News & Politics

Bush, Europe and Getting High

An American journalist in Europe finds Bush embarrassing. He has two consolations, though. Bush is such an embarrassment that Europeans take pity on him and gladly share their hash.
COPENHAGEN -- The bartender is drinking heavily but is scoring debating points anyway. George W. Bush is due into Madrid tomorrow and Timothy McVeigh was executed this morning, so why shouldn't this Danish bartender fulminate against capital punishment? After all, he is serving an American.

"Sure McVeigh killed a lot of people," Axel tells me in crisp English as he pushes a glass of Tuborg at me. "But killing him is wrong and two wrongs don't make a right." When I try to explain that American citizens are divided over capital punishment, he snaps, "Get a grip. Bush is making McVeigh a martyr."

Axel is getting hot. Bush bugs him, big-time. It is not just that "my president" -- ouch! -- favors capital punishment and presided over the execution of an untold number of "wrongly convicted" African Americans while governor of Texas. Axel is angry with Bush for other reasons. Missile defense. Global warming. The World Trade Organization. NATO expansion.

Through a haze of smoke (coming from Axel's cigarette), I listen and nod. I nod so often that my neck starts to hurt. Even a second Tuborg can't dull the ache. As an American who lives in Europe, I find Bush an embarrassment and my only consolation is that Bush is such an embarrassment that Europeans now take pity on me. When I tell Axel that earlier in the evening I tried and failed to find Copenhagen's so-called "hippie city," he smiles and offers to bring me there.

A half hour later a taxi drops us off on what looks like a normal city street. But Alex pushes through a gate and we enter what looks like a peasant village. No pavement or cars or street lights, only trees and the bare ground. I follow Axel to the village center, where I find the most unusual market. Though it is past 11 p.m., crowds of shoppers hang around the gleaming wooden stalls. About 20 of them offer the widest assortment of hash and marijuana that I have ever seen. Thai, Vietnamese, Jamaican, Mexican, West African, Danish home-grown. Super this and super that. Some stalls boast blocks of hash so big that they could satisfy an enthusiastic customer for a month. There are even beautifully rolled joints presented in clear plastic containers of the sort that might contain a fancy cigar. Besides looking so smart, the drugs are also inexpensive. Big sticks of pot for $10. A quarter-size piece of hash for a bit more. And those joints I admire? The cost of a middling bottle of wine.

Axel goes on a shopping spree, then takes me on a tour of Christiana, which is the Danish name for this hippie village. Squatters run the place, which was once a Danish Army base. When the government closed the base, the free spirits moved in. Most of the buildings house people or artisans, while the rest are pot cafes. The government has never seriously tried to clear out Christiana, and Danish cops leave it alone. There is a belief that people need space to do their own thing and that a single personal or social morality can't be imposed on an entire country. So the pot trade flourishes, and the members of Christiana govern themselves. The result is a kind of an anarchists dream, an urban utopia that works.

Inevitably, Axel and I smoke a stick of hash. As we trade the joint back and forth, I realize that Bush made a big mistake when he arranged his European tour. He met Spanish politicians in Madrid, attended a NATO meeting in Brussels, hunkered down with leaders of the European Union in Sweden and met Russia's Putin in Slovenia. Boring. Bush should have come to Christiana and shared a joint with Axel. Then he might have realized that he can't win over Europe -- or the rest of the world -- with empty slogans.

On the first day of Bush's European tour, Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser, told a German newspaper, Die Welt, that "the debate over a 'values gap' between the U.S. and Europe is the kind of self-indulgent discussion that only the very successful and well-off can afford."

As Axel would say, "Get a grip." Europe and the U.S. are heading in different directions. The divergence between the two, in terms of values, has been occurring for some years. Bush is deepening this trans-Atlantic difference. Real politic may be king in the beltway but European idealists are here to stay and Bush ignores them at his peril.

G. Pascal Zachary is the author of The Global Me, a book on multicultural identity, and serves as a contributing editor to In These Times.
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