Thursday, July 15, 2004

Anti-Americanism in Sweden

I suppose it's a worldwide phenomenon by now. Anti-Americanism. Since the Liberation of Iraq by coalition forces, an anti-American tidal wave has swept the world.

I for my part notice it quite clearly here in Sweden. It seems to be "radically chic" to hold anti-American views.

A week ago there was an article published in one of the major newspapers in Sweden, where an American business man spoke out against what he perceived to be racism against Americans. Sometimes when people heard his accent they would state bluntly that they did not like Americans. What if you substitute "American" for, say, "Jewish"? Where would we be headed then? Speaking of which, anti-Americanism and so called anti-Zionism often go hand in hand. Especially after the war in Iraq.

This American businessman was careful to point out that it is just a small minority of Swedes who hold these views, but there is still an ongoing trend of hostility towards Americans. And there is of course a danger when one group of people is singled out in this way. In the same newspaper, a young girl of American descent living in Sweden told the reporter that her little brother was teased at school simply for being an American.

Now, not liking the current US president is one thing. But showing antipathy and even hatred of ordinary American people is pure racism and it should be called by its right name.

Unfortunately, Sweden like France has a long history of anti-Americanism. This, I think, is due to our neutrality (Sweden is not a NATO-country) and also of our cowardly stance during the Cold War, when the Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme tried to create what was called "the Third Way" -- a compromise between totalitarian Soviet Communism and Western style Capitalism. This also entailed not being critical enough of the Soviet Union, but at the same time criticizing the US too much. Geographically the Soviet Union was pretty close to Sweden and I suppose that the Swedish government's fear of this superpower and the approximity to it created some sort of misguided solidarity that never should have been, and at the same time created a knee-jerk animosity against the US.

However, the world has changed. After 9/11 I think most sane people realized this. We were forced to take sides. Either you support Western-style democracy and its values of freedom, equality and tolerance or you support a clerical fascism disguised as religion. There is no grey zone. A lot of people still haven't realized this. People on the Chomsky-Left still regard the United States as the epitome of all evil. Often this anti-Americanism is part of a lifestyle-package where things like anti-globalization sentiments and a faiblesse for anything vaguely "revolutionary" overrides any sense of what democracy needs to be and what it needs in order to thrive or even survive.

There is apparently a new organization in Sweden, the Swedish-American Association. There aim is to "provide a more open-minded view of the United States in Sweden, and also to be inspired of the American vision: freedom and democracy is not an exclusive right for the West - it's a right and a capacity that belongs to all human-kind."
Apart from their apparent sympathy towards the deceased ex-US president Ronald Reagan, there aim sounds healthy enough to me, and it makes me happy to know that someone is trying to change the current situation in Sweden.


At July 16, 2004 at 5:59 PM, Blogger Alex said...

yo welcome to blogging.

Do you think the xenophobia towards americans is equivalent to anti-semitism, as you imply - or is it closer to the attitudes towards the French that the US (and indeed a tendency of the english) seem to have? You know the stuff I men - Presidential candidates playing down they can speak french, and being criticised on the basis that they "look French", french fries being renamed freedom fries (in the seat of government, no less!). Do you think that all cultures have to be automatically respected, or that people should be free to express an opinion as long as it is not loathsome and hateful?

At July 16, 2004 at 7:35 PM, Blogger Frederick said...


What I was trying to say is that it is as wrong to judge an American on the basis of what you think of the current US President or of US culture as a whole. In my opinion, you should judge each individual by his or her own actions.

But, yes. I do believe that there often is a link nowadays between so called anti-Zionism (or the more blatant anti-Semitism) and anti-Americanism, which I suppose has to do with the strong ties between Israel and the USA.

I do not believe that someone should be able to say whatever he or she feels like concerning an individual or group of people if it is based on predjudice or hatred of a people and just comes down to ignorant slander.

Americans and America are often critized these days due to the US attitudes towards the war on terror. However, the national arrogance as displayed by Jacques Chirac has often been greater, in my eyes, than that of George W. Bush. For example, Mr Chirac for many years maintaned contact with and made deals with the ex-tyrant and dictator Saddam Hussein. Saddam was allowed to buy two French nuclear reactors, an integrated air defence system, several Mig fighters and surface-to-air missiles. Something which Mr Chirac has been avoiding to talk about. Instead he portraied himself as the Great Pacifist during the build-up to the Liberation of Iraq.

However, this does not make it right to hate all French people.

Like I said and as the cliché goes: you have to judge each individual on the basis of his/her actions.

At July 19, 2004 at 12:57 PM, Blogger Alex said...

Of course and I agree on that; however certainly within Europe there are stereotypes between neighbours and statements of cultural preference: the British press will often tease the french for snootyness, or lampoon the swiss as obsessively precise. I remember advertisements and tv programs that go back 15 or 20 years in which the american is portrayed as a 'Yank', big for his boots and somewhat insular. While it would be ideal to judge everyone on their merits, sterotypes are pervasive, and I was wondering whether what you are describing is simply these kinds of stereotypes, or instead a sinister denigration - asserting that americans are subhuman or inherently evil (the kind of criticisms that constitute serious racist opinion).

