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World

Situation In Ferguson, Mo., Resonates Around The World

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The story of Ferguson, Missouri has of course dominated the news this week, not only here in the U.S., but around the world as well. With images of rioters and burning buildings, The Guardian newspaper in Britain wrote, this is a war zone now. Russia took the opportunity to scold the U.S. One Russian official told state television that this reflects racial tensions and discrimination in America. He said, quote, "we may only hope that U.S. authorities seriously deal with those issues in their own country and stop what they have been doing all along recently," he said, "playing an aggressive mentor lecturing other countries about how to meet human rights standards," end quote. We've reached out to journalists in three countries to understand how Ferguson is playing abroad. We'll hear from Germany and Kenya in a moment. First to Moscow, where we reached political commentator Sergey Strokan of the Kommersant newspaper. He told us there's been a lot of coverage in Russia, and what strikes him most is the tone.

SERGEY STROKAN: I am a veteran of the Cold War, and I am 55 or so. I have a feeling that I went back to my young days, when we've seen similar types of stuff which was produced by Pravda and other publications here, when we used such incidents to illustrate how we called the varying limitations of Western American democracy and way of life and to show that our socialist democracy is better. So now it seems that this is just a golden chance for some of the part of mainstream media to show that America is on the wrong side of history and what's happening in America is fundamentally wrong in many ways.

SHAPIRO: You mention that the Russian media is very interested in the Ferguson story. Do think that most people in Russia are equally interested in it?

STROKAN: Both yes and no. This is a story which has taken place thousands and thousands of miles away from Russia, (unintelligible) as well, from Moscow. But at the same time, we have to see the situation in the proper context of (unintelligible) anti-American sentiments here in Russia. And anti-American sentiments are on the rise here. And really, more and more Russians believe that mounting domestic problems have precisely American root, not domestic root. For that reason, of course, whatever is happening in the United States is carefully scrutinized by those people who just interpret that as another proof of the understanding that all problems are coming from the United States.

SHAPIRO: That's Russian political commentator Sergey Strokan. Now to Munich, Germany, where we reached Stefan Cornelius. He's foreign editor of the paper Sueddeutsche Zeitung. He told us German coverage of Ferguson is highlighting police militarization.

STEFAN CORNELIUS: That's exactly an issue which comes up now very frequently. The militarization of the police force seems to go parallel to, basically, the military station of the society itself after 9/11. And the way the police forces do present themself, being so strongly armored and being so sort of quick in response and trigger-happy sometimes, this is something new. And this is concerning European readers and German readers. This is totally different to the way we know our police forces. This is totally different to the authorities acting here.

SHAPIRO: You know, many German words have entered the American vocabulary. And I wonder whether the word schadenfreude has any application to the German coverage of the situation in the United States right now.

CORNELIUS: Actually, there is a lot of anti-Americanism. And those who do have those feelings might feel some schadenfreude, yes. But quite honestly, it's not good for Germans as well if the U.S. becomes so alien to them. This is still our most important ally. This is a country we want to get along with very well. We need political and societal relations. And this is something which sets us apart. So I am more worried about it than basically showing any kind of schadenfreude.

SHAPIRO: Are there parallels between Germany's struggles with race relations and the American struggles with race that we're seeing in Ferguson?

CORNELIUS: Race is a huge story in Germany, too. But it's more a question of integration. We don't have this typical race relations the Americans have within their own soil. But our integrational issues are very similar. It's about minorities or large groups of societies living separate or different lives and sort of not being represented in the mainstream of society. And this is something which is now repeating itself over and over again in the U.S. This lack of integration, the lack of understanding, talking of different languages and this aggressiveness which comes out of it, is something which is very, very similar. But over the past years, especially in Germany, huge efforts have been made to bridge these gaps because we have understood that especially in terms of immigration, this country, with her declining demographics, has to appreciate anyone who comes into the country, learns the difficult language and gets to work.

SHAPIRO: That was journalist Stefan Cornelius speaking with us from Munich. And finally, to Nairobi, Kenya. Murithi Mutiga is a columnist with the Sunday Nation newspaper. He says Kenyans have been struck by what he calls institutional failure in the U.S.

MURITHI MUTIGA: There's so many questions about how the incident was handled, how the prosecution took the case forward. And, obviously, there's a racial element which is informed, in part, by Kenyan integration with the civil rights movement. And the civil rights movement was very linked with the move for independence in African countries because both of those processes unfolded at around the same time. But perhaps the struggle still goes on, and America still hasn't obviously resolved to what is a (unintelligible) issue revolving around race.

SHAPIRO: In St. Louis and in other cities, we see marchers carrying signs that say, black lives matter. And I wonder if that message comes across differently or has some kind of significance in Kenya, where the majority of the population is black.

MUTIGA: Of course. Yes, it's extremely resonant. And, as I said, the whole issue of civil rights is one that has a very, very strong resonance in this part of the world. The way it is cast is that these are people that are still (unintelligible) in a system that doesn't give them justice. It's an extremely powerful message. And people were completely held in (unintelligible) when Reverend Shockley spoke, in very eloquent terms, about how this struggle that we've had for 50 years is the same struggle we are fighting today. And she was speaking in a language that really struck all the right moods in this part of the world.

SHAPIRO: And, of course, Kenya has a unique relationship with this American president since President Obama has Kenyan roots. How do they view his role in all this?

MUTIGA: There is great sympathy for President Obama. Kenya has, obviously, some of the highest approval ratings for the president personally. But people are less enthusiastic about his government, about America generally, than they were, say, in the '90s, when there were no wars, when America was just known for Michael Jordan and the NBA and Hollywood movies. And now there's a hostile attitude towards America. People are sympathetic towards Obama personally, but feel that he faces a system that he probably can't change in the way he would really instinctively feel.

SHAPIRO: That's Murithi Mutiga, editor and columnist for The Sunday Nation in Kenya. Thanks very much for your time.

MUTIGA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.