In Europe, a rising tide of anti-American feeling

Rift: In the absence of a common enemy, U.S. might and the warlike words of President Bush fuel a growing antipathy.

January 28, 2003|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BERLIN - The young man who lays tiles a few blocks from the German parliament building was a West German soldier when his country was still split in two. He knows utopia is a concept and not a place.

And he knows, he says, that ultimately the strength of the United States, the fearsome potential of its military, is what led to Germany's reunification. To him, it was the United States that eased so much suffering on the communist side of the Berlin Wall and won freedom for millions of Eastern Europeans.

Knowing all of this, he says, is why he cannot help but feel bad about hating America.

"I just hate it and can't help that," says Manuel Baczynski, 31, who quickly adds: "Make it clear I don't hate Americans. I hate America for what it is doing."

This is something both very old from Europe and very new. Americans are accustomed to encountering resentment here, but what is happening now is in many ways different. European historians, intellectuals and political leaders are in general agreement that no longer are anti-American voices merely a vocal minority mired in the hate portion of a love-hate relationship.

The anti-American sentiments now come from the wealthy and the economically hard-pressed, from the highly educated and the barely so, from young people just opening their eyes to the world and from those who lived through World War II, Vietnam, the rise of communism and its fall.

The primary reasons for the anti-American feelings: They start with President Bush himself. There is a widespread belief that he is belligerent and lacks an adequate comprehension of the wars of Europe's past, demonstrated not only by his stance on Iraq but by his attitude toward those who oppose military action.

When Bush sought an international coalition to move into Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks, the United States scored high marks among Europeans, who saw the response as tempered as any move toward war could be. That approval has dissipated, replaced by negative feelings largely centered on the president and U.S. policy toward Iraq.

"After 9/11, the United States had an outburst of sympathy from all of Europe," says Karsten D. Voigt, coordinator for German-American cooperation in Germany's Foreign Ministry. "The pictures of the towers revived the collective memories of the bombing of Germany. In a psychological way, those New Yorkers were us."

But in recent weeks, the demonstrators who came to Berlin's Brandenburg Gate to shed tears for Americans after the terrorist attacks have been replaced by protestors marching against a war in Iraq, and decidedly against the United States.

"There is a clear distinction in Germany and Europe between the campaign against international terrorism and war," Voigt says. "We've said Germany gives its unlimited solidarity in the stand against terrorism. The United States government says war with Iraq is an extension of the war on terrorism. We don't see the evidence of it. We don't buy it."

On Wenceslas Square in Prague - where Czechs faced Soviet tanks in 1968, and where tens of thousands of Czechs gathered in 1989 during their "Velvet Revolution" that ended communist rule, and where anti-war protests now take place - Dana Osuska feels much the same as the tile man in Berlin.

"I can't say I hate Americans," says Osuska, a 21-year-old psychology student at Prague's Charles University, "but if you ask if I hate America pushing everyone around to get its own way, then I say, `Yes, I'm very sorry, but I hate America in that way.' I don't think one country should rule the world."

The president does have backing from some foreign leaders, and there are voices speaking in support of his policies. British Prime Minister Tony Blair is from a left-of-center political party that could be expected to oppose American policies, but he has attached himself solidly to the position that force may be necessary. Australia is sending troops to the Persian Gulf region, and the leaders of Poland, Italy and Spain have embraced Bush's policies even as their constituents express a strong dislike for the president and his aims.

"The price of influence is that we do not leave the U.S. to face the tricky issues alone," Blair said in a recent speech. "By tricky, I mean the ones which people wish weren't there, don't want to deal with, and, if I can put it a little pejoratively, know the U.S. should confront, but want the luxury of criticizing them for it."

In Germany, Reinhold Butifoker, a spokesman for the Green Party, part of the country's governing coalition, says Europe is partly to blame for war becoming an option in Iraq, because Europe fails to press its own agenda.

"It's not about acting or not acting but how to act" on the world stage, he says. "Europe needs to be much more aggressive about pushing its own agenda for international security."

No common bond

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