Why do they hate France?

The August 6-19 issue of the weekly France-Amerique edition of Le Figaro (one of the two top daily newspapers in France) contains a fascinating article on hostility to France. Historian Jan Eichler, in "La tentation de la francophobie" (The francophobe temptation), examines the sources of the strong anti-French sentiment in central and eastern Europe, with special reference to the Czech Republic. He notes that when asked for an explanation, Czechs cite the "trahison de Munich" (treason/betrayal of Munich).

Eichler explains, however, that the Munich citation has two distinct meanings. For some Czechs, it is simply a literal memory of a terrible act by the French government, which led to tremendous suffering for Czechoslovakia.

Other Czechs, he elaborates, use "Munich" as a shorthand for what they see to be France's failure to support the robustly pro-freedom American policies in Europe. For the latter group, the list of grievances includes some events which were well-known at one time, which have been forgotten by almost all Americans, but which are vividly remembered by many Czechs--such as France's withdrawl from the NATO military command during the DeGaulle presidency.

These pro-American Czechs resent French criticism of the "american way of life." They repeat the arguments of "la fameuse 'Reagan victory school'", which they believe won the Cold War (la guerre froid) and which the Czechs believe can also win the terror war. As the subhead of Eichler's commentary states, "Les nouveaux pays de l'UE, seduits par les theses neoconservatrices, optent pour l'atlantisme." (The new nations of the EU, seduced by the neo-conservative theses, opt for Atlanticism.)(Accent marks are omitted from the French headline.)

UPDATE: A few commenters are wondering about how many important daily newspapers there are in France. The French are blessed with many good daily newspapers, although, sadly, they do not publish on Sunday. However, Le Monde and Le Figaro are the two most important--especially for non-Communist readers. The monthly Le Monde Diplomatique probably has the biggest influence outside of France, with Fig's various international editions coming in second. The daily editions of Le Monde and Le Fig certainly have a huge lead over any other French newspaper for newsstand distribution in England, Germany, and Switzerland, based on my own observations.

P.S. Personally, I adore France's culture and its many historic contributions to Western civilization. Although I was appalled by France's pro-Saddam policies, it is important to remember that France has often played a very constructive role in the War on Terror--including sharing intelligence with the U.S., and helping to force Syria out of Lebanon. But I also understand why Czechs and other peoples who suffered under the Warsaw Pact for so many decades would be especially vigilant about wanting to side with nation that took the lead in their own liberation.

Excuse Me?:
I think this post itself would be much more 'fascinating' if it appeared to inform, rather than to inflame.

By the way, there's more than 2 major daily newspapers in France, and you can drink the water straight from the tap without dying.
8.22.2005 7:11pm
I'm not really sure what the point of Excuse Me?'s post was. Hostility toward France in the rest of Europe isn't discussed as much as it should be, while I suspect numerous websites that Excuse Me frequents discuss why America is hated by everyone in the world.
8.22.2005 7:22pm
Craig Oren (mail):
If the dislike were based on the Munich agreement, then it should be directed at the British, too. Consider Neville Chamberlain's "a far away country about which we can know little" and, of course, "peace in our time."
8.22.2005 7:52pm
mcg (mail):
Well, perhaps the Czechs believe in redemption, and that the British have obtained it.
8.22.2005 8:06pm
Pearl Poodlemuffin:
I'm sure there are more than two major newspapers in France, but darned if I can name more than two - Le Monde and Le Figaro.
8.22.2005 8:22pm
firebrand (mail):
There are more than two newspapers in France (Ouest-France and the stridently leftist Liberation, for example), but it is a moot point: there isn't a one of them that doesn't really say the same thing, especially with regards to their in-grained anti-Americanism, something that is simply taken as a matter-of-fact.
8.22.2005 8:34pm
Steevo (mail):
Appropriate response SP. Too many French care about nobody but themselves and most outside of their snobby nation know this. It does seem they're callous toward human rights, freedom etc.; their own benefit is the bottom line. And they don't get it?

When France is discussed I find folks increasingly convinced they're bigots, or close to it with regard to Americans and Jews. They are not an ally.
8.22.2005 8:48pm
Nahanni (mail):
Excuse Me?'s post is a poster child as to why the French (and their LLL cousins in western countries) are not liked very much.

In his/her first sentence Excuse Me? thinks David's OP was meant to "inflame". Thin skinned LLL's and the French can not take anyone not agreeing with them. If you do not agree with them you are either "stifling dissent" or trying to "inflame". If someone tries to engage them in a debate they either turn into the Ad Hominim Attack Maryrs Brigade or will post something about how he/she is so much more "intelligent" then us for him/her to dirty their hands defending their positions and then run for the hills.

