Shanaah said.

"I appreciate that he explicitly said, ' tanks and weapons are not what make you a global leader, but rather the example you set.'"

Overall Shanaah said, "The Czech public is absolutely enthusiastic about Obama — especially regarding external (foreign) affairs."

He said America's image abroad had suffered badly under President Bush. "The U.S. has always been a beacon of ideals," Shanaah said. Under "the Bush administration these ideals tore down (collapsed). Now there is enthusiasm and hope that we'll find a strong friend and ally in America."

Shanaah, however, did have one concern about Obama. "I'm worried that Obama has created such a high expectation for himself." He said Obama would have to be some kind of Superman to fulfill the sky-high expectations.

"Many Czechs are fond of the Bush administration being over," according to Jan Snaidauf.

Of the new U.S. leader he said, "Barack Obama has become president — eight years too late. He'll have difficulty realizing his priorities."

As for Obama's foreign policy, vis-a-vis Europe and the Czech Republic, he said, "I hope he'll stay in touch and that we'll still have a friend (in America). I don't want to see the U.S. and the EU in competition. We need America but we also need Europe — we are a part of Europe."

Finally, for those who couldn't make it to Washington to partake in the inaugural festivities, some decided to bring a slice of Washington to Prague — in the form of an Inaugural Ball! An international crowd of 50-plus revelers put on their high-heels and neckties and ascended a hillside via funicular. With a bird's-eye view of Prague they watched a videotape of the inaugural festivities, dined on an eclectic spread and danced into the night. The only thing missing was that neither President Obama nor Vice-President Biden was likely to stop by.

But the merry-makers were undeterred. Carol Sanford, one of the Ball's organizers and a self-described Democrat from North Carolina, said the idea began to percolate around Thanksgiving. She was not content to have a mere party, she said, because Obama's inauguration was a long-time coming, and an historic moment. Besides, she said, a Ball "is so much fun!"

Inka Vostrezova, a retired diplomat, was among those in attendance. She worked in the cultural section of the Czech embassy in Washington in the early and mid-1990s. Like others she is impressed by Obama but sees a difficult path ahead of him.

"Everybody loves Obama," she said. "He definitely has personality, and he wants to do good things. But "he's in a very difficult situation; it is tough all around the world.

"The first four years will be especially difficult." she said.

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