How Relentless References to the War Are Poisoning Young Britons against Germany

By Reporter, Terry KirChief | The Independent (London, England), July 5, 2003 | Go to article overview
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How Relentless References to the War Are Poisoning Young Britons against Germany

Reporter, Terry KirChief, The Independent (London, England)

MANY YOUNG Britons still have a negative view of Germany, formed by media-influenced stereotypical views of the country as militaristic, right-wing and humourless, a public opinion survey shows.

By contrast, more than half of German young people have a more positive view of Britain, praising the English language, the monarchy and the multicultural nature of British society. Any dislike of Britain was based on political differences over matters such as Iraq and Europe, rather than historical and cultural prejudices.

The survey was organised in May by the British Council and the Goethe Institute, which promotes Anglo-German understanding. Its timing coincided with the diplomatic rift between the two countries over the Iraq war.

The findings show that while both countries have ambiguities over their relationship with each other, the British have more problems with their perceptions than do the Germans.

Kathryn Board, director of the British Council in Germany, said the survey contained mixed messages, which suggested improving the cultural relations between the countries was more important than ever. Ms Board and Dr Ulrich Sacker, director of the institute, said full British involvement in Europe and membership of the eurozone would improve relations.

Ms Board said: "It's not really for me to comment on political matters, but it's clear that it if you are seen to be a fully paid- up member of a club, the more people will think you like them. Sometimes the British stance on these matters is not helpful to cultural understanding."

Dr Sacker added: "The survey shows more than half the young people in Britain are not properly informed about modern Germany and base their perceptions on the constant diet of war films and programmes about the Holocaust on television. It is a historical view and there is a lack of information and ignorance about contemporary Germany. By contrast, Germans like modern British culture. "

The survey reveals that only 11 per cent of German young people have a negative or very negative opinion of Britain. Forty-three per cent those said Britain's relationship with the United States, issues surrounding the Iraq conflict and the perception of British antipathy to the European Union were the mains reasons for their views. More than half of young Germans do not believe that Britain values a strong relationship with Germany, largely because of its links with the United States. Curiously, more German youths - 17 per cent - dislike their own country than dislike Britain.

Eighty-one per cent of young Germans can name at least one British celebrity, with Robbie Williams, the late Diana, Princess of Wales and the Queen being mentioned. By contrast, 64 per cent of young Britons cannot name any German celebrities. A minority named Claudia Schiffer.

About 17 per cent of British youths expressed a negative or very negative opinion of Germans, citing a perception of German militarism, a right- wing extremism and a lack of humour as strong factors.

More than a third said their negative opinions had been influenced by the media and 18 per cent by meeting Germans. More than half of Germans said their negative opinion of Britain had been influenced by the media.

About half of the German young people interviewed had visited the United Kingdom while only one third of the Britons had been to Germany.

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