Saturday, August 27, 2005

Thoughts from Italy & Sweden

A Man, an Italian blogger of the site, The Right Wing Nation, in response to my comments on the behavior of the Italian Red Cross, mentioned the decisive role played by the MSM & socialist culture of Italy in influencing attitudes towards America. Otismaster, another Italian blogger had similar thoughts on this issue. It reminded me of an email interview I had the privilege of conducting with a blogger from Sweden. I will repost it here. The original is entitled Swede's Eye View & was published on 7/18/05.

The second interview with Mark Styen, by John Hawkins of Right Wing News was as phenomenal as the first. It was conducted via email. In it, Mr. Styen made many astute points, however, one in particular struck me:

John Hawkins: For the time being, the European public seems to have turned against the idea of creating a "United States of Europe." Do you think the wishes of the European public will be respected, will they change, or do you think Europe's elites will push on for a united Europe regardless of what the people want?

Mark Steyn: What we're likely to end up with is backdoor piecemeal imposition of the bulk of the European Constitution. The EU’s so-called "democratic deficit" - the remoteness of the unaccountable unelected governing class - is, as they say, not a bug but a feature. It was set up that way because, after the massive popularity of Nazism and Fascism, the post-war European elites decided that it was necessary to build institutions that restrain the will of the people rather than express it. In the long run, that's merely a more leisurely and scenic route back to where they came in.

It was upon reading this that the situation in Europe began to make sense to me: the structure of the EU & the strident opposition to it by the populace. Therefore, despite not being of John Hawkins caliber, I decided to do my own interview, via email, with a blogger from Sweden, Fredrik, who is much smarter at his age of nineteen than I ever was. As he was kind enough to tolerate me & answer my queries, I have gained much insight into the condition of Europe & the sources of its anti-Americanism. I am confident that you will find his replies to be as thought provoking as I did.

NYgirl: Fredrik, do you agree with Mark Steyn on his views of the democracy deficit in the EU & it's reasons? Is Europe, in general, more wary of democracy than America? What about Sweden?

Fredrik: I most certainly do, EU's democratic deficit is enormous and I really can't understand why Brussels is so surprised that the constitution was rejected. For ONCE EU citizens where allowed to have a say on the EU and answer was quite obvious. The U.S. is in many ways a democratic role model and Europe has plenty to learn, in Sweden for example our influence over larger issues is basically zero. We've had some 7-8 referendums for the last hundred years, which pretty much tells you how our democracy works. We have our say every four years, the same party wins and things go on as usual. Europe might have given the world the word "democracy" but we haven't grasped the concept as much as we should. I've never really felt that Europeans are more different than Americans, it's just that Americans where blessed by their founding fathers whereas Europe wasn't.

NYgirl: Do you think that the party based system common throughout Europe contributes to the disfranchisement of Europeans? It seems to me that voting for a party rather than a person offers more opportunities for political monopolization. Also, do you believe that the socialist economy, with its intimate ties between the state & private sectors, plays a role in this deficit? Have you noticed a difference following the inception of the Internet? Have there been any Rathergate type incidents in Europe?

Fredrik: Well, it's kind of a joke to hear MPs argue since their opinions rarely matter. I've always believed that individuals, not parties, should be given the final call, the power to make decisions. In our parliament they follow orders (this tradition is mostly common on the left) and they rarely object. So you're right, it undermines the democratic process, which indeed is sad. As for the socialistic economies, well, Europeans in general are heavily regulated with few rights against the state so it's not just the economy. It's the overall attitude we have against politics, which I blame socialism for. I don't believe the European model is anything worth saving, whereas I also see that the U.S. has its problems. The main difference is that the U.S. has been a democracy for a lot longer and your experience with the democratic system is far more delicate. Europe is a democratic region, we are, but there is plenty of stuff we could do to improve what we have. The "social model" is the first thing I would like to abolish for example. As for Rathergate type of incidents, there most certainly have been thousands of them but we don't have the same tradition as you have. Most and foremost European media rarely treat facts with much decency. You should have been here during the November election. The European media WAS A PART OF KERRYS CAMPAIN! It was a disgrace, terrible and so utterly wrong to do so, but still none cared, everybody hated Bush just because. No good reason is given - they simply use the word hatred to make things simple.