In his/her second sentence he/she makes the arrogant LLL presuptious assumption that we are ignorant. In my life I have found some of the most ignorant, bigoted, parochial, biased and totally clueless people to be ones who have spent decades in school and are supposedly much better "educated" then the rest of us in the "great unwashed". There IS a difference between "book smart" and "street smart", between "intelligence" and "wisdom". I will take the "street smart" and the wise anyday-they live in the real world. The "book smart" intellectual lives in a "reality based community" that is about as real as the land of Oz.
8.22.2005 9:22pm
I've always been intrigued by philosophical differences underlying the French and American revolutions. Nominally both were revolts against monarchies, but the French revolution was much more majoritarian whereas the American revolution was much more libertarian.

Actually, can anyone name a French Revolutionary era libertarian pre-cursor? I cannot--whereas in America we did have a much more lockean tradition balancing out populists such as Thomas Paine. It seems to me, that America inherited a British liberal tradition that developed over several hundred years. whereas the French were tending toward a more statist, socialist direction.

Certainly, the years during and after the revolution(s) in France the situation was decidedly illiberal in the British sense of the word, and in modern times Socialism is a much stronger political force in France than in England.

I think this drives the ambivalence between America and France and France and Eastern Europe.

In many ways the French stand opposed to the very values at the core of our political traditions and vice-versa. Obviously this doesn't preclude cooperation and generally friendly relations but it does introduce a definite tension.
8.22.2005 9:22pm
Carolynn (mail):
I went to France this summer for a wedding. Politics came up, and I was honest about my stance on the war (I have supported it since the beginning). I was greeted with no hostility. One woman even said "Well, at least Americans DO something" (her emphasis, not mine).

The French are more disgusted with Chiraq than "we" are by Bush. Although I suspect they think he's an idiot.

I think the loud "Anti-Americanism" may be 1) the press trying to sell a good story 2) the same lunatics we have here -- yes, intelligent people can disagree about the war, but none of my anti-war friends compare Bush to Hitler 3) possibly the efforts of their unions to be against all things "Anglo-Saxon".

I enjoyed my trip immensely. The cheeses were divine, as was the vanilla ice cream!
8.22.2005 9:30pm
T.J. in Newport Beach:
Let's not forget the "Out in the Open" and heavy handed threats by Chirac against eastern european nations that if they cross the French with regard to Iraq that they will be excluded from the EU. The French sell the EU as "Unity" and a way to compete with the American bully, but in petulent moments Chirac exposes his real desire and that is to acheive what all socialist proponents real yearn for.... to be "Top Dog" in a masquerede of equality.

The Czechs know a bully when they see one and they have a long memory for the generosity of a true friend.

"Some are more equal than others" -Orwell
8.22.2005 10:04pm
Aulus Gellius:
Craig Oren raised a legitimate point about why the British, who were signatories of the Munich Agreement along with the French, do not receive the same blame for it.

The reason is that France and Czechoslovakia actually signed a mutual defence pact in the 1930s and France, unlike Britain, was bound by treaty to come to the aid of Czechoslovakia if it was attacked by Germany. The unilateral French abrogation of their responsibility forced Prague to accept the terms of the Munich Agreement. British meddling was seen as callous and dishonorable, but it did not represent an actual betrayal.

Furthermore, after the outbreak of World War II, Czech and Slovak volunteers received a very different treatment in France and Britain. France first interned them and then tried to force them to enlist in the Foreign Legion, while Britain welcomed them and allowed them to create Czechoslovak units within the Royal Air Force and the Army. My maternal granduncle served as a Spitfire pilot in a Czechoslovak RAF squadron alongside many others (he is buried in an RAF cemetery in Britain); Czechoslovak infantry fought gallantly at the first siege of Tobruk. To this day, memories of shared combat form the image of wartime Britain in Czech minds, while France reminds Czech of weakness, betrayal, and shabby opportunism.

It may be argued that this is unfair, that if France withstood the onslaught of June 1940 it may have become a model in the same way it served as a model to Central Europeans after World War I. Perhaps true...
8.22.2005 10:20pm
Funny you mention the RAF involvement, Aulus. I just got back from Prague, and at the main castle all throughout out the grounds was a photographic exhibit chronciling this relationship. Certainly the tourism, which tends to have a heavy English bent, isn't hurting the relationship either. I'd say if you were on a tour, you could first count on the tour group leaders speaking English, then German, then Italian - very little French.

