American Voices Abroad - a group of American expatriate communities opposed to the foreign and domestic policies of the Bush administration - met in Prague at the weekend. Guests at the event included former UN weapons inspector, Scott Ritter. We went along to the meeting to find out more and assess the local reaction to the event.
American Voices Abroad claims to be a non-partisan group representing Americans living in other countries who are opposed to current US foreign and domestic policy. It evolved as an umbrella organisation for American peace activists living in Europe and first met in Berlin last July. The group now has chapters in several countries and it convened for the second time in Prague at the weekend. I asked Gwendolyn Albert, one of the conference organisers, what she thought Americans living abroad could contribute to political discourse in their home country:
"I think its very important for Americans no matter where they live to begin discussing the state of our democracy -It's important to say that, just because we're not in the United States, doesn't mean that we don't care... We care very deeply."
There were a number of guest speakers at the conference, including Scott Ritter, a former UN weapons inspector in Iraq who has been critical of America's policy in the Middle East. I asked Mr Ritter what it was like to be in the heart of what many would consider to be "New Europe":
"What I have found in coming to Prague is that there is this inherent trust among the people that the United States is doing the right thing and that the US is the provider of freedom and liberty. Along with this trust comes an unwillingness to accept criticism of the United States and its policies. Somehow to do so would betray the nation that many Czechs feel is responsible for their new-found liberties."
Mr Ritter's views were also echoed by Gwendolyn Albert, who commented on the somewhat muted local reaction to the conference:
"I think that it's hard for Czech people to really understand the developments that have taken place in the United States since 2000, because I think the majority of the population here is apathetic to its own politics and political process anyway, so why should they care what happens in Iraq and the US."
Besides hearing speeches from Scott Ritter and other well-known activists such as Jennifer Van Bergen, the conference delegates also set up working groups on various issues such as depleted uranium and garnering support for the Democrat candidate in next year's presidential elections. The group plans to meet again in Paris next May.
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