NYgirl: Yes, I heard of the Euro press support for Kerry. The anti-Americanism shocked me. You said a very interesting thing: "It's the overall attitude we have against politics which I blame socialism for” I read in a book about France that discussing politics at the family dinner table is taboo, thus the spouts of radicalism. What about in Sweden? Also, do you think that the mainstream Euro press is representative of the European public in general? The American MSM has a liberal bias not shared by many, is it the same in Sweden?

Fredrik: You should take into consideration that these are the thoughts of a nineteen year old. I am in no way to be considered a pundit on the subject; I just feel that socialism has forced Europe into some kind of naive attitude towards politics. It is for example completely impossible to have a discussion about the U.S. with most Europeans. They don't know a thing; to them the U.S. is "The Right Nation" with capital R and thus a terrible place to live in. And since we all watch Hollywood movies, which is totally out of touch with the average American we tend to believe the reality Hollywood gives us. This creates a weird picture about American politics and your country in general and when you have a president like George W Bush that tells it like it is Europeans get irritated. Swedes are generally fairly interested in politics even though our political climate is so much different than yours. In Sweden and throughout Europe you serve the party and you only advance if you have proven that you are a loyal servant to your party. Rhetoric’s is rarely an ingredient. I for example have never engaged in politics since I don't like the system, I simply don't feel that individuals can have very much influence over politics in general. Blogging has been my rescue thank God :)As for the European press I would say that they reflect the political nature of many Europeans, one could say they stand in the "middle" between Europeans on the left and the ones on the right. I often blame European press for being very liberal (and studies have shown that 70% of all Swedish journalists vote left), and that fact is specifically true when it comes to the US or for example Israel. Reading articles about Israel is like reading a leftwing blog. Some would say that the press don't share the view by the European public and some would say they do, I say that it's not much of an issue - the press will always be for the elite and there is not much you can do about it. "What man knows, man sees" as Goethe said. The media will always be accused of being biased regardless of where on the political scale you are. Of course I think media gives a leftist perspective that is pretty common among intellectuals to do that but at the same time you can always listen to DailyKos and their angry rants on the "right wing media"...

Please visit Fredrik's excellent blog frihet som frihet?. I would like to thank him for not only allowing me the opportunity to interview him, but also, for consenting to my publishing it at this site.

Very nice, and a real interview no less.. I am impressed..
That was a GREAT interview and really provides insight into what is going on with Europe. Fredrik is definitely more in tune and astuts than I was at 19. I came from a very poor background (a long story, I should have had more money, but like I said a long story. I think it has broadened my perspectives, though) so I was really adrift on the sea. I had no one telling me what I should do. I had a liberal (not as liberal as some, but it was plenty liberal) college but I was in college at the time Ronald Reagan was President and I saw what the press did to him.

Anyway, Fredrik has already learned a lot about the world it would really appear.

I have always thought that Europeans views of George Bush and John Kerry were heavily influenced by the mainstream media. I know some conservatives like to say, "Well, what does it matter? We still won the election." But, it DOES matter. I am pretty sure that Bush's numbers would jump about 15 points if he was given a fair shake by the MSM.

I had someone from France ask me right before the 2000 election, "Why would you people vote Bush into office?" I asked her, "Do you know anything truly about Bush except what CNN, ABC, NBC, or CBS have told you?" She replied in the negative. How could they?

Anyway, sorry I was so chatty. I don't want to take away from the excellent interview you had.
I would only tell u that in Italy there are also people who simple love USA & are really disgusted about this.

