CulturePeople and country

National pride is not a sin


When it comes to national pride, Germans don’t take it lightly. Even in discussions among fellow Germans about nationalism, patriotism, and identity, we rarely agree on how to distinguish these terms from one another. Mutual understanding is seldom found. This fact wouldn’t surprise me if it hadn’t changed significantly in the last 10 to 15 years. Nowadays, when I occasionally and casually mention that I’m proud of my homeland, Poland, it can happen that I’m labeled as a nationalist or fascist.

For some, love for their homeland is even considered a deadly sin.

Personally, I find this shocking. Not that I intend to make a plea for what is right or wrong, desirable, or to be fought against. Instead, it takes me back to my youth when I was around 16 years old and was not only preoccupied with love but also with the question of who I really am and where I come from. Love is a universal theme, and the same comedies, dramas, and miraculous stories unfold worldwide. But when it comes to identity and origin, everyone is confined to their geographic life explorations. The explanation that we are all planetary beings doesn’t really bring me anything. Nothing!

The Free Humanity

I grew up in the small town of Unna in North Rhine-Westphalia, on the outskirts of the Ruhr area. My birthplace lies about 1000 kilometers further east in Pyskowice. Not far from there, in a village surrounded by forests called Swibie, I spent the first 5 years of my life. However, all of this becomes irrelevant as childhood experiences gradually shift from the sandbox between two apartment blocks to the school years. Poland or Germany, Pole or German, all of that is unimportant in the early years of life. But as time goes on, the world gets bigger, and one must find their own place in it. There are geniuses who convincingly argue that the highest goal is to develop oneself towards free humanity (Friedrich Schiller, Goethe). Among them are also those who only later in life embraced patriotic beliefs, like Humboldt, or even those who rejected national pride, like Schopenhauer, who had definitely studied too much but lived too little. However, those are bygone times, and back then, the Germans indeed struggled with their own identity and national affiliation. It is now known that Germans didn’t necessarily possess a certain finesse for such cultural projects and still don’t. Nevertheless, it is fatal to measure others by one’s own achievements, experiences, and shortcomings. If Schiller, Goethe, and Humboldt sat at a table with Adam Mickiewicz, Juliusz Slowacki, and Frédéric Chopin, they probably wouldn’t come to any meaningful conclusion on the topic of the nation.

No Trace of Belonging

So, the ideas of free humanity, or as they would be called today, the ideas of planetary beings, surrounded me and provided no answers to my questions. They were empty phrases. I was searching for my place in the world, and these ideas offered me a blank canvas. But the search continued. During my school and university years, I attended opening ceremonies, and in my free time, I went to the stadium. But there was hardly any sense of belonging. I remember, for example, only the welcome letter from the university with the payment slip for tuition fees.

National Identity Creates Dynamics

Exactly at that moment, when I began my search at the age of 16, I spent many weeks in Poland during the annual summer holidays. Suddenly, I felt like I had entered a modern era of Sturm und Drang. Girls and boys, later men and women, discussed national consciousness, personal existence in the cosmos, and all of it touched upon their own national identity. My heart started beating. There was a dynamism I had hardly known before. Suddenly, I had a connection to history, to long-forgotten ancestors and their achievements. That, in turn, created a social task and societal responsibility. Ultimately, I understood where I came from and where I wanted to go.

It’s not pride that’s a deadly sin, but hubris. National pride can, of course, if directed in the wrong way, lead down a nationalist path. But it’s a logical fallacy to claim that national pride inherently has nationalist tendencies.

George Orwell, in his brief work on nationalism, made it clear at the beginning that it should not be confused with patriotism. At the same time, he associated certain characteristics like obsession, instability, and detachment from reality with nationalism. Fundamentally, nationalism and national pride should be strictly separated. Just the word “national” is unbearable for many Germans. But as much as I can understand the German attitude, I consider it a mistake to impose it on others. Many Germans see the fading national consciousness as universal progress. Anyone who still praises national pride, patriotism, or national affiliation is often considered backward and xenophobic in the eyes of many Germans. I emphasize it again: that is a big mistake!

We won’t let national pride be taken away from us

National pride is not something that can be patented or prohibited to others. That’s why football hooligans often use slogans for their dubious purposes. Even those with nationalistic inclinations are proud of their nation, which they often only refer to certain groups. But that should not be a reason not to be proud of our ancestors, their achievements, and goals. National pride cannot simply be debated away or ignored. Otherwise, others will take it over and use it for their own purposes. Here, I see a responsibility for political and cultural elites to take up this battle and win it. A people without history is dependent on repetition. And those who know history know what that means.

I have simply moved. Others will stay. The rest is in our hands.

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