President Barack Obama met with civil society advocates in St. Petersburg today to hear their concerns and to assure them that his administration will continue to press the Russian government to respect human rights. The group of advocates at the roundtable included members of the LGBT community.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I just want to say thank you to all the participants in this roundtable. This is an incredible and very diverse group of civil society leaders. And this is something that I really enjoy doing at every country that I visit because it is my firm belief that a country’s strength ultimately comes from its people and that as important as government is — and laws — what makes a country democratic and effective in delivering prosperity and security and hope to people is when they’ve got an active, thriving civil society.
And all of these leaders, ranging from business leaders to youth leaders to environmental leaders, those who are advocating on behalf of a free press, the rule of law, all of them contribute in one way or another to continuing to strengthen Russian society and helping to make progress on behalf of all people.
And the same is true in the United States. I’m now in government, but I got my start as a community organizer, somebody who was working in what would be called an NGO in the international community. And the work I was doing was helping poor communities have a voice in what was happening in their lives. And I got elected as President by engaging people at a grassroots level.
So the kinds of activities that are represented here are critically important to Russia’s development, and I’m very proud of their work. And I think it is important for us to remember that in every country — here in Russia, in the United States, around the globe — that part of good government is making sure that we’re creating a space for civil society to function effectively: freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, making sure that people can join together and make common cause around the issues that they care deeply about.
So I appreciate you taking the time. I’m not going to do all the talking here. I want to spend most of my time listening. But I want to thank you again and I hope all of you continue the good work.