Nov 2004
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Zlatko Waterman
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Joined: August 19th, 2004, 8:30 am
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Post by Zlatko Waterman » November 4th, 2004, 11:06 am

In hub of 'Old Europe,' dismay at Bush's win

By Ken Dilanian

Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer

PARIS - Lunchers in sleek pinstripe suits sat cheek by jowl at Au Bistro restaurant here yesterday, so it was easy to overhear that nearly everyone was talking about the U.S. election.

The debate was over whether George W. Bush's victory was an earth-shaking disaster or simply a spot of sad but not unexpected news.

"Shame on America," said a distraught Patrick D'Albertlake, a fluent English-speaker who runs a Paris paper company with a factory in Charlotte, N.C. "It's a disgrace. That guy has made mistakes, and he will make more mistakes. It's a very dangerous situation for the world."

Perhaps it's not that dire, cautioned his associate Arnaud Roussel. "From the French point of view it's a mess, but this was a very high level of democracy. Even if you disagree with the result, you have to respect it."

Here in the capital of "Old Europe," where polls showed that 70 percent wanted to see John Kerry replace Bush, most of those interviewed yesterday expressed predictable disappointment. But few would admit to being surprised. And many voiced glum resignation that France would have to come to some sort of accommodation with a U.S. leadership it finds distasteful.

"Surprised? Not really. I'm disappointed," said Serge Seroff, an architect. "The surveys showed that the race was about even, so it's not a surprise."

With the U.S. waging a war in Iraq and an amorphous battle against global terrorism, Tuesday's election was followed more closely in foreign capitals than any in recent memory. In a September poll sponsored by 10 major foreign newspapers, overwhelming majorities in eight of 10 countries - France, Spain, Canada, Britain, Japan, Australia, Mexico and South Korea - favored Kerry over Bush.

"Today," the French newspaper Le Monde said in an article written for Thursday's editions, "they find themselves in the camp of losers."

Reaction to Bush's narrow victory in those countries was muted and varied.

"If this doesn't add up to a mandate, it is hard to know what the word means," wrote Martin Kettle, a columnist for the left-leaning British newspaper the Guardian. "Increased turnout. Narrow but decisive wins on all fronts. What more can you ask for from a single campaign?... It's time for the Democrats to get back to the drawing board."

Said Karsten Voigt, Germany's coordinator of German-U.S. Relations: "You can use a mandate to emphasize your convictions. Or you can use it to express wisdom... without abandoning your own convictions, to listen to and consider other points of view. What we hope is that reelected, Bush will use the opportunity to open new areas of communication, to explore the commonalities of culture and interests between the United States and Europe."

In Paris, locals joined American expatriates at at least three boozy all-night election-watching parties, including a 75-euro-per-head (just under $100) affair at Planet Hollywood on the Champs Elysee and a traditional gathering at Harry's Bar, the former haunt of Ernest Hemingway near the Opera House.

Asked why Americans reelected a president deeply unpopular in much of the rest of the world, many Parisians had the same answer:

"They are scared," said Valerie Serin, an interior designer.

What was striking yesterday was how many Parisians expressed a view of the American public as beset by childlike ignorance and led astray by a callow news media that in their view have failed to hold the Bush administration accountable for misdeeds.

"The Americans have a tendency to just not question the manner in which they live, and I think one of the reasons is that the press is less independent than it used to be," said Alexander Akhavi, 24, a law student.

Akhavi spoke during a class at the University of Evry, at which Lynn Selhat - a Paris resident who hails from Chestnut Hill - came to speak about the election results and the European-American divide.

"It really took me four years of living here to understand how big our presence is in the world," said Selhat, a Kerry supporter. "In the U.S., we don't see that. We don't see how our culture, our environmental policy, our defense policy affects everybody else."

None of the 30-odd students in the class favored Bush over Kerry, but the teaching assistant, Michel Sejean, offered an alternative view. Sejean, 25, had spent two years in Indiana, where he came to respect the close-knit, heartland values of what has become known as Red State America.

"It may be better for us that Bush won," he told the class. "For years, we've been able to blame everything that goes wrong in the world on Bush. It was 'Bush, Bush, Bush.' And we didn't have to do any thinking about our own approach to the world's problems."

Roussel, the paper-company executive, said he hoped France and other European countries could work through their differences with the administration.

"We need the Americans," he said, "and on another level, they need us. Not the French, but they need Europe, I mean."

Contact staff writer Ken Dilanian at 215-854-2405 or kdilanian@tin


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