How special was Obama? By Jan Buruma


President Obama Receiving his Nobel Peace Prize

In just a few months, the Barack Obama presidency will end. On 8th November 2016 his successor will be elected, and on 21st January 2017, he or she will officially step into office. But, how special was Barak Obama, the first, black US president in history?

Expectations were sky high, when on 21st January 2009, he became one of the most powerful men on earth.  By 4th November 2008, the international community had already most enthusiastically welcomed the Democrat – as the new American head of state – by awarding him the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. This was to be the great bonus, of this early period, but then the troubles began.

The Republican opposition in the US Congress, turned out to be one of the toughest in history. Obama’s first major election promise, the closure of Guantanamo Bay, proved very difficult during eight years in office, although he did have his successes – such as Obamacare and gay marriage – but that did not bring the expected joy. But, the Obama case is not unique.

In 1994 the Netherlands Purple Government, took off.  The Christian party, that had run the country for about 70 years, had suffered a massive defeat in parliamentary elections. The once political enemies – the PVDA socialists and the VVD liberals – came as the new government, causing  socialist prime minister Kok to hold on to power, by abandoning all his social-democrat principles. But, there were further problems ahead.


Wim Kok Dutch Prme Minister

At this time in 1995, the Dutch army was supposed to protect the Muslims in the town of Srebrenica, during the Bosnian civil war, when the Dutch went with high expectations to the Balkans. Unfortunately, it turned out into a complete nightmare.

After eight years, just like Obama, the power and glory were completely gone. At the 2002 parliamentary elections, Fortuyn and his right-wing populist LPF ruined Kok’s political legacy, in the same way that Trump could well do to Obama.


Nelson Mandela President of South Africa

South Africa is perhaps an even a better example. During his presidency – 1994 to1999 – Nelson Mandela was the icon, who turned out to be a master in reconciliation. Most likely,  in the post Apartheid period, he prevented his country from bursting out into civil war, because his many years in prison – 1963 to1990 – had somehow given him the political power that Mr. Obama never had.


King Simeon II Prime Minister of Bulgaria

In Bulgaria, former King Simeon II – as Prime Minister  Saxecoburggotski  from 2001 to 2005 – gave his people the hope and moral spirit, that they had desperately longed for. After the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, and Communism, the little Balkan country was in complete chaos. The 1997 Velvet Revolution had shown the world that Bulgarians could still fight for themselves, and their future, but,when the ex-communist BSP returned to power in 2005, King Simeon was no longer the hope he once used to be.  But, what about mythology?

If Obama had have been assassinated during his term in office, like his legendary predecessor, President Kennedy, he would almost certainly have become a national hero, or possibly a myth, although the US – as a slowly declining global power – could never have afforded to have its first black president killed. In November the Americans public may well elect a normal, or more regular president, although recent publicity has reduced such a prospect – Editors Comment.

In Bulgaria, the socialist nobody Stanishev, succeeded king Simeon. In the Netherlands, after Kok came Balkenende – although nobody talks of the latter anymore – and in South Africa, the transparent Mbeki came after Mandela, underlining the fact that after having had a ‘special national leader,’ most countries need a period of cooling down.


Jan Buruma- Editor in Chief of Levski Internet Courant




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