Sunday, June 10, 2007

With Friends Like Albania . . .

"who needs enemies?" would be the idiomatic way to complete that question, but that's not fair. I will admit that when I saw that Americans in general and President Bush in particular are widely popular in Albania, my first reaction was to assume that Albania had slipped back into autocracy and that our popularity was of a piece with the "popularity" of North Korea's dear leader. But no, Albania continues to be on the road to democracy. It appears that they just like us. They really really like us. In fact, Albanians are grateful for US support for ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and other foreign policy moves of the past.

That should be welcome news except that somehow Albanian gratitude towards and warm feelings for Americans has translated into unflagging support for Bush Administration policies, including the Iraq war and, most recently, Guantanamo detentions. Albania has become the country of choice for releasing detainees whose home countries either won't take them or would likely subject them to treatment still worse than they received at Guantanamo. Even that would be welcome if Albania were integrating these refugees---who are being released in some cases because they shouldn't have been detained in the first place---but press accounts suggest that "parole" in Albania is not much better than detention in Guantanamo.

All in all, it appears that Albanians are making the mirror image mistake of other Europeans who translate their opposition to Bush Administration policies into general anti-Americanism. During the Cold War, it was popular for anti-Communists in the United States to express sympathy for the Russian people (and those subject to their rule and orbit) while expressing distaste for their rulers. I suppose the democratic character of the United States makes similar treatment of the US more difficult. Unlike Russians under Communism, we chose Bush et al as our leaders, and thus he represents us. But with Bush's approval rating in the 20s, one would hope that people around the world would distinguish between government policies and the people as a whole.

9 comments:

egarber said...

But with Bush's approval rating in the 20s, one would hope that people around the world would distinguish between government policies and the people as a whole.

I have a neighbor who travels back and forth from Canada for work. He says that the Canadians he knows embrace self-described "Americans". But they harden somewhat if you say you're from the United States. It seems weird that such a subtle difference can trigger such a drastic variation in response, but maybe it's a filter of sorts. If you're merely an "American", that's just your nationality; however, saying you're from "the U.S." smacks of allegiance to policy and government leaders.

I don't know either way.

Caleb said...

I'm not sure that people around the world should have to distinguish (although it's hard to argue that a more nuanced view of the world wouldn't be helpful in some ways).

First and foremost, it's not reciprocal. What are the popularity ratings of the current Albanian government? Closer to home, what about Sarkozy? Merkel? Harper? Blair/Brown?

Take Shinzo Abe as an example. I believe his current popularity is in the 30s (and has been falling since he took power, with a brief uptick). That didn't stop an outraged round of articles about his attitude towards Japanese war crimes and I would guess that his beliefs were imputed to the average Japanese citizen (at least by most non-citizens).

As a Canadian living in the states (and to the extent that I can fairly speak for my fellow-citizens), I think we hold a much less nuanced view of Americans than we could/should given the depth and breadth of the ties between the two countries (I've never known anyone to distinguish between someone who calls themselves "American", and someone who says they're from the US - although I would agree that anything that smacks of agreement with the current government probably prompts a stronger response). To take one popular stereotype, all American politics are seen as "right-of-centre" from the Canadian perspective; Democrats (rightly or wrongly) are routinely compared to the Conservative party.

Partly, I think this is because, America's biggest impact outside its borders is made by its government. Given the extent of trading links, Canada should be the poster child for differentiating between the government and the citizens, but protectionist measures in the states still dominate Canadian news no matter which party is in office - as do border regulations (which are currently causing me to wish I'd renewed my passport several years ago, instead of waiting until now).

Now imagine what it must be like for Albanians - the only large-scale contact must be with the Bush government. For all of movies and television, what matters on the ground in Albania is what the Bush government does. Even if it would be better if they did distinguish, I think they should be forgiven for not doing so.

Adam P. said...

The worst perhaps is that it now appears an Albanian actually stole Bush's watch as he passed through the crowd....

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