SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association)- THEIR name sounds like a parody, but it is not meant to be. On January 24th about 1,000 Pegada, or “patriotic Europeans against the Americanisation of the Occident,” took to the streets of Erfurt. In chants and on banners, they warned against a break with Russia and of a third world war, blaming the “terror power” of America. The spread of anti-Americanism in Germany worries John Emerson, America’s ambassador. He is soon to attend an “anti-Americanism conference” in Munich. Joachim Gauck, Germany’s president, frets that “Germans and Americans appear to live on different planets.”
This new mood may even cloud Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Washington next week (see article). It affects everything from the West’s response to terrorism and Russian bullying to free-trade talks between America and the European Union, now in their eighth round.
Anti-Americanism has long been endemic in Germany. In West Germany in the cold war, it was found mainly on the left. The right saw America as a protector against communism and a post-war mentor in democracy. Yet even conservative West Germans combined love for things cowboy with disdain for an American way of life they saw as uncultured. East Germans were anti-American and pro-Russian as a matter of policy. Even today, with that ideological kinship gone, “a crude mixture of anti-Americanism and a bizarre romanticisation of Russo-German affinities” persists, says Heinrich August Winkler, a historian with an interest in Germany’s ambivalent integration into the West.
In theory reunification in 1990 anchored all of Germany firmly in the West, as defined by NATO, the European Union and shared values. And yet some old leftist anti-Americanism survived. Its political home became Die Linke (The Left), a party that descends from the communists of East Germany and has picked up a few western radicals. In a softer form, it persists among Social Democrats and Greens.
The newer element is anti-Americanism on the right. Once confined to the loony fringes of, say, Bavaria’s CSU, the conservative sister party to Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democrats, it has leapt beyond the CSU’s beer tents to a young ultraconservative party, Alternative for Germany (AfD). AfD started life as an anti-euro party but it has now become anti-immigrant and anti-American as well.
Mrs Merkel, like Mr Gauck, is a former East German who is pro-American by inclination. But America’s spy agencies have not helped relations by tapping her phone, as well as countless other electronic communications of ordinary Germans, as Edward Snowden revealed. Germans see this as a violation of sovereignty and feel betrayed by their ally. They also object to other American extraterritorial forays, such as checking airline passengers on German soil. All this has “created a toxic mistrust and fuelled anti-Americanism in Germany,” says Norbert Röttgen, chairman of the Bundestag’s foreign-affairs committee.
Such mistrust now threatens the transatlantic free-trade deal. Most EU citizens back it. But support is lowest (at only 39%) in Germany and Austria, says one recent poll. In Germany the controversy has become both hysterical and illogical. Thus Germans worry about planned tribunals to arbitrate between companies and governments, even though these have been part of most other EU trade deals. “If this were an agreement with any other country, it would not have such a big place in the public debate,” argues Mr Röttgen. Increasingly, that is true of anything Germany and America try to do together.