Saturday, 29 December 2012

Building national pride

This post builds on my previous one, with my take on the following question: if real life isn't for postcards, is 'national pride' just a delusion?

This is a thorny issue, isn't it? Mostly because patriotism is often used as an excuse for overlooking governments' questionable actions. In America, patriotism is abused as a means for Americans to wave the flag while the US Government sends yet more young men to die in a foreign land in the name of global peace and ... oh yes ... oil. In South Africa before 1994, patriotism was used to turn a blind eye on the racist practises of the government.

In South Africa now? Patriotism is pretty much unknown. Ask the average South African why s/he is 'proudly South African', and the answer will most likely involve a reference to boerewors (a traditional kind of sausage), rusks (a uniquely South African dunkable biscuit), and the African bushveld (wild scrub). But those aren't good reasons to ensure happiness on a day-to-day basis, are they? I mean, unless you eat boerewors and rusks every day and happen to live in the bush, chances are they're downright shoddy.

Also, you're not likely to miss these things until you move away from the country ... no doubt a bit of spicy sausage sounds real good when you're eyeing the drizzle outside your London apartment's window.

Patriotism for me is rather about defending the honour of the country where you live. When somebody says, for example, "South Africa is a horrible place to live because xyz", you immediately counter with "Aah, but have you thought about abc? South Africa is in fact great."

Well, what do I know about patriotism if I want to leave South Africa for Romania then? South Africa's greatest problem for me is that there cannot be a sense of national unity when the post-democratic Government is using the pre-democratic Government's racial categories to right past wrongs. South Africa will always be a country of 'Blacks', 'Whites', 'Coloureds', 'Asians' and 'Other'.

From a patriotic point of view, then, that poses an insurmountable problem. You cannot have a sense of 'This country belongs to us' if your definition of 'us' is flexible, and if some of 'us' are more privileged than others of 'us' (whether politically or economically).

Let's take this to the Romanian situation, then. I was reading one of the only English-language Romanian news sites - - when I stumbled across a comment on a story that I just had to reply to. And reply to again (although that's not visible).

When we're living in a country we're unhappy with, we too easily just shrug and dream about emigrating. It doesn't matter which country you're in, either: experience shows that people living in South African go to Australia, people in Romania emigrate to Canada, Americans like to escape to Europe etc. If that doesn't tell you that no matter where you are your happiness is dependent on you and not your surroundings, I don't know what will. [Ok, maybe Afghanistan is an exception to that rule]

Here are a couple of simple suggestions for making things brighter in your life:
- Feeling lonely in the middle of a city? Get a partner or make a friend.
- Don't like your neighbourhood? Move to a new suburb.
- Hate your co-workers or your job? Apply for a new job.
- Hate people commenting negatively about your country online? Respond to their negative comments and give them the sort of local information only you have.
- Register on a penpal website like Global Penfriends and engage with people in other countries. See that the ones in the country you're dreaming about moving to suffer many of the same problems you do.
- Find a problem with your town? Send your suggestions to your local municipality. It worked out well for Matt in Romania.

In the end, patriotism starts with your personal happiness. It sounds obvious, but the happier you are the rosier the glasses you look at your country through will be. Sticking up for your country online - on Facebook, Twitter, e-mail penpals or news comments sections - is something anybody can do from the comfort of their home, and doing so will not only boost your own sense of connection with your country, but help you understand its problems a bit better as you analyse them more closely.


  1. Hi Leon, I'm Andrei, the guy with the photos of Bucharest.

    I will try to answer to several of your posts when you ask something about Romania.

    About patriotism in Romania: because people have been brutalized during communism, you'll find the Romanian patriotism being either xenophobia, either a delusional perception of their own identity (like the myth of Dacian origin). Is a very divided nation at individual level, they hate each other and have not a sense of working together for the common purposes, as is in other countries.

  2. Hi Andrei, welcome to my interwebs. Thanks for all the comments!