God Bless USA ;)
Hi & welcome Robinik. Thank you so much for those heartfelt sentiments. It's good to know that we have such brave friends & allies.
God Bless Italia :) I can't even begin to tell you how much I love the country that gave us my favorite foods.

Thanks H2So4.

W.F. you don't have to apologize for being chatty. That's what blogging is all about. Chat away to your heart's content my friend: I know I do :)
Based on my highly unscientific opinion, I've found that your conversation with the Frenchman is rather representative of how foreigners view the US. Just about everyone abroad thinks that our media represents us & offers an accurate picture of our country. There're shocked to discover the truth.
Thanks, NYgirl!

One thing I neglected to mention is that I have come into contact with a lot of Europeans (and Canadian) and just about every one of them hate George Bush. But, the reasons they give are stuff i see on the nightly news that is really just not true. And they usually quote a Democrat to prove that they know the "truth".

I do have one British aquaintance who said that Great Britain will never accept the EU Constitution (he hates Bush, though, but I think he hates the French more - he came here on vacation and not France!). His words were that GB (GB will be Great Britain in this post not George Bush) would never be a lackey to the EU and the vote on substituting the Euro for the Pound was pretty representative of their views on the whole of the EU. He said that a true British subject doesn't drink French wine (when they drink it at all), they drink German wine!!!
I know what you mean, very few can quote conservatives or have an idea of what they believe in & stand for. You should have seen the expression on one person's face when I told them that Kerry's college grades were worse than Bush's.

I think France is playing the anti-American card to detract from their own actions. There is a lot of anti-French sentiment in Europe. Not just the imagined stuff or along the 'the French are snobs' line of thought, but real resentment of France thanks to the EU debcale. Many were specially incessed that the French insisted on being allowed to keep their agricultural subsidies while demanding that others eliminate their own & not erect barriers for French goods.

I won't even get started on the currency issue.

Honestly, German wines are really good, as are the Australian, Italian & South American ones. The South African ones are getting to be pretty good too.
Don't forget that France is the leading nation who is trying to block Turkey from joining the EU. Three eastern semi-european countries are attempting to join the EU, and Turkey was the only one that was going to be shut down (probably for its pro-US stance). I know, while in Turkey, I ran across an English newspaper that had a few articles on the subject.

Oh and NYgirl, thanks for the blogroll, thanks to you, I am now a slithering reptile ;) (on the TTLB ecosystem)
Don't forget the California Wines...Napa Valley, and the little-known winerys in the San Joaquin valley produce some excellent wines.
The Turkey issue is another really important thing. For all their accusations at us of racism, their own actions & policies tell the truth.

Your welcome for the blogrolling. It was well deserved. But, don't check the TTLB, it can drive you crazy to check it everyday. Plus, it takes the fun out of blogging.
I didn't add the CA wines because we were talking about foreign wines.

But, you're right, Napa has some great wines. I haven't tried the San Joaquin valley wines yet. Thanks for telling me about them :)
For anyone interested here is a great post on the French wine industry's recent troubles.

Also, a post on French trade protectionism
Hey NY Girl,

I loved your post :).

In regards to the way in which the political consensus in Europe relates to the widely held Anti-American views here it is just one part of the story. In the UK at the last election 36% voted for Labour and 22% for the Liberal Democrats, while only 33% voted Conservative... and in Europe right wing parties are a lot more receptive to the role of the public sector in society, with very different ideas about world affairs. Yes, there is definately a clear progressive consensus, if no longer a predominant "socialist culture." But like I said that is just one contributory factor and doesn't tell the whole story.

On my blog recently, a guy mentioned that his disagreement with many of the aspects of US foreign policy did not make him a "Yankee hater" when I was criticizing anti US views. He then proceded to crack a joke about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, to culturally denigrate the US. The US inspires a great deal of insecurity in Europe and around the world, because of the sheer power of its influence. Our ability to determine the identity of our own cultures, and influence the world at large, is less in Europe because the US wields so much power. Culturally, our markets are liberalizing and this creates even more insecurity.

