Kosovo's Battle For Hearts and Minds
While NATO's political leaders are sticking firmly together as the bombs continue to fall on Yugoslavia, public opinion, which we examine in articles on France, Italy, Spain and Greece, is more varied.
How strange. The more the French, hesitant at first over NATO air strikes against Serbia, throw their support behind the war, the more stridently they criticize the United States for its dominant and, in French eyes, domineering part in this conflict and in the world as a whole. Yet not since General de Gaulle took France out of NATO's military command in 1966 have France's leaders worked so closely and harmoniously in military co-operation with their American allies.
Both the Gaullist president, Jacques Chirac, and his Socialist prime minister, Lionel Jospin, have heartily endorsed the bombs meant to bring Serbia's leader, Slobodan Milosevic, to heel. They do not feel the Americans are pushing them around. Indeed, they think Europe, for once, has been calling many of the shots.
Many ordinary French people, on both left and right, beg to differ. Many of those who dissent are the usual American-bashing nationalists at both ends of the spectrum. Bruno Megret, leader of one wing of the far-right National Front, says Messrs Chirac and Jospin are both "behaving like President Clinton's lapdogs." Arlette Laguiller, leader of a Trotskyist party, denounces the war as "a vile new action by American imperialists." Philippe de Villiers, leader of a right-wing Euro-sceptics' movement, says that "bellicose Americans" are "setting Europe on fire." Robert Hue, the Communists' boss, whose parts is in Mr. Jospin's ruling coalition, calls the war a connerie (bloody idiocy), while his party's newspaper, "L'Humanite", splashes "NATO Go Home!" across its front page.
But many mainstream politicians, especially Gaullists, have sounded off against the Americans too. Charles Pasqua, a former interior minister, deplores French pandering, as he sees it, to American. Jean-Pierre Chevenement, the current old-left interior minister, who previously resigned as defense minister in protest against the Gulf War, says he would have "preferred a diplomatic solution." Philippe Seguin, the Gaullist party leader, curtly approves of the war - yet expresses "dismay" at the bombing of one of "France's old allies." Alain Peyrefitte, an influential veteran Gaullist senator says the war is "illegal and immoral." NATO, he moans, will "Always be a tool of America."
While anti-Americanism has always been an ingredient of Gaullism, such feelings - according to a poll published in the left-wing newspaper "Liberation" - now pervade France at large. Approval of NATO's bombing campaign has gone up to some 70%. But a big majority also dislikes America's being the sole superpower and resents its influence in so many spheres of life. And most French discount the idea that American policy abroad, the Balkans included, is fired by ideals.
The Kosovo crisis has strengthened calls, across the French spectrum, for a "European defense identity". Although nearly half of the French want it to exist within NATO, nearly as many want Europeans to do without any American involvement at all - despite the massive extra cost that that would entail. And, despite France's fascination with things American - from film and Disney to fashion and fast food - two-thirds say they "do not feel close to the American people." The young and the educated feel least friendly.
A week before the bombing campaign against Yugoslavia began, France's foreign minister, Hubert Vedrine, said his much-quoted description of the United States as a "hyperpower that dominates in every field" was a statement of fact, not a complaint.
Even while warning against America's penchant for "unilateralism", he said that co-operation over the current crisis had been "exemplary". But that is not your average Frenchman speaking.
French Views of America:
Is The United States Too Influential?
Over Kosovo, are you worried
In the Balkans, is the United States Motivated by
What Kind of Defense Policy would you prefer?
Do You Feel Close To The American
(Reprint, The Economist, April 17th 1999 edition)
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