'Being a Republican in the US or in France is exactly the same'
France, with its socialised healthcare and high tax rate, may not seem like an ideal place for a US conservative to call home. Still, Republicans Abroad has a branch in Paris. France24.com caught up with one of its members (pictured left, at centre).
Ellen Wasylina, a middle-aged professor and international relations specialist from California, is a loyal, lifelong Republican. She supported the war in Iraq, believes in strictly limited government, and hopes Barack Obama will be roundly defeated in November’s US presidential election.
She also lives in France, land of socialised medicine, steep tax rates, and often fierce opposition to recent US military interventions.
Rather than check her political views at customs, Wasylina - who resides just outside Paris and teaches in three French business schools - is an active member of the French branch of Republicans Abroad, a worldwide network of conservative US expats who organise initiatives to promote the party’s policies in their adopted homeland.
France24.com talked to Wasylina about the pleasures and what she describes as the pleasing contradictions of being an American Republican in France.
France24.com: What brought you to France?
Ellen Wasylina: I came to do an MBA in 1986. I liked it, stayed, met a Frenchman, started a family, etc. It was my dream to live in France. I’d been studying French since I was 10.
F24: What kind of Republican do you consider yourself?
EW: I’m a centrist, mainstream Republican, across the board. I’m not a person of extremes. That’s just my personality.
F24: Is it difficult being a US Republican in France?
EW: No. I’ve been a Republican all my life, and being a Republican in the States or in France is exactly the same to me. My values haven’t changed because I’m living abroad. I’ve encountered no judgemental reactions, no surprise from French people. Yes, I enjoy a debate with French people. My French students engage me in debate. The most recent experience was at CELSA, where I taught an intercultural seminar through the prism of the US presidential primaries and elections. It was a very vigorous, lively debate.
F24: What are your favourite and least favourite things about living in France?
EW: My favourite things are the wine, the cheese, and as a woman, the fabulous women’s fashion. Also, the quality of life, and the quality of the food in general. It’s a very interesting experience to live in the comparatively different political environment and system of France. It’s extremely informative and interesting. I wouldn’t have it any other way. My least favourite thing is probably the strikes. But it doesn’t really affect me.
F24: Do you feel well-integrated here?
EW: After 25 years, one tends to integrate. It was very easy for me to adapt. I’m of European descent: my father was Ukrainian, and my mother is from Saxony in eastern Germany. My first trip to France was at the age of 12.
F24: How do you feel about France’s largely socialised healthcare system? What about Obama’s healthcare reform?
EW: French healthcare is very good, but it comes at a price via the fiscal tax imposition rate. Do we want the same tax imposition rates in America as we have in France? Obamacare must be repealed. It’s against the 10th amendment for the federal government to oblige American citizens to get health insurance. With Obamacare, there is too much federal government involved in healthcare, and as some of our Republican candidates have been saying, let’s give these issues back to the states.
F24: How do you feel about the tax code here?
EW: I do feel the French could reduce their tax rates. They could also reduce their social charges to encourage entrepreneurs to take on new challenges. The charges are just so high that when you want to hire someone here, you’re paying double his salary just to hire him.
F24: How do you feel about France’s gun control policy in comparison to America’s?
EW: Guns are a big problem in that too many accidents happen. I think there’s something to be done to prohibit free circulation of guns in America. It’s a constitutional right, but I think there’s something to be done.
F24: How do you feel about the often negative image of France among US Republicans?
EW: I would say that it’s great that Mitt Romney learned French and has a certain cultural interest in France. I invite all Americans to come to France and get to know France and the French like I now have.
F24: Why do you think the French are still supportive of Obama?
EW: I think the programmes of his administration are very similar to the programmes that exist in France.
F24: Now that you’ve lived in a country with a real Socialist party, what do you think of US Republicans who say Obama is a Socialist?
EW: I would say that the policies of his government are moving toward the left and making government much more powerful and central to political, economic and social decision-making in America.
F24: Are you following the French elections? Which candidate appeals to you?
EW: I’m as fascinated this time as I am every election, so I follow very closely. To get France out of a crisis, I do believe the policies should not involve more government spending or taxing French citizens at a 75-percent rate. You can’t compare American and French politics. But I would identify myself more closely to the UMP [centre-right] party overall. And certainly I like the very bold reforms that have been undertaken under President Sarkozy.