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Anti-US mood casts shadow on Fourth of July

Celebrations could be more muted this year Keystone Archive

As American citizens around the world celebrate Independence Day, many expatriates living in Switzerland say lingering anti-US sentiment is keeping them on edge.

This content was published on July 3, 2003 - 20:56

Security concerns have also prompted some to shy away from festivities in Geneva, which traditionally hosts the largest Fourth of July celebration outside the US.

“I don’t think Americans are advertising the fact that they’re Americans this year,” said Daniel Warner, the deputy director of Geneva’s Graduate Institute of International Studies.

“I think it’s a possibility that fewer people will come out to celebrate… This is certainly the first time in my life that I haven’t been particularly proud to be an American,” he told swissinfo.

The American International Club of Geneva expects around 35,000 people to attend this year’s party, but the chairman of the organising committee, Pierre Imfeld, says it is impossible to predict whether recent world events will affect the turnout.

“Attendance of Americans and non-Americans tends to go up and down depending on lots of factors,” Imfeld told swissinfo. “I’m not sure whether the political situation is going to change anything.”

Resentment

Earlier this year, tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in Switzerland to protest against the US-led war in Iraq and the country’s unilateral stance.

Just last month, Geneva was rocked by riots and violence during the G-8 summit in neighbouring France.

But despite the fact that the bombing in Iraq has stopped and the meeting of world leaders has come and gone, Warner believes many Europeans, including the Swiss, continue to harbour anti-US feelings.

“Virulent anti-Americanism has died down in recent weeks, but I think there’s an underlying animosity and distrust of the US that still exists,” he said.

“There’s also a growing divide between the US and Europe, and I believe that will continue,” he added.

Warner also points out that many Republicans are keeping a low profile because of “the animosity, hostility and resentment towards certain actions by [Washington]”.

European trepidation

Meanwhile, other Americans in Geneva, like graduate student, Jennifer Wallace, say they are slowly beginning to feel more comfortable in the wake of the war and the G-8.

“The strongest anti-American sentiment I felt was during the war, particularly right after it started,” Wallace told swissinfo. “But people’s emotions have cooled a little bit since then and now they’re trying to move on.”

But she points out that she is finding it difficult to convince her European friends to join her in celebrating the Fourth of July.

“I feel like I have to explain that they’re not making a pledge to the US government if they come to the party in Geneva,” Wallace said.

“I keep trying to explain that they should come because it’s fun and that it’s not a political statement,” she added.

Imfeld is also adamant that the celebration should not be seen as a political gathering.

“The event doesn’t promote any political point of view and does not support the government or its policies,” Imfeld said.

“It’s merely a celebration of friendship and goodwill among people, as well as a way to say thank you to Geneva for welcoming Americans into their community,” he added.

Security

Warner predicts that fears over security could also keep many Americans and Europeans away.

“If some kind of violence is going to happen, Geneva might be a target,” Warner said. “Security is likely to be high and people might feel that it’s not a safe place.”

The organisers say they are working with the local authorities to ensure the safety of partygoers, but Imfeld admits that the open nature of the event means there can be no guarantees.

“We believe that the security measures we’ve taken this year are as adequate as they’ve been in the past… but it is also an open, public event to which everybody has access,” Imfeld said.

swissinfo, Anna Nelson in Geneva

Key Facts

The Fourth of July is a national holiday in the US.
It marks the date when the country declared its independence from England in 1776.
Geneva's Fourth of July celebration is the largest of its kind outside the US and is in its 52nd year.
Around 35,000 people from various nationalities are expected to attend this year's event.
The American International Club of Geneva estimates that there around 8,000 US citizens living in and around Geneva.

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