Russia’s war reverses anti-Americanism in Europe

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Welcome back. Whisper it softly, but in Europe, the historic birthplace of anti-Americanism, attitudes towards the US are becoming more positive among politicians and the general public. Is this just a short-term trend related to Russia’s war against Ukraine, or will it continue? I’m at

Almost five years ago, during Donald Trump’s presidency, the Brookings Institution published an op-ed with the catchy headline: “Europeans want to break up with America. You would do so at your own risk.”

Its author, James Kirchick, wrote about “the dying of the transatlantic relationship” and pinned part of the blame about the unpredictable, convention-breaking White House resident. “As a demagogic nationalist, Trump seems to confirm every negative stereotype that Europeans hold about Americans,” Kirchick claimed.

His allusion to stereotypes touched on an important feature of European anti-Americanism. It is often not about the specific politics of the US governments in our time, but about a bunch of negative images and impressions that have been around since at least the 19th century.

In other words, you can change who sits in the White House, but certain more ingrained feelings about the US are likely to remain. This is because such sentiments depend to a significant extent on how many Europeans define their own societies, cultures and values, sometimes in contrast to those of America.

However, Joe Biden’s arrival in the White House has undoubtedly healed much of the damage of the Trump years – though not all, as we see in US-European tensions over the Biden administration’s anti-inflation bill, which provided huge subsidies to US-based companies contains green technology projects.

Shared Values

What really improved European perceptions of the US was the Russian invasion of Ukraine a year ago. Poll after poll has come to the same conclusion: Europeans feel closer to the US, and their views of Russia (and to a lesser extent China) have turned deeply negative. Much of this shift in attitude appears to be permanent, as it results from a growing awareness that Europe and the US do indeed share common values ​​such as political pluralism and personal freedom.

Take this report, produced by the Bennett Institute of Public Policy at the University of Cambridge, UK. Using data from 137 countries, including 75 studied since the Kremlin invasion, the researchers note: “Russia’s war has led Westerners to feel ever more attached to both the US and NATO .”

A chart showing that positive opinions of the US have increased, albeit not as much in the Global South

US relative favor has soared to new heights despite overtaking Russia and China in the Global South. Each series aggregated using population weights; “Self-answers” ​​excluded (e.g. China excluded from measuring global attitudes towards China) © Bennett Institute of Public Policy, University of Cambridge

They add that over the past decade, positive public attitudes towards Russia have plummeted in once-sympathetic countries: Greece (from 69 percent to 30 percent), Hungary (from 45 percent to 25 percent) and Italy (14 percent). of 38 percent).

On the other hand, in much of the non-Western world, in countries like Malaysia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, positive views of Russia and China prevail, the researchers say the graph above suggests that.

“Democratic societies are far more negative about Russia and China, while the opposite is true for more authoritarian societies. This association did not exist a decade ago, but is very clear today,” says Xavier Romero-Vidal, one of the authors of the report.

Russia and Europe’s right-wing populists

A similar observation appears in this analysis for the European policy blog of the London School of Economics. Based on data from the European Social Survey, one of the most important measures of public opinion in Europe, Margaryta Klymak and Tim Vlandas say that Russia’s war has boosted European support for democracy and freedom, and even boosted trust in politicians and political parties.

Meanwhile, the European Commission’s Public Opinion Observatory reports that the desire for US involvement in European defense has increased since the start of the Ukrainian war. About 72 percent of Europeans now want the US to be somewhat or very involved, and only 19 percent want it to stay out. The largest increases in support are in Sweden (72 percent vs. 45 percent in 2021), Hungary (71 percent vs. 60 percent) and the Netherlands (75 percent vs. 66 percent).

Even among Europeans who vote for right-wing populists, who enthusiastically campaigned for Moscow during Vladimir Putin’s 23-year reign, positive views toward Russia have plummeted this survey from the Pew Research Center.

Bar chart of % who have a positive opinion of Russia, showing that support for Russia has fallen among Europe's right-wing populists

eccentrics in Central Europe

Of course, this does not mean that European anti-Americanism has completely faded. Measuring fever in Germany, columnist Tanit Koch wrote in The New European in October their dismay that “anti-Americanism has reached bourgeois liberal conservatives . . . I am stunned when I normally hear pro-US people saying, “The US has no interest in ending this war. We have to buy their gas like they always wanted and they can sell their guns.”

From 2015 to 2020, Britain’s opposition Labor Party was led by Jeremy Corbyn, the radical leftist who led the The British historian Jeremy Black once wrote: “He has never seen an anti-American cause that he did not want to embrace.” Such views have not disappeared from the British left, although Keir Starmer and like-minded Atlantic moderates now lead the Labor Party.

In central Europe, some hostility towards the US persists among leaders such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Croatian President Zoran Milanović and former Czech President Miloš Zeman. But it is worth noting that last month Czech voters elected a retired NATO commander, Petr Pavel, as Zeman’s successor.

Origins of European anti-Americanism

In The American Enemya landmark study of French anti-Americanism published in 2002 (and translated into English 2005), French historian Philippe Roger explained that the phenomenon did not begin with the Vietnam War, or even the 1930s, an era in which he believes it peaked.

Rather, its foundations were laid more than 200 years ago in “the Enlightenment’s strange hostility to the New World.” It spread in the 19th century, when Parisian intellectuals portrayed French civilization as a universal ideal at odds with American mass democracy and predatory, dehumanizing capitalism.

Across Europe, anti-Americanism morphed into a cultural critique of modernity—breakneck industrialization, corporate power, urbanization, the market-driven atomization of society.

Such attitudes have left their mark. In a 2015 study, Colin Lawson and John Hudson viewed through the EU Eurobarometer data on public opinion and concluded: “Distrust of big business . . . strongly suggests that a major cause of anti-American attitudes is anti-capitalism.”

Add to this the harsh criticism many Europeans face today of aspects of US life such as lax gun controls, the partial use of the death penalty, the Supreme Court’s turn against abortion rights, and unequal access to health care.

Still, Russia’s war and the collective US-led Western response seem to have brought Americans and Europeans closer together. I’ll leave that thought to you – what would happen if the Republicans won the presidency in 2024 with a candidate leaning towards a Trumpian approach to world politics?

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Adam Bradshaw

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