A Weakened Idol?

On June 15, 2004 Günter Bischof, Professor at the University of New Orleans and Head of CenterAustria, presented his book 'The Americanization/Westernization of Austria' in Vienna. Günter Bischof also participated in the following discussion on the topic: 'The weakened idol: Is America still an example for Europe today?' Other participants in the discussion were Anton Fink, at that time Bank Gutmann AG, Eric Frey, journalist, Lonnie Johnson, Fulbright Commission, Ulrike Lunacek, member of the National Assembly of Austria and foreign policy speaker of the Green Party, and Armin Thurnher, chief editor of 'Der Falter'.

Franz Kössler from the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation presented the event. More than 200 participants, among them diplomats, scholars, but also many former exchange students who themselves had spent some months with American families, took part in the discussion.

An example for Europe?
Günter Bischof said that already in 1840 Ritter von Ghega had crossed the Atlantic to study American railway construction and he had put his findings to practice with great success in the construction of the Semmering railway line. In the 1920s many Austrian industrialists had brought industrial production methods from their journeys to the USA back home. The USA then were an example for Europe. The question is whether this weakened idol 'America' is still of the same relevance for Europe today.

Günter Bischof: 'The USA have been off track already since the end of the Cold War, not just since 9/11. The USA are more easily inclined to lose their patience and they no longer want to reach their goals by mere diplomatic means. Building her own security policy is too much for Europe. It has not been able to successfully deal with the Balkan conflict on its own continent. Today the United States have more military bases than they used to have during the Cold War and the militarists in the Pentagon have more power than many senators. The reservoirs of sympathy experienced by exchange students in the past will not be enough in the long run. Today many Austrian students prefer European universities.'

Anton Fink: 'The stock markets decide whether a policy is good. In the USA it is easier for go-to guys to make a big splash, in Europe it is easier for the weaker to survive. America is one step ahead if one takes the dominance in world economy.'

Eric Frey: 'The Americans have lost the belief in their own soft power, that is the ability to convince others of their values, and they more and more restrict themselves to military hard power. The International Court of Justice is in fact their invention, but now they do not participate in it.' Lonnie Johnson: 'Europeans often get lost in refinements which are of no interest to Americans. The perception of the USA in Europe and vice versa is not too good.'

Ulrike Lunacek: 'The idol America has weakened. The pictures of freedom and democracy which are linked to this idol often do not correspond with reality. One example is the war in Iraq. Europe has to emancipate itself from the USA, thankfulness cannot be the European leitmotif for the relationship with the United States. Europe needs its own independent foreign and security policies with the main emphasis being on conflict prevention.'