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Open Patriotism

Published on June 28, 2010 by: in: Society

A great celebration for Polish liberals – Congress of Liberty  – pushed me into some musing. The most important and interesting track of the event seemed to be the issue of patriotism, covered during panel discussion entitled “Freedom of choice of patriotism. The Polish and European Identity”. Why do I think so? Although patriotism is a tricky issue, it is at the same time of great importance to liberals. That is one of the fields of public discourse we have been deprived of, and the one deformed by far-right milieus and the conservatists. It has happened perhaps because we have been misinterpreting the quotation from Gombrowicz’s Transatlantic: “(…) to overcome Polishness. To loosen this surrendering to Poland of ours! To drag away a bit! To rise from kneeling! To reveal and legalise the other extreme of the feeling which makes an individual defend against nation, like against any collective violence. To obtain – what is the most important – the latitude towards the Polish form, to be, while remaining a Pole, somebody vaster and higher than a Pole!”. That has easily led all liberals to turn their backs on the discourse of patriotism. And that is a tactical error.
leny patriotyzm

Karolina Wigura, during the mentioned congress as well as in “Kultura Liberalna” magazine, tried to define a new notion, which according to her should serve liberals well. She called it patriotism of dispute. Wigura described it as “a discussion of opinions (and sometimes a great debate of the fundamental principles). A bit modelled on the American patriotism, defined not by a given ethnicity or religious identity, but by loyalty to a certain set of rules”. I will not negate that interesting idea, which definitely needs elaboration, and I will endeavour to come up with a way to define patriotism which will fully answer the liberalism wants. I will let myself call it open patriotism.

While building up modern Polish patriotism, we should above all get rid of its national element. Patriotism should not conduce us to conclusions which will result in confiding a given group (national, ethic etc.) against the outer groups. Patriotism should not create confiding attitudes but it should entice the openness attitudes and building of the open society. New Polish patriotism should be open to Europe and European patriotism, so Poles could feel in Europe at home which they love and which they are responsible for. Open patriotism should look for its new myths which would shape Poles to be ready for picking up the great gauntlets, for positively seeing the world. To be the people who can win and are proud of that. The Polish romantic martyrdom of failed uprisings, which the right wing close to the Law and Justice (not only, though. The Civic Platform is not innocent here) try to built patriotism on, is a dead end. Poles, who are supposed to be proud of their country and their achievements, have to stop thinking of themselves in terms of permanent victims, stop nurturing the moments of great traumas and tremendous failures, and stop groping for perpetual conspiracies and the reasons of failures outside – in the setup, in the plot of foreign countries, in the operations of an enemy group – but never in themselves. And that translates into the everyday mentality of our society. How rarely do we wander what should be changed in our proceedings to succeed and how often do we muse what the others did to make us fail. That is the disastrous legacy of nocuous misunderstood patriotism.

Also, the change of approach towards the state seems to be extremely important. Professor Jerzy Szacki wrote about it in his article On the Need of Patriotism: “The trouble with Polish patriotism is above all about the fact that it had formed beyond the state and somewhat against it, which – with the exception of the First Republic of Poland, whose nation was purely aristocratic and not very pro-state, and of the interwar period  – was already an acquisitive authority, coming not from the nation’s will, so listened to only because of coercion instead of genuine necessity and conviction”.  We need to overcome this characteristic Polish approach to the state, which on the one side is extremely demanding, full of expectations that the state ‘must’ do something for me, and on the other it can be characterised by a complete lack of responsibility for the state, permanent slyness and the lack of respect for law. The phenomenon on some other grounds, however, has been observed by Bernard Lewis (cited by Racjonalista), who pointing out to the reasons of Islamic countries’ failures, depicted the example of Turkey. He stated that the Turkish elites, when encroaching on the path of modernisation, had the choice between the notion of western European patriotism, based on the communities unified by common law and the authority of the legal power, and eastern and middle European nationalism, which referred to blood ties, religion and language. Ankara had chosen the eastern standards, which were closer to Turkey, and thus largely lost its reforms. That is why new Polish patriotism should teach to be responsible for the country, which would be efficient but limited in its capacity. It should teach the respect for law, which would leave much room for freedom and when it was present , it would be ‘sacredness’ for every citizen.

Professor Szacki in already mentioned article recalls the words of Herling-Grudziński: “He wrote about «the change of quality of Polish patriotism» and about the birth of the love to the motherland, which «appeared in the place of past dead patriotism, full of exaltation, often auto-ruddy madness, unsympathetic to any earthy calculation»”. According to him, this “already acquired by Poles quiet virtue of patriotism is a positive phenomenon”. I am not convinced that the virtue is already acquired, but with all certainty there are milieus which understand it and try to cultivate it. And that is why we should not forget about this often disdained dimension of patriotism which means paying taxes, working for one’s city and contributing to the construction of the civil society. That is not the only, but essential requisite for the open patriotism attitude!

Professor Wojciech Sadurski during Congress of Liberty said that patriotism is above all love, the love to the motherland. But we have to remember that pathological love based on wrong relations and regulations can lead to a tragedy, to wrong attitudes. There are those who resign from the pathological love and look for some other. But it is not the right solution for Poland. I would like Polish patriotism to cease to be far-right, cheap and closed value system, which is not appealing to most of young people. I do not want to preach pathological love of my country, I want to profess healthy love, which will serve the progress of our country. Let us discuss modern patriotism, open patriotism, which is much needed today.

Translated by A. Kumycz

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About Błażej Lenkowski

Graduate of International Relations at The Faculty of International and Political Science Studies of the University of Lodz; president of Industrial Foundation the publisher of Liberte!; entrepreneur.

Fredrich Naumann Foundation For The Freedom
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