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Volume 2, Number 23              July 14 - 20,  2002                   Quezon City, Philippines

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Cry, the Derided Country:
A Friendliness Index for a Lonely America
‘Why Do They Hate Us So Much?’


That's a question that many Americans have asked since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Some respond that the terrorists and their supporters despise our freedoms. Others say that the reason is jealousy of our wealth. Still others blame our foreign policy, especially in the Middle East.




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Vladimir Shlapentokh, of Michigan State University, hopes to inject a dose of analytical rigor into America's perception of itself in the world.

While anti-Americanism may have roots in all of these areas, it is best understood as a complex and dynamic ideology that is both appealing and powerful, according to Vladimir Shlapentokh, scholar of Soviet and Russian affairs and professor at Michigan State University. He asserts that social groups and foreign countries have hijacked this ideological hostility toward America to serve as a scapegoat and to fulfill a psychological need.

In his current research, Shlapentokh hopes to help the United States achieve a more realistic perception of itself within the world. He has embarked on a project to measure the international community's attitudes toward America. The forthcoming results, he said, could infuse America's self-understanding with a dose of analytical rigor and help America pursue sound foreign policies.

"It's nearly impossible to find a country in the world where anti-Americanism is not present," said Shlapentokh, who spoke during a recent seminar at RAND. "Few ideologies in any region can be so emotionally strong, attractive, and can carry so much weight with so many people as anti-Americanism." He argued that the anti-Americanism of today could compete in ferocity with the anti-Communism of the 1960s and 1970s.

Until recently, he said, the self-perception of the United States was almost narcissistic: If you didn't love America, you simply didn't know America. "This concept is extremely wrong and self-serving," said Shlapentokh.

The Power of the Negative

Whatever the true nature of America, Shlapentokh contended, the real issue is what drives anti-Americanism. A critical element is what he calls "negative values," which he believes are central to most world ideologies. For instance, he pointed to the Ten Commandments. "Of them, only two are positive values," he said. "Eight are negative values; for example, don't do this or don't do that."

Negative values, he said, compel human behavior and thinking far more than positive values. He called out a number of major political campaigns where themes were "anti-this or anti-that." Even the homegrown anti-Communist movement in America after World War II was negative to its core. "You can find negative values in almost any ideology, whether it's official or regional. But no ideology is so purely negative as anti-Americanism."

Russia's citizens have also been prone to negative values since the country's transition from Communism to democracy, he said. At first, negative values throughout Russia fueled an anti-Communist ideology. But by 1995, anti-Communist ideology had exhausted its potential, and anti-Americanism filled the void.

Other countries and groups have adapted anti-Americanism to suit their own needs, according to Shlapentokh. "It's difficult to find another ideology that offers a scapegoat as good as anti-Americanism," he said. "Scapegoating is a very important part of human psychology."

But there are many kinds of scapegoats. "To study anti-Americanism," he explained, "it's important to distinguish among three actors: the leader of the country, the political and intellectual elite, and the masses. The reaction among these actors is very different in different countries."

Shlapentokh is in the process of cataloging some 160 countries, classifying a country's leader, its elite, and its masses as either "pro-American" or "anti-American." What emerges is a matrix of at least four types of countries. "If we take into account only the elite and the masses, European countries are pro-American-not always, but mostly." The Czech Republic and Lithuania are good examples of unity between elite and masses in terms of positive, or at least benign, attitudes toward the United States. On the other hand, he said that Pakistan, China, and Argentina have unity against the United States.

Russia is in the middle of the road. "The elite are very strongly anti-American, while the masses are relatively positive toward the United States," said Shlapentokh. "Russia is not a country that loves or hates the United States when compared to, say, Argentina."

Shlapentokh cited data from a recent international Gallup survey. Key indicators of anti-Americanism included the perceived deleterious effect of American foreign policy on a given country and the degree to which people support their country's involvement in the international war against terrorism.

Such indicators are helping Shlapentokh derive his index of friendliness toward the United States. "You see big differences" even in Europe, he said. "England is the most friendly. The Czech Republic is favorable. The most hostile are Greece and Spain. One of the most hostile East European countries is Ukraine." Outside of Europe, he ranked India as very favorable.

Russian Ambiguity

Shlapentokh discussed separate data from major polling organizations in Russia. "If you ask Russians in very general ways about Americans, Russians are more or less friendly toward the United States. Sixty-seven percent, or two-thirds, are friendly toward the United States. But this number is volatile and depends on the media. For example, during the Yugoslavian war, the number of Russians with positive attitudes toward America declined to about 20 percent."

The most interesting indicator of relatively positive attitudes toward America is the question of justice, said Shlapentokh. "The concept of justice is a core value for Russian nationalists, and Russian Communists always boast that Russians are people who yearn for justice. Surprisingly, 48 percent of Russians told interviewers that real justice is in the U.S., not in Russia. It is difficult to imagine a more eloquent indicator [of pro-Americanism] than the answers to these questions" about justice.

Attitudes of Russians about Sept. 11 were complex. "Half of Russians were directly compassionate for victims in New York and Washington, D.C. But when formally asked, 'Does America deserve this event?' half of Russians said yes," according to Shlapentokh. "Many American liberals say something close to this."

Nothing shocked Shlapentokh more than his own post­Sept. 11 observations of "deep-rooted animosity" toward the United States among Russian intellectuals and political elites. He attributed this animosity to the failure of Russian liberal reform. "The liberal elite did not do what it had promised to do for Russia: to create a liberal democratic society."

Although the Russian elite became wealthier with reform, they did not attain the levels of wealth of their American peers. "They felt that they should be equal to the American counterparts, and this made them crazy," said Shlapentokh. "In my opinion, they lost their [sense] of reality and started to berate America. Once again, they started to fall back to Russian nationalism, with its cultural and moral superiority. They don't want to be provincial; they want to be a great power."

Russian President Vladimir Putin falls in line more with the Russian populace than with the Russian elite. "He has joined the war against terror," noted Shlapentokh. "If you are given to historical parallels, it's like Julius Caesar or Napoleon Bonaparte, where you have a leader, the masses who support the leader, and an outwardly hostile elite." Putin's control remains firm, because resistance to his new policy directions is scarce, said Shlapentokh.

Nevertheless, the power of anti-Americanism cannot be underestimated. "Anti-Americanism will play an important role for several decades," said Shlapentokh. "The American government should be well aware of these attitudes toward the United States and understand how different these attitudes are in various countries around the world." Re-posted by Bulatlat.com

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