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Czech Republic: Dreams Fade In The Night For Town With Kerry Ties

  • Kathleen Moore

http://gdb.rferl.org/C0D21273-24CC-4B8F-B82A-B7645E9358E3_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/C0D21273-24CC-4B8F-B82A-B7645E9358E3_mw800_mh600.jpg John Kerry, an honorary citizen of Horni Benesov? (file photo) Among those closely watching the U.S. election was the mayor of the small Czech town where John Kerry's grandfather was born. RFE/RL correspondent Kathleen Moore watched the election results come in with Josef Klech, the mayor of Horni Benesov near the border with Poland.

Prague, 3 November 2004 (RFE/RL) -- It's just after 5 a.m. in Prague and the visiting officials from Horni Benesov are flagging.

Deputy Mayor Jaroslav Zerotinsky, a "Kerry" badge pinned to his lapel, is fast asleep on the couch. The platters of cheese are looking sweaty and the celebratory champagne is still on ice.

President George W. Bush has taken what appears to be a clear lead over their favored candidate, Democrat John Kerry.

Mayor Josef Klech is running out of hope. "If they win Oregon, New Mexico plus Ohio, they could still win," someone tells him. "Hmmm! It's exciting! It'll be exciting right to the end," Klech replies. "But there could still be an unpleasant surprise for us." Klech is the mayor of Horni Benesov, the small town where Kerry's grandfather was born in 1873.

Kerry's Czech roots were discovered last year by researchers for "The Boston Globe" newspaper. When Kerry received the Democratic nomination, the town was thrust into the spotlight. But Klech says many in Horni Benesov are now tired of the media attention.

"In two years so many media outlets have come, local and foreign, and our citizens haven't been able to understand this or come to terms with it," he says. "That's why the interest in the U.S. elections isn't what it is elsewhere. People have other, everyday cares that interest them more than how the election turns out."

Still, Klech at least has been enthusiastic about his town's connection to Kerry. There are plans for a plaque -- and even a "Memorial to democracy" further in the future.

The town has decided to give Kerry honorary citizenship, and a public relations firm, Media flow, has been helping them by getting in touch with Kerry's campaign team. "The town sent the letters with the citizenship decision about a month ago to the U.S. and we know they've been received," Media Flow head Jiri Frkal says. "One of our contacts in the campaign staff confirmed that Kerry saw it personally and expressed, let's say, some interest in the fact that a small Central European country joined in his campaign."

With a Bush victory looking all but certain, Klech maintains he's not disappointed. "For us it's already a victory even if he loses and isn't president, because the mere fact that he has ancestors in Horni Benesov means Horni Benesov has gained publicity in the last two years because of his name and his candidacy, it's made it possible and making it possible for us to have certain advantages and economic [benefits]," Klech says.

In one respect, Horni Benesov may be better off if Kerry loses. Klech says he expects the senator will find the time to visit his ancestral hometown much sooner.
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