Five years ago if I'd have complained that there were too many americans in my class: "they're just so noisy and they think they know everything" then people might strongly disagree but it would be taken as an preference based on cultural differences. It seems that now it is suggested that Americans have some kind of victim status, and that they are being oppressed. BUt I would suggest that if anything, the xenophobia towards the French in the US that I described (where looking French is a form of abuse) is more striking, yet I would not put that on a par with racism either.

The examples you give do not really paint a picture of Anti-American prejudice: people can be teased for all sorts of reasons. I was teased at school for having knobbly knees, and tv shows would sometimes mock lanky characters like myself, but I wouldn't make much of that.

Of course good luck to you joining a group devoted to international fraternity - such a thing can only be positive. Personally I would think there are more disadvantaged groups in the world to actively support, but each to their own.

At July 19, 2004 at 3:52 PM, Blogger Frederick said...

I don't think there is a clearly defined line between denigrating and stereotyping Americans. And I don't agree that what you give as an example of xenophobia against French people in the US isn't racism. What this kind of slander does is often enough equal to racism in its illogical generalizing of a people.

You say: "Personally I would think there are more disadvantaged groups in the world to actively support, but each to their own."

Fine. But these days ordinary Americans are often a disadvantaged group because some people can't see the difference between the current US president and the American people living. But like you say, each to his own.

At July 19, 2004 at 7:07 PM, Blogger Alex said...

The problem is that when you turn from racial prejudice to cultural prejudice issues become tricky. I think it is ok to have cultural preferences as long as they are reasonable and not harmful. I can dislike the company of groups of rugby players, or prefer to surround myself with only Japanese speakers. I can find that the cultural traits of certain kinds of people 'rub me up the wrong way'. All this probably suggests some narrowness in outlook, but the only solution to this is to be exposed to counterexamples - e.g. the thoughtful rugby fan. Forming an organisation for the defence of the rugby fans is not likely to do anything but make me think that on top of everything else, they are incredibly touchy and sensitive. Of course, I don't really know what this group is going to do - the website is pretty empty - so I will suggest three approaches they could take, and the consequences they will have.

1) Push forward the good things about Americans. In one form, this could jsut be focusing on individuals and showing them beyond the stereotype (maybe profiling Americans living in Sweden and getting them to talk about their identity, their thoughts and so on). I think this would be a good thing - a great thing, even. I'm not sure how far you could go with it, but if the aim is to reduce anti-american stereotypes then the best way has got to be to puncture those stereotypes.

1) Push forward good things about America. Publish writings that show how exceptional america is, applaud the american model of economics, democracy, society. I think this is problematic, as typically pushing strong claims is always going to provoke strong counter-claims ("how can you say America defends democracy when x,y,z happened in the 70s/80s/90s" - i don't care about the argument, but people will make it). Consequently, it is more likely to stir up controversy and opposing dialogue than to reduce animosity; if anything, the common anti-american complaint (they think they're sooo great!) will be strengthened. Of course, the message could be softer - emphasising that America is like any other country, better at some things, worse at others, with its own distinctive character but just, you know, a place, so stop getting so angry. However, any organisation that puts Reagan in so prominent a role is unlikely to do so.

3) Highlight any perceived slight or criticism of America, and get very angry. As I outline above, I think this is going to be very unhelpful in reducing animosity towards americans. People will feel they are being judged by a special standard when it comes to americans, that they are being exected to treat the US in a special way. It may be a goal to achieve this, or this might be a valuable corrective to misrepresentation of America in some areas, but I am pretty sure that it will polarise things far further, and lead to less tolerance, not more.

So it depends on what direction it takes: I think 1) is unlikely, unfortunately, and that 2) can easily slide into 3) even when it doesn't intend to.

Let me make it clear that cultural differences are no basis to discriminate by state, by job application, or in any other way. However, the opinions and attitude people have towards other cultural groups cannot be easily policed, and to do so may have the opposite effect to the one you intended.

Anyway, I have bothered you enough on this topic - please take it not as any kind of an attack but my concern about polarisation and pressure-group activities.

At July 19, 2004 at 7:55 PM, Blogger Frederick said...


I appreciate you view-points. Don't know if agree with them all though. But I suppose that's just the way we'll have to leave it.

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At December 31, 2009 at 1:57 AM, Anonymous David Singleton said...

I recently had my company forced into bankruptcy (Konkurs) by a Swedish supplier after they breached a contract. I was left with no money and unable to afford an attorney, I asked the tingrätt to look at the issues and filed suit. During the trial, when it came my turn to cross examin their witness, the witness became visibly hostile and refused to answer any questions, in court I was yelled at and shouted down by the suppliers attorney and the witness, I was rushed by the judge in my cross examination (given less than 15 minutes, and today I learned I lost my case even though the evidence was in my favor. Im American married to a Swede. Anti Americanism and discrimination is rife in the Swedish courts. I hqave refused to pay their court cost and point blank told the judge I'd rather go to jail.

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