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Saturday, 23 November, 2002, 20:42 GMT
Bush in Europe: A tale of two speeches
President Bush and Romanian President Ion Iliescu Bush address Romanians in Revolution Square
Tens of thousands turned up to greet Bush in Bucharest
The BBC's Nick Bryant

President Bush, who is touring East European countries newly invited to join Nato, scored a resounding success with a rousing speech in the Romanian capital, Bucharest - only a few hours after a disappointing performance in Lithuania.

Tens of thousands were crammed into Revolution Square in the heart of the Romanian capital, Bucharest - where in December 1989 President Ceausescu and his wife escaped by helicopter from the roof of communist headquarters.


God is smiling on us today

George W Bush
Elvis Presley's A Little Less Conversation was blaring through loudspeakers dotted all over the square.

And the soaked masses - we had relentless rain this afternoon in the Romanian capital - were in a frenzy.

Postcard-sized Romanian and US flags were being waved in time to the music.

Umbrellas swayed from side to side.

Even the White House press corps, elevated high above the crowd on a make shift platform, was shaking its collective thing.

The King of Rock 'n' Roll has never been an easy act to follow. But the president just about pulled it off.

Heavy security

For about 45 minutes, Revolution Square became Bush country.

Never before has he addressed such a large, live crowd and clearly he enjoyed the experience.

President Bush in Bucharest
The President recalled Romania's violent past

The Secret Service was nowhere near as relaxed.

Under the president's overcoat was heaviest bullet-proof vest I have ever clapped eyes on.

Mr Bush trotted out onto stage looking like a bulky rugby player - and the podium was surrounded by inch-thick protective glass.

Security officers patrolled every rooftop and military helicopters prowled the sky.

The whole event was a logistical nightmare for his protectors.

"Salut", shouted the president in his Texas drawl, an opening greeting which brought huge cheers from the crowd.

Then noticing that a rainbow was forming as the sun tried to pierce the charcoal sky, he told them: "God is smiling on us today."

Irony

Then the president reached back into history.

Romanian woman holding a banner
Romanians were impressed
Pointing to the balcony across the square where Ceausescu had tried to tame the screaming mob, Mr Bush said: "From that balcony, the dictator heard your voices and faltered and fled.

"Two generations of bitter tyranny ended and all the world witnessed the courage of Romania, the courage that set you free."

Mr Bush went on to say that Nato membership would make Romania more secure - a message that resonated in the symbolic setting of Revolution Square.

Membership of Nato, people here believe, will strengthen democracy. Friendship with America will bring jobs and prestige.

The irony of course, is that the president chose eastern Europe for his first open-air foreign rally - something the White House would never contemplate in most of western Europe through fear of a hostile response.

But this is a part of the world where the president is liked, admired and respected.

Damp squib

However earlier in the day, under grey skies and in freezing temperatures of Lithuania, Mr Bush failed the rouse the crowd in the capital, Vilnius.

Thousands had gathered in the city's central square. Lithuanian and American flags formed the backdrop for the president's speech, hanging between the ivory-painted columns of the town hall.

The event was part ceremonial, part rock concert, and for well over an hour before the president appeared, the crowd was entertained by Lithuania's chart-topping pop sensations.

Woman in the crowd during Bush's appearance
US-Lithuanian ties are stronger than ever
One of them, a leather-jacket clad rocker, was bald and had a mighty handle-bar moustache, and looked like he had just roared in from a Harley Davidson rally.

He was a class act - the only performer I have ever seen who could induce head-banging before ten o'clock in the morning.

He was ably supported by Lithuania's answer to the Spice Girls - a beaming trio of beautiful women, with white hot-pants and fluorescent t-shirts.

Assault on the ears

As more Lithuanians crowded into the square, the stage was set for a spectacular event - the first open-air speech that President Bush has delivered during his trips outside of America.

But then, inexplicably, the curtain went down on the stage - the curtain had the Nato insignia on it, just in case you were wondering - and our ears came under assault from a recording by a US military band.

The American armed forces take great pride in their ability to project awesome power abroad - but they should leave their military muzak at home.

Within a single rendition of The Washington Post March, the energy had been drained from the crowd, and when George W Bush was eventually introduced, it was if someone had switched off the power.

There were loud cheers when Mr Bush stepped forward to speak. But the moment had passed, and what could have been a hugely memorable event quickly turned into a dud.

The speech was poorly written and poorly delivered, and he failed to bring the crowd back to life.

This was George W Bush as preacher/president, climbing into the famed bully pulpit to extol the virtues of freedom, security and democracy in a country which has lived under the burden of Nazi oppression and Soviet domination.

But he sounded like one of those vicars who has to deliver the same sermon at four different Sunday services.

We were promised evangelical zeal. Instead, we all fell asleep in the pews.

These are the kind of set-piece events which can help define to a presidency.

But on this occasion, GWB was not up to the job. The President of the United States was upstaged by Lithuania's answer to Buster Bloodvessel.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jacky Rowland
"It is the beginning of a new era for Lithuania"
Expanding Nato

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23 Nov 02 | Europe
21 Nov 02 | Europe
21 Nov 02 | Europe
24 Jul 02 | Country profiles
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