Following a recent downbeat presentation by an economist from IMEMO, I told my Russian colleagues I thought their “Slavic soul” (a romantic euphemism for pessimism/excuse for boozy inaction, in my experience) was blinding them to reality. No Russians had ever enjoyed such possibilities as they. I added, scathingly, that I feared I might be the greatest patriot in the room. In this I went too far. To challenge Russians to a patriotism competition is foolish.
I had similar conversations when I lived in Poland - a country for which I also have a powerful affection. For all the tragi-comedy of that country's history (which makes Polish patriotism a delicate endeavour) there is much about the Polish soul that is admirable. I have never been happier than I once was there, setting the world to rights over beer and vodka. I collect Polish art and used to love to sing their crazily provocative patriotic songs; bellowing defiance at deadly adversaries on every border.
I am also an admirer of the USA. “America the Beautiful” brings tears to my eyes. Part of me feels it was a terrible error that I was not born there. I dared to choose Tom Paine as my nom de blog, because (as well as being, in a sense, the first political blogger) he was both a great Englishman and a great American. Our traditions of liberty under the rule of law and a limited, constitutional government live on in the US rather better than in modern Britain.
Hardest of all for many Brits to understand, I love France as much as any loyal Frenchman. I delight in being there; I love the language and have had some of my best moments in the company of French friends. My taste for political discourse over fine food and drink is far easier to indulge there than at home (where - dangerously - it's thought rather vulgar). Tom Paine’s role in establishing the French Republic is yet another reason for hubristically adopting his name.
Yet for all this - and despite the fact that I am sadly resigned to never living there again - I am still a patriotic Englishman. To complicate matters further (as I shall explain in a later post - I was also once a patriotic Welshman).
Patriotism is an important and potentially dangerous subject. It is certainly far more complicated than most patriots assume. Living abroad (an expatriate, but never - as it is often wrongly written - an expatriot), I have experienced the patriotism of other nations. I have also experienced nationalism, which is something quite different and - to me - far less attractive. In examining my own response to that - and particularly those parts of it I found irrational - I have come to think hard about the subject. In an series of posts to follow, I shall try to explain my conclusions.
To be continued.