I'd say that fellow who wrote The Fable of the Bees - Mandeville? - around 1725 would be an early French libertarian.
8.22.2005 11:04pm
Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) (mail):
The problem with France is that it has always been run by its nobility. The unpleasantness of 1789 changed who happened to be nobility, but it did not change the essentials of power.

In our time the nobility are the ENAiaques -- graduates of the Ecole nationale d'administration -- who completely infest the country with their dirigiste, etatiste approach to all facets of life. 'Etatiste' is 'statist,' while 'dirigiste' is roughly 'controlling directorate' or 'directing.' We don't really have a word for it in English, which is the point. The Czechs, however, understand it altogether too well from abundant past experience.

Until French politicians no longer say (with a straight face) "We are putting our best technocrats to work on the problem." and French mothers no longer swell with pride and say "Mon fils est bureaucrate." (My son is a bureaucrat.), freedom-loving people everywhere will distrust the French, and with very good reason.

Strangled by their own persistent self-appointed and self-serving nobility the French remain almost pathologically incapable of achieving greatness in their own right. Instead they default to repeated attempts to drag down the predominant power of the era.

That's why they joined the Americans in the revolution. It's why they undermined the Americans in Iraq. And when the predominant power of the era promotes freedom, it is why freedom-lovers around the world understandably distrust, disrespect, and intensely dislike the French.

Je suis paysan, moi. Entre paysans partout au monde y'a pas de probleme. On s'entend tres bien. Quand aux ENAiaques, c'est un autre affaire, n'est-ce-pas?
8.22.2005 11:28pm
Arty (mail):
Read John J. Miller and Mark Molesky's "Our Oldest Enemy; America's Disasterous Relationship With France". If there's a more conceited and pompous nation of self-serving, treacherous back stabbers anywhere I can't imagine who it is. I would love to see French bashing become as prevalent in the US as America bashing is in France. Of course that won't happen because Americans really don't care about the French or their 'shitty little country'.
8.22.2005 11:42pm
Casey Carrow (mail):
I had the opportunity to live for two years in southern Poland (Silesia), which culturally shares much with the eastern portion of the Czech Republic (Moravia) to the south. One of the more incendiary moments for the Polish and Czechs in recent memory was when Chirac likened them to children that should be silent and threatened them with exclusion from the EU for their strong relations with the US. Had you been there at that time, you would have seen a response that seemed dispropotionate to the insult. I came to understand that there is a profound distrust of France on the part of Polish and a unforgiving feeling of having been betrayed in the past. I was also taken aback by the responses I received when I asked why Poland has such open affection for America. Their response?

Because America never recognized Soviet hegemony over Poland.

Even beyond the more comprehensible fact that there are very large numbers of Polish people living in the US, this repsonse floored me. At the core of Poland's ties to the US is the fact that we never gave up on them.

If you go to Lavia, you will hear the same story.

Who would have guessed?
8.23.2005 12:09am
Bleepless (mail):
Anyone wanting a sour laugh should pay attention to lofty French disdain for American exceptionalism. This occurs during those brief periods when they are not loftily proclaiming French exceptionalism.
8.23.2005 12:21am
ummm (mail):
Good for them! Maybe a decent amount of Francophobia will let them stand up the the EU bullycrats.
The Czechs owe nothing to France or to the rest of Europe-- all content to let them drown under both fascism and Soviet domination.
Then again, we weren't there for them in '68 either.......
8.23.2005 1:51am
hey (mail):
i believe that lord nelson had some good words on the french... not too many of them complementary

they are getting what they deserve, and they will hopefully get more of it
8.23.2005 2:31am
lucklucky (mail):
From what i am reading and Carolynn post maybe is also a sign France is slowly changing. I think much more than Germany.
Btw Le Figaro is the traditional conservative newspaper and Le Monde the Left-centrist one. Both around 350000 which is not much compared to British newspapers.

Talking about treasons (better half-treasons) how about a petition for Taiwan in UN
8.23.2005 11:05am
Jaime non-Lawyer:
I lived in the region for many years, and ironically many people blamed the US for Munich. I suspect this had to do with years of Soviet education which held up Munich as an example of how they couldn't trust the West, and when people think of the West, they think of America. Ergo, America betrayed Czechoslovakia in Munich. Whenever I countered their arguments by saying that America wasn't even at the bargaining table (just like the Czechs and Slovaks), I was just greeted with blank stares.
8.23.2005 2:29pm
Douglas Gillison (mail) (www):
Some elemental mistakes from one claiming to inform us about something written in French: ...that should be LA tentation de LA francophobie.

