April 5, 2009 / 6:17 PM / 11 years ago

Obama in Prague echoes famous Cold War speeches

PRAGUE (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama laid out his vision for the 21st century in the heart of Europe on Sunday in a speech that called to mind those of two famous forerunners.

U.S. President Barack Obama is pictured during a speech in Hradcany Square, Prague April 5, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Reed

Where John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan came to show solidarity with a divided Europe living in the shadow of a nuclear arms race, Obama held out the prospect of consigning those weapons to history and entering a new era.

His speech in Prague, its medieval castle rising behind him, carved out his own place in the tradition laid down by both men in their West Berlin speeches of 1963 and 1987.

“No nuclear war was fought between the United States and the Soviet Union, but generations lived with the knowledge that their world could be erased in a single flash of light. Cities like Prague that had existed for centuries would have ceased to exist,” Obama declared.

“Today, the Cold War has disappeared but thousands of those weapons have not.”

By pledging that the United States would take concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons, Obama dedicated himself to a goal that Reagan had once articulated.

“Just as we stood for freedom in the 20th century, we must stand together for the right of people everywhere to live free from fear in the 21st,” he said.

While Kennedy memorably declared “Ich bin ein Berliner,” Obama confined his venture into the local language to a mention of “Sametova revoluce,” the Czechoslovak “Velvet Revolution” of 1989 that brought down communist rule.

That event, he said, “proved that moral leadership is more powerful than any weapon.”

“That is why I am speaking to you in the centre of a Europe that is peaceful, united and free, because ordinary people believed that divisions could be bridged ... They believed that walls could come down, that peace could prevail,” Obama told an audience of tens of thousands.

Besides evoking the nuclear theme, in a country where Washington plans to station an anti-missile radar to protect against the threat it sees from Iran, Obama sought European solidarity on the global economic crisis and climate change.

Tomas Sedlacek, a 31-year-old Prague-based economist who was in the crowd, said the speech worked for him.

“It was great. It was the most stately speech I’ve heard in a very long time,” he said. “It made me proud to be Czech.”

Reporting by Michael Winfrey, editing by Mark Trevelyan

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