Thursday, 3 December 2015

Patriotism and Nationalism: what's the difference?

I love Poland - I'm a Polish patriot. I live in Poland out of choice. Not by default. My family moved to Warsaw in 1997 as the result of a conscious decision.

I want the best for Poland - for my country to move quickly along the upward path to modernity. I want a civilised, polite, liberal democracy; a normal country. like the UK I grew up in and still hold as a exemplary model for other nations to emulate.

I love Poland, its cities, its landscape, its history, its ways. Each year, I holiday in Poland or the UK. This summer I visited many beautiful Polish towns and cities, delighting in Poland's progress. Next summer I shall do likewise.

Polish patriot yes, nationalist - no.

My first association with the word 'patriotism' is the joyous crowd waving Union Jacks while singing Land of Hope and Glory at the Last Night of the Proms in London's Albert Hall.

My first association with the word 'nationalism' is the fanatical jack-booted crowd sieg-heiling Hitler at a Nuremberg rally, hate-filled faces flecked with spittle.

What makes patriots different from nationalists?

The difference is in their attitude towards the 'other'. If you hate someone regardless of their individual characteristics simply because they're from elsewhere, you're no longer a patriot.

Personally, I feel no antipathy towards foreigners, nor for people of other races. I don't dislike Russians - I merely dislike (intensely) their regime. A great nation like Russia - the nation of Dostoevsky, Tchaikovsky, Bulgakov, Tarkovsky deserves better governance.

Neither do I consider Poland nor Poles to be innately superior to other nations.

But then there are people and people. I'd rather much rather talk to an intelligent and cultured person from Chile, India, Zambia or Russia than be irritated by a stupid boorish person from Poland. I share little in common with the Pole who swigs from his tin of Lech in Greenford Park, then discards the empty can on the grass, uses swear-words as punctuation while proclaiming his superiority over 'lesser races'.

Nationalism has the stale smell of a small, messy bedroom in which someone's spent too long. Bad breath, body odour, flatulence, old cooking smells - and to go with them - tinnitus. Incessant ringing in the ears. That's what the inside the brain of a nationalist must feel like. Small horizons, limited perspectives, not much in the way of imagination. What does a nationalist want? To lord it over other nations.

Future prospect for the nationalist's country? A more competitive economy? "Pass". A more innovative economy? "Er, pass on that one too". A better functioning state? Here, the nationalist starts to get animated. "Ah yes! State = Nation; a big, powerful Nation requires a big, powerful State" - and all those cushy jobs where loyalty trumps talent.

But a patriot would want - rather than a big state - a well-functioning state; just big enough to perform its tasks professionally. To protect the citizens from internal and external threat. To support the sick, the needy (but not the lazy). To educate the young. And to do it well. With the minimum number of functionaries earning a salary from taxpayers' money. Indeed, for the functionaries to emulate Britain's Civil Service - professional, and certainly not party-political.

Working where I work, at the interface of business and government - which I've done in the UK (16 years) and in Poland (13 years) - I am aware of how complex the business of government is and how difficult it is to keep the economy moving in the right direction. To do it right, you have to have the right people, with the right skills, keeping the organs of state on an even keel. I worry about our democracies; as the world becomes more complex, it is increasingly tempting to vote in populists offering simplistic slogans and half-baked analysis. And nationalism - telling the less-intelligent voter than their plight is the result of external enemies - is the road to perdition, as any elderly German would tell you.

I think a key word is 'glory'. Do you want to live in a glorious nation, or one that's a bit more humble, practical, able to deliver upon its promises to its citizens.

Flag-waving? A Polish flag hung on our balcony for 63 days from 1 August to 3 October to commemorate the Warsaw Uprising, in which both of Moni's and Eddie's surviving grandparents fought. But a European Union flag also flies from our balcony from time to time.

This time last year:
Poland's progress in the international rankings

This time two years ago:
The Transparency International Corruption Perception Index for 2013

Also this time two years ago:
Poland's rapid advance up the education league table: PISA 2013

This time three years ago:
Life expectancy across the EU: more comparisons

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