Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Applebaum: Ukraine needs MORE nationalism, not less

Yes, exactly!  Nationalism -- called patriotism in most contexts -- is necessary for any country to form its own identity and stay together.

Nationalism is not a scary word by itself; and it is certainly not synonymous with "fascism," "jingoism" or "xenophobia," as Russian media, politicians and academics would have us believe.

Concludes Anne Applebaum [emphasis mine]:

Thus do the tiny group of nationalists in Ukraine, whom perhaps we can now agree to call patriots, represent the country’s only hope of escaping apathy, rapacious corruption, and, eventually, dismemberment.

And this should be no surprise: In the nineteenth century, no sensible freedom fighter would have imagined it possible to create a modern state, let alone a democracy, without some kind of nationalist movement behind it. Only people who feel some kind of allegiance to their society—people who celebrate their national language, literature, and history, people who sing national songs and repeat national legends—are going to work on that society’s behalf. This goes for Russians, too, though tragically they insist on looking to their imperial traditions as a source of national pride, instead of to their liberal leaders in the early twentieth century or to their outstanding Soviet-era dissidents, the founders of the modern human rights movement.

In the West, we know this, but lately, we rarely admit it. That’s in part because we remember very well the disasters that ethnic nationalism, cloaked as fascism or sometimes as communism, brought in the twentieth century. Europeans in particular now go out of their way to downplay national differences, which is usually good. Territorial disputes in Europe have dissolved, since open borders make it simply less important whether Alsace is French or German. But European democracy would fail if European politicians did not also appeal to patriotism, did not take national interests into account, and did not address themselves to the special problems of their particular nations, too.

In the United States, we dislike the word “nationalism” and so, hypocritically, we call it other things: “American exceptionalism,” for example, or a “belief in American greatness.” We also argue about it as if it were something rational—Mitt Romney wrote a book that put forth the “case for American greatness”—rather than acknowledging that nationalism is fundamentally emotional. In truth, you can’t really make “the case” for nationalism; you can only inculcate it, teach it to children, cultivate it at public events. If you do so, nationalism can in turn inspire you so that you try to improve your country, to help it live up to the image you want it to have. Among other things, that thought inspired the creation of this magazine 100 years ago.

Ukrainians need more of this kind of inspiration, not less—moments like last New Year’s Eve, when more than 100,000 Ukrainians sang the national anthem at midnight on the Maidan. They need more occasions when they can shout, “Slava Ukraini—Heroyam Slava”—“Glory to Ukraine, Glory to its Heroes,” which was, yes, the slogan of the controversial Ukrainian Revolutionary Army in the 1940s, but has been adopted to a new context. And then of course they need to translate that emotion into laws, institutions, a decent court system, and police training academies. If they don’t, then their country will once again cease to exist.

Incidentally, the leader of Ukraine's most nationalist party, Svoboda, recently wrote an op-ed saying much the same thing: that given Ukraine's history and geography, nationalism is much more about national defense and preventing any future dismemberment of the Ukrainian state by outside powers. See: "Oleh Tiahnybok: Rescue nationalism from 'Pandora's box'."

By Anne Applebaum
May 12, 2014 | New Republic

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