There is also a lot of misconceptions. People don't understand how vast and complex a society the US is. They don't understand the intelligence of its inner discourse grappling with issues of individual liberty and freedom, and the effectiveness of its society. It's easier for people to comprehend the US in terms of Evangelical war mongering fanaticists.

In regards to the Democracy defecit your swedish friend was refering to it is complicated. The PR voting system is fraught with problems IMO, but it isn't inherently less Democratic. Voting for an individual, as we do in the UK and US, certainly affords you a greater amount of scrutiny and accountability, but with PR the party system itself fragments so you get lots of minority parties that have an opportunity to reflect a larger range of perspectives. You get far left, far right, libertarian parties for instance gaining political representation.

I wouldn't say this represents a less Democratic culture at all. Even though I thoroughly dislike PR, and the disportionate power minority parties wield in struggling to build coalition governments. + Every nation holds European election and in the UK (the most EU hostile nation) sometimes under 30% of the people vote. The institution isn't as directly related to a political process mostly because the European electorate don't really offer much involvement.

Anyways... my point is that, IMO, Anti-American sentiment in Europe is not informed by the mainstream media, or a political consensus, or its institutions, I think it's the other way around. Anti-American sentiment stems from cultural insecurity in the face of a rapidly changing world, the size and influence of the US, + ignorance and cynicism.

Really fantastic post NY Girl :).
Great job, NY Girl!
Excellent work. Such an interesting interview and discussion.
NY Girl: George Weigel has written a very good book that touches on many of the issues you have raised. It is called The Cube and the Cathedral.

Weigel does a fine job of analyzing how Europe's militant secularism has helped to produce two world wars, totalitarian systems such as fascism and communism, and Auschitz and the Gulag. He argues that political differences between Europe and the USA (such as the Iraq war) are really symptoms of a spiritual crisis. He observes that Europe is undergoing (thanks to abortion and breakdown of the family) its greatest decrease in population since the Black Death, a demographic change that will one day crush Europe's much-praised welfare state.

Finally, Weigel notes that Americans cannnot comfort themselves with the notion that "it can't happen here", because it is happening here. Witness the ACLU's wacky obsession with the Ten Commandments, the Democrats' efforts to apply a pro-abortion litmus test to Supreme Court nominee John Roberts, and the antiwar movement's willingness to toss the Iraqi people to the wolves (just to name a few recent examples).
Dear NY Girl,
I'm working on an English version of my Blog. You'll be informed when it will be done.

Thank for your visit :)
Hi Graham :) Thank you so much for contributing. You make a good point, I made the mistake of lumping all PR systems together. In England you have not had one party rule for extended periods & the political system is rather open. However, in some European countries, such as Sweden, there has been one party rule for exteneded periods.

And indeed as you mention the PR system is hardly to blame for everything. England is more capitalist than Sweden do you think this difference plays a role?

I realize that there is a lot of cultural insecurity, forgive my ignorance, but I can't understand how it could give rise to such shrillness & bitterness. Sure we are more powerful & have a larger economy & better quality of life, but Europe is hardly a Third World slum. And IMHO, if Europeans wish to improve their station, they can easily chose to do so.

I agree with you that anti-Americanism stems from ingnorance & cynicism. How much of the "blame" for that do you think goes to the media?

It's interesting how there are so many cries that Americans are so ignorant of other countries, but during my travels, I've found that many, obviously not all :), foreigners- both European & Asian, are woefully ignorant of the true nature America. To them America is what they see in the movies & CNN.
I suppose this is a sort of chicken & egg scenario with each re-enforcing the other. Glad you liked the post :)
Hi & welome Gina W :) Glad you liked it.

Thanks Jimmy B :)

Robinik, I can't wait. Babel Fish can only go so far.

