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Culture

Anti-American or Anti-Bush?

Strained relations between the United States and Germany have some saying anti-Americanism is rising. But among young Germans there's a difference between opposing the Bush administration and being anti-American.

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They think America's cool, not Bush.

Before 19-year-old Oliver joins his friends between classes at his high school in Cologne, he pulls on his Levi's jeans jacket and makes sure his Nike tennis shoes are smudge-free. Outside in the courtyard, he lights up a Marlboro cigarette and pops open a Coke while catching up with his fellow students.

American products are simply a part of life for most German young people and the thought of boycotting them seems absurd to Oliver, even though he and most of Germany's students disagree profoundly with the Iraq policy of the Bush administration.

"I think you could settle the (Iraq) situation differently. And you see that in all the demonstrations all over the world," he said. "Millions of people are marching in the streets, but it's as if the Americans don't want to see that."

A survey conducted by the Polis Institute showed that almost 80 percent of the 14 to 19 year-olds want to participate in demonstrations against a possible war in Iraq. Thousands have already hit the streets in protest, including many of the students at Oliver's school, the Kreuzgasse Gymnasium.

"What do I think of the Bush administration? Not much," said one young woman. "I'd say that America is only acting in its own interests," said one of her classmates. Most students here responded along those same lines when asked their opinion of U.S. President George W. Bush's Iraq policy. "It looks like he's going to do what he wants to do," said one student.

Policy vs. People

But the U.S. president's poor standing among youth has not translated into anti-Americanism, according to Rüdiger Wersich of the Frankfurt Center for North American Research. His research has shown that most young people are very critical of Bush's policy and even his manner. But he adds that attitudes toward U.S. government policy make up only a small part of the mosaic-like picture of America young people have in their minds.

"I believe that youth are very capable of differentiating between the current American administration and the sentiment and behavior of the American people," he said.

Remarks from the students at the Kreuzgasse Gymnasium would seem to support Wersich's theory.

"I know a lot of people in America who don't think much of Bush either," one young woman said. Another added, "You have to look at the bigger picture. You can't lay the blame on all Americans."

One student said she always tried to think about what it would be like if the tables were turned. "I don't identify completely with the Schröder administration, but I'm still German," she said. "But I think it would be wrong if someone said: 'You German. Your chancellor is doing something wrong and you're just like him.'"

Kurt Gamerschlag, head of the Council on International Educational Exchange, an organization that sets up school year abroad programs in the U.S. for German students, said he is not surprised at the lack of anti-American sentiment even in the face of a possible U.S.-led war on Iraq.

He said students in Germany are more interested in hearing from their friends or family members in the U.S. and about their personal experiences there than about current foreign policy developments in Washington.

"The pull of the U.S. on young Germans is as strong as ever," he said.

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