With a clear tone of admiration, a friend of mine who is currently studying in Trondheim, Norway, commented on the Norwegians’ national day celebrations with the words
… what a great sense of patriotism, love for your country and absence of destructive Soviet Union’s impact on people’s mentality can create.
It is rather obvious that this person originates from one of the former Soviet Union states, and a wild guess would be that this envy reflects the lack of such patriotism back home.
I find the concept of patriotism rather interesting, and I have recently discussed patriotism both with an Argentinian friend, later with some Colombians, and have heard it mentioned in several situations more. The reason is that the Argentinians are a very proud and patriotic people. I might not have experienced it much myself1, but judging from other people’s opinions, the Argentinians think very highly of themselves – to the point where it becomes annoying. I recognize this type of behavior from other nationalities as well, most notably the Greeks. But also the Portuguese thought it very important to emphasize their (past) cultural and military greatness.
I used to also admire and envy other countries’ (such as USAs) patriotism, perhaps for the same reason as my friend: Sweden is a rather non-patriotic country2. Patriotism, I thought, unifies people and gives them something to be proud of.
As I have become more and more humbled by my traveling, by living in different countries, and by experiencing different cultures, I have come to change my mind about patriotism and pride. In fact, I think that from a global perspective patriotism achieves exactly the opposite to unifying people. It creates a feeling of us and them, and creates cultural borders and boundaries that leads to less acceptance and more hostility. Moreover, patriotism retains and remembers old and past quarrels and conflicts, and prevents the moving on, forgiving, and forgetting.
But there is also something very ridiculous about patriotism and feeling proud of one’s country. I think there are very few people currently alive (in any country in the world) who can say that they have personally made a large impact in their country’s development – regardless of whether it is positive or negative. Therefore, for me to feel proud of being a Swede or Cypriot just doesn’t make any real sense. What did I contribute to Sweden’s history that gives me a reason to be proud to be a Swede? Or how can I attribute anything but pure chance to having been born half-Cypriot, and thereby be entitled to profit off the past glory of the Greek culture?
The only things I can be proud of are the things I have actually achieved myself, or things I have contributed to. I am proud of being gaspanico, nothing more and nothing less. I am also grateful to having been born in Sweden, and I am thankful towards all the opportunities it means to have a double heritage. But I am not proud to be a Swede or Cypriot, nor am I proud of Sweden or Cyprus. I like celebrating Sweden’s national day, but only because I like when people come together and celebrate. I just as much enjoyed celebrating Australia Day in 2006, and I loved joining in on all three of my National Day celebrations in Switzerland. Because I lived there, because I enjoyed it there, and because the countries’ mere existence is something to celebrate. But the celebrations should be for everyone, regardless of where they were born. But for patriotism to make any real sense, a National Day should be open for citizens only. That’s why I think patriotism is alienating, not unifying.
I should mention that Norway’s 17th of May celebrations (Syttende mai) are admired also in Sweden, and I actually think more Swedes (at least used to) know the date of Norway’s national day, than our own. This is because Sweden’s national day has only been a national holiday since about 5-10 years, and the reason for celebrating is much less clear than in the case of Norway.