U.S.-Czechoslovak Ties Honored On Eve of Bush Visit
PRAGUE, Czechoslovakia (AP) _ Czechoslovaks on Friday excitedly awaited President Bush’s arrival on a history-making visit coinciding with the first anniversary of the ″Velvet Revolution″ that toppled communist rule.
On the eve of its first-ever U.S. presidential visit, Prague officially renamed its railway station in honor of President Woodrow Wilson, who encouraged a much earlier Czechoslovak push for independence.
The simple ceremony, said Praque Mayor Jaroslav Koran, was a fitting prelude to a presidential visit that would ″complete the magic circle″ of U.S.-Czechoslovak relations. ″As if with a message from our ancestors,″ he said, ″the president will visit for the first time ever.″
Within the citadels of power in the post-Cold War Prague government and among the populace at large, excitement - even exhileration - was in the air.
″It’s perfect,″ 24-year-old medical student Tomas Sklenar said of the timing of Bush’s visit. ″American democracy is the greatest ideal,″ exulted Karel Kren, who also is studying medicine.
In anticipation of Bush’s arrival Saturday, Czechoslovaks donned buttons showing a smiling U.S. president with the inscription, ″Thank You 3/8″ American flags fluttered in the breeze, mounted on elegant buildings alongside Czechoslovakia’s national flag of matching red, white and blue.
″It’s good he’s coming on Nov. 17,″ said Zdenek Matejovsky, a 32-year-old waiter, who waived the American flag and then impishly hid his face behind a mask of Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
Bush’s trip comes at a period of substantially improved relations between Washington and Prague. Only a week ago, the president signed legislation extending most-favored-nation trade status. Bush at the time called the measure ″an important milestone not only in U.S.-Czechoslovak relations, but also in re-integration into the global economy and the community of free nations.″
Earlier this fall, in a meeting in New York with Czech President Vaclav Havel, Bush announced he was lifting travel restrictions on Czechoslovakia’s diplomats in the United States. Three months earlier, U.S. officials said that Prague had agreed to accept U.S. Peace Corps volunteers.
Bush hosted Havel at the White House, and the playwright and former prisoner under the communist regime, addressed a joint meeting of Congress.
On Friday, Czechoslovak officials restored Wilson’s place in this country’s history, cementing ties that stretch back to when Wilson helped his friend Tomas G. Masaryk gain Czech and Slovak independence from the crumbling Austro- Hungarian Empire.
Wilson recognized Masaryk’s ″de facto government″ set up in U.S. exile before independence. Masaryk, a philosopher and acknowledged role model for Havel, became the first head of the new state in 1918.
Prague’s main railway station was named after Wilson in gratitude for his help. His name was dropped after the communists seized power in 1948, but remained customary for Prague residents.
″Wilson’s station has never stopped being Wilson’s station ... even when frightened (Communist) rulers tried to wipe out all reference to the connections of our history with the ideals of American democracy,″ Koran said at the renaming ceremony.
Czechs and Slovaks, like many other East Europeans, looked to America as a model of democracy during their four decades of authoritarian communist rule. The turbulent history of this century has given Czechoslovaks added reason to admire America.
Caught on the crossroads of Europe, the two Slav nations have traditionally looked both East and West in their effort to win and preserve independence.
Embittered by Stalinist repressions in the 1950s and the Warsaw Pact invasion that crushed communist-led reform in 1968, Czechoslovaks have lost any love for the Soviets, who liberated the country from the Nazis at the end of World War II.
The betrayal of the 1938 Munich agreement by which Britain and France allowed Nazi Germany to annex one-third of Czechoslovakia’s territory soured relations with the British and French.
Nazi occupation fanned Czech hatred of the Germans, who historically sought to dominate the Czech lands. After World War II, Czechoslovakia brutally expelled about 2.5 million ethnic Germans.
These clouded relationships with other Western nations adds to the respect for America which found voice on the streets of Prague Friday.
″I know that in America he’s not very popular with the budget deficit and some other problems,″ Sklenar said, but Mr. Reagan (former President Ronald) could not come here, so it’s perfect that Mr. Bush does.″
The Czechoslovaks have said that Bush asked to attend Saturday’s anniversary.
″We are happy 3/8″ a banner draped from a balcony proclaimed.