The view from Europe: Anger toward Bush, questions for U.S.
Post Independent Staff
Reina Katzenberger is wondering why she isn’t seeing very many American flags flying.
She’s wondering why she’s not seeing peace flags and `no war’ signs flags, too.
Katzenberger, 22, was born and raised in Basalt. She returned to the Roaring Fork Valley three days ago after spending the last few months traveling in Sweden, France, Spain, and most recently, Italy.
“When I was in Barcelona before the war started, I couldn’t walk down one street without seeing a peace flag,” she said. “And after the war began, I was in Rome, and it was the same thing there. There were `no war’ signs everywhere. People were constantly discussing the situation between the U.S. and Iraq on the streets, and in cafes.”
That’s why it surprises Katzenberger, now back in Colorado, that there isn’t more open reaction about the war: more visible support of the country, more support of the troops and more protests against war.
“It’s like people are scared to show what they think,” she said, “either for, against or somewhere in the middle.”
Katzenberger said she she finds this lack of public involvement ironic.
“America is all about the ability we have to voice our opinions openly,” she said. “In Europe, even if people adamantly disagree with each other, they’ll have the conversation, but it seems like that’s not happening here. That really surprises me because disagreeing and talking about the war seems like the most patriotic thing we can do. We have the right to disagree and the right to express our opinions. It’s our right.”
“The sympathy is gone”
Brett Morrison, 40, grew up in Glenwood Springs and graduated from Glenwood Springs High School. Morrison, and his wife and children, who have dual U.S.-Swiss citizenship, moved to Geneva, Switzerland, six months ago.
“We wanted the kids to experience both cultures,” he said.
Morrison moved back to Glenwood Springs this year when his parents were ill and needed his help. The rest of his family is following him back to the United States at the end of April.
Morrison said that even though his parents’ health has improved, the family has decided to move back to the United States. He said he was never threatened, but he could feel the stress of being an American in Switzerland.
“The sentiment there was, `We hate George Bush, but we like Americans,” he said. “American movies still sell out there and Europeans listen to our music, but there’s a general feeling of discontent there towards America.”
He said he was easily identified as an American, walking down the streets of Geneva.
“I’m 6’5″ and 230 (pounds) so I can’t hide that I’m an American,” he said. “In the weeks leading up to war, I could look in people’s eyes and see their contempt and disgust of me as an American.”
Morrison, who’s traveled extensively in Europe over the years, said he used to feel like “the world was made of two kinds of people: “Americans, and those who wanted to be Americans,” he said.
“But that’s not the case now,” he said. “All the sympathy the world had for Americans after 9-11 is gone. Now America is perceived as an isolated bully, pushing itself on the rest of the world.”
Laura Myers is an American now living in Munich, Germany. She was a Glenwood Springs resident and the tourism marketing director for the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association from 1996-99.
Myers thinks Europeans have a different view of war because of past history.
“Germans and Europeans are very familiar with the devastation a war can bring to a country through death, starvation, worthless currency and completely destroyed surroundings,” she wrote in an e-mail this week. “They also understand what it means to invade other countries and to try to use force to change the world. That is why it was written into the German constitution following World War II that they would never engage in a war, unless for defensive reasons. This is a policy the current U.S. president does not understand or accept, which frustrates and angers the Germans and Europeans.”
Anti-Bush, not anti-American?
Bert Escobar, 32, grew up in Grand Junction and now lives outside Stuttgart, Germany.
“The Europeans, and especially the Germans, make a very strong distinction between politics and people,” he wrote in an e-mail.
Before last week, Escobar sensed “Germans felt very grateful for all of the sacrifices the U.S. made in World War II and after to ensure that this continent would never need to wage war,” he wrote. “They would like to understand why the current U.S. administration is so unwilling to listen to either the U.N. or longtime allies.”
Katzenberger said that in Europe, she encountered many people who also wanted to understand the United States’ stand against Iraq. During the past few months, she was constantly urged into political discussions.
“Many Europeans I have met are curious, interested and far less judgmental than other Americans I have encountered,” she said. “I don’t want to stereotype, but Europeans I have encountered have an incredible skill at distinguishing a person from their nationality. In that sense, they are overwhelmingly disappointed in Americans as citizens, but have minimal hostility towards us as people.”
“Europeans look to and view the U.S. as a model of democracy, freedom and acceptance,” Myers wrote, “but now find these ideologies in constant ironies. Europeans are completely confused by the usage of religious rhetoric, the unilateral decisions without the United Nations, and are angered by the fact President Bush has refused to sign numerous world treaties and yet, has condemned other nations when they do not join him in his aggression on Afghanistan or Iraq.”
Myers’ husband, Stefan Wagner, is German, but also lived for a time in Glenwood Springs. He has observed changing perceptions as well.
“I can’t really say that people are more unfriendly towards Americans now,” he wrote in an e-mail last week. “It’s really not anti-Americanism, more anti-Bush-Bullyism. Your president is probably a whole lot less popular than Saddam Hussein in about 95 percent of the world.”
He said there have been very visible reactions to the war in Munich.
“There were spontaneous protests of 10,000 school kids in Munich against the war yesterday, and tomorrow there will be a protest outside the American embassy in town,” Wagner wrote. “Obviously, this is all against Bush’s politics, and people are still aware of the difference between the American people and its leaders. However, with a 70 percent approval rating for the war, the attitude might change.”
Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.