Prof. Volokh also writes that "Le Monde and Le Figaro are the two most important — especially for non-Communist readers. [...] The daily editions of Le Monde and Le Fig certainly have a huge lead over any other French newspaper for newsstand distribution in England, Germany, and Switzerland, based on my own observations."

Where to begin? Is he implying that readers of Libération (center-left) or La Croix (a Catholic daily) are somehow communists? Even the old PCF party organ L'Humanité is now owned by Vivendi-Universal (you know... the ones closely allied with those commies at General Electric!?). What about the business daily Les Echos? (Clearly fodder for more red-baiting piffle.) And just how many communist readers does professor Volokh feel there are in France? Barely more than 20% of French voters chose far left candidates in the 2002 presidential elections and only 3.37% voted communist (and another 30% abstained that year...).

Secondly, his remarks on newspaper circulation sound like those of a lazy tourist. According to the L'Office de la justification de la diffusion, (see here), there are thirteen national dailies in France and the largest-circulation daily is Le Parisien. Last year, the biggest seller was Ouest-France, not even a national paper. What a glance at newstands in Germany, Switzerland and the UK can do to answer the question of how many major dailies there are in France is lost on me. It's a wonder you can get to be such a big name in blogging by doing so little work.
8.23.2005 4:41pm
relativism (mail):

"Although I was appalled by France's pro-Saddam policies" I was appalled by the US pro-Saddam policies in the 80's!


"Too many French care about nobody but themselves and most outside of their snobby nation know this."

...too many US Americans care about nobody but themselves and most outside of their snobby nation know this.
8.23.2005 6:28pm
Steevo (mail):
Douglas you remind me of liberal/leftists in America. They would tax out of existence the ability of small business to survive, cut down big business to small, and make it impossible for most to hope to earn over $100,000 annually. Our wealth would be redistributed causing ultimate dependence of a substantial portion of our citizenry upon a welfare state apparatus. We would be forced into second rate socialized health care, our military reduced to a UN blue helmet brigade, and every institution with traditional values eliminated making government the sole benefactor - judge from cradle to grave. Of course all media dissent would be determined under Ted Kennedy’s “fairness doctrine.” How many are bona fide members of the Communist party?... probably 5% percent.

Relativism, your name says it all :) Let us weep for Saddam and lost oil contracts.
8.23.2005 6:47pm
Gabriel (mail):
On the subject of Libertarian influences, we've forgotten to mention Edmund Burke, one of the fathers of conservative/libertarian thought. Living in England during the 1700's he spoke out both in support of the American Revolution and against the French Revolution.

With regard to the differences between the two Revolutions, yes, they are fascinating and worthy of study, which I have been working on as of late. The two main distinctions I have noted thus far are:

1. The American Revolution was a fight against an encroaching foreign power in favor of it's current (and longstanding) colonial self-rule while the French was the overthrow of one gov't for another. So the US war was more accurately a war for independence to France's more traditional revolution via overthrow.

2. America was founded with the belief that man's rights came from the Creator (declaration of independence) while the French (correct me if I'm wrong) saw their new egalitarianism derived from the state (freedom, equality, brotherhood.)
8.23.2005 11:55pm
Varangy (mail) (www):
Hi David,

Good post but would like to mention a couple things:

1) While it may seem logical, to some extent, that 'New Europe' have some sort of affinity for things American ---make no mistake, this is not the case. New Europeans are just as vehemently anti-American as their 'Old' counterparts. After all, anti-Americanism is the social glue that holds the EU together ---

2) Speaking on behalf of all Hungarians out there, (Can I so that? Why, yes I can!) we hate the French b/c of the Treaty of Trianon or simply, 'Trianon'. Wherein Hungary was geographically sliced up and gutted --- leaving her people to fend for themselves in places rather unfriendly to Hungarians (e.g., Romania, Slovakia et al.) --- somewhat akin to the modern USA having to cede Texas to Mexico, Alaska to the Russians and the North- and Mid-West to Canada.

Hajrá Magyarok!
8.24.2005 12:35am
Et Tu Bloge (mail) (www):
Simply, the French represent talking big and acting small while the U.S. talks and acts big. The latter gets the world's respect and the former receives its scorn and ridicule.
8.26.2005 9:10am
ZF (mail):
Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose...

The Duke of Wellington: "We have been, we are, and I trust we always will be, detested by the French".
8.27.2005 11:11am