Mwalimu, you're one step ahead of me, as usual. I haven't had the change to read The Cube & the Cathedral yet. But it is pretty high on my list. There is also a related book, though less recent & not specifically about Europe, Ideas Have Consequences, which is, I believe by Richard Weaver.

Secularism is having a terrible impact on Europe. It has not only undermined European culture, but as you point out conritbuted to the depopulation of Europe.

And indeed, this movement is at our shores & well entrenched in America too. The examples you cite offer evidence to that as well as the way our education system has been twisted into an indoctrination process.

BTW, I can't find an email at your page.
I definitely wasn't thinking these things 7 years ago, these guys in Europe are intelligent indeed.
Try interviewing someone from the left (the ones you can speak with) and see his/her point of view, that will be very interesting so you can complement the other side.
Not sure if you tried to make a point, the only thing I think about France voting no for the constitution is that nothing can come out when the extreme right and the extreme left agree in one idea. Anyway, it's good for the US in my opinnion so you should be happy.
I met tree swedish guys in southern Venezuela (visit Mount Roraima, the best hiking I've ever made) leftist but nothing in extreme, seems to me that the left works in Sweden, one of the guys worked in a bread factory he was 19, he knew english, he could keep any conversation about politics, geography or other issues (which is interesting no matter you are from left or right).
The right in some europeans countries is by far worst than the american (asumming the american is terrible, which I think) because in many instances involves racism like in Italy.
Girl, you cannot expect journalist to be independent they will somehow be subjective and have an opinnion, plus anything that has to do with arts, philosophy, writting and all those are people from the left mostly. Again, left is not bad, seems like if the word itself causes some sort of allergies in the US.
I was going to ask you something, is it common to found people that find like abortion is not morally correct in all the cases (like me) but at the same time agrees with gay marriage. Or someone who thinks that wellfare should be stopped but at the same time thinks that these wars you make don't make any sense.
Something else, the media in Europe reflects nothing but the way their people think and by far I think that europeans are less manipulable than americans, one religion, second education.
Also for what I've seen is Europe people is far more participative in politics, more interested, here... the gas can hit $5 and nobody will say nothing. We are all living in a buble where nothing matters with watching tv reality shows and going to work everyday (I am not speaking for you).
I would mind people being from far or left as long as they say something, all what I ask for is a coherent opinnion about some stupid issue, and that is so hard to find here sometimes. That's why I like to pass by this blog ;-)
I liked the interview very much.
I can't still understand (SERIOUSLY) how you guys keep criticizing your media. I bet you've watched foreign media, those are anti-Bush here is a fairy tale, here everything plays to patriotism so there is no right to disent, it's not well seen if the tv goes against the president.
Try Navarro y Correas, Cabernet Sauvignon from Argentina. Oh lah lah ça c'est parfait!
Turkey no inclusion in the EU has nothing to do with them being pro-american in my opinnion, actually their prime minister may be too muslim for the US's point of view, althought they are still alliads. And yes, me myself I feel more racism in Europe than in the US, by far!

Daudi: Great for Europe that they are not procreating anymore, there is too much people on earth already. As far as broken families and abortion, that also happens in the US, the concept of family here in average is pretty poor if maybe non-existant compared to other cultures. You may be religious and still be a criminal look at this guy Dennis something that he used to go to church every sunday, and don't get me started people in this country praise the lord on Sunday and then support the war and want all muslims whipped out of the face of earth on Monday. Same thing happens in latinamerica, old ladies go to church all day and they do nothing but gossiping about their neighboors, hipocresy is called. Securalism is vital, separation of state and religion is SANE, my humble opinnion ;) If you do not agree with secularism then how comes you want to finish all theocracies in the middle east?

I have to apologize publicy with you, I've been underestimating you. My very first impression was your post about Venezuela (which I can say with property that was in a 90% incorrect and didn't show the way my country is) but I can see you know a lot more than what I would've thought, that makes me happy =) An intelligent "contender".
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