Eseji Engleski 2008 - Šta možemo naučiti od mirovnih pokreta? What is the Truth? Thoughts on the differences between Nationalism and Patriotism

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Politika između nacionalizma i liberalizma

Josip Ivanović (Zagreb, Hrvatska) Kurs: Jezik i ideologija Politika između nacionalizma i liberalizma Uvod Specifičnost pojma politike jest u tome, što njen pojam u svakom smislu uporabe nailazi na različito razumijevanje, a da...



Recept Autorica: Maja Skenderović, Bosna i Hercegovina Kurs: Aktivističke prakse i novi društveni pokreti za socijalnu pravdu, 6. Postjugoslavenska mirovna akademija Prihvatila sam činjenicu da sa trenutne pozicije u kojoj postoji ogroman prostor...




What is the Truth? Thoughts on the differences between Nationalism and Patriotism

What is the Truth? Thoughts on the differences between Nationalism and Patriotism


Martina Topic[2]


What is the Truth? Normally, people do not ask too many questions about this because there is always something perceived as a generally or personally accepted truth.

For example, the truth is that Croatia is an independent country, that its minister of science is Dragan Primorac, that the ruling party is Croatian Democratic Union, its currency is Kuna, etc. It is also the truth, in personal aspect, that I live in Zagreb, that I am a journalist and assistant lecturer, etc. This is not problematic whatsoever and it is certainly not something one should think about for more then a second, if that much.

But, what happens when there are more versions of the same thing and when all involved sides perceive their version as a general truth? Who is right?

Thus, in this paper, I will firstly discuss the truth in terms of nationalism and patriotism.

Secondly, I will discuss the differences between nationalism and patriotism.

Thirdly, I will discuss the common misperceptions of both.

What is the Truth?

Gandhi thought his pupils and fellow nationals that there is no plural in truth. There is only one truth and what can be a situation is that everyone has a little piece of one big truth but it all together creates one unique truth (Phillips, 2008).

However, how does this work with war crimes? How does this works with nationalism and patriotism? What is the difference between patriotism and nationalism and why people do not (or do not want to?) understand it?

After Radovan Karadzic, founder of Republika Srpska and war criminal according to many, got caught, the reactions in Bosnia were various. In Sarajevo, people were celebrating calling him as the war criminal and his capture as a justice. Only across the mountain, on Pale, people were protesting for his freedom because they perceive him as a hero. What is the Truth here? Is Karadzic a war criminal or a hero? How can it be that in the same country, two towns divided by one mountain only have two completely different versions of the Truth on the same men? Is this nationalism from both sides?

First side perceives Karadzic as a war criminal based on TV reports on Karadzic showing him giving orders for mass slaughter and from statements from the witnesses. On the other side, he is seen as a hero who fought for a common cause.

Both are actually right.

Those who support Karadzic truly believe in their common fight they performed in Bosnia and thus, they can't be wrong because they simply don't know different. On the other hand, opponents believe he is a war criminal for what he did and they are right as well. There is an important question of the manipulation of the media in this case but that's completely different point now and it is not what this paper is about.

Nationalism and Patriotism

So, in example discussed above, who is nationalistic and who is patriotic then?

If we are to consider nationalistic attitude first we need to distinguish what nationalism means and about what type of nationalism do we talk about?

According to the definition of The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (quoted in Pan Nacionalisti?ki pokret, 2008), word nationalism is used for describing two phenomenon's: firstly, an attitude that nationals of one nation have when they take care of their national identity and secondly, actions that nationals of some nation perform when they want to achieve (or keep) self-identification. The first question asks about the concept of nation (or national identity) which is usually defined by joint background, ethnical background, cultural connections, and while the belonging of one national to the nation is often perceived as non-voluntarily, sometimes it is considered voluntary.

The second asks if self-identification needs to be understood as having complete statehood with complete authority under national and international issues, or something like that is less necessary.

Thus, according to this definition, it is necessary to differentiate nations and states. Nations are often consisted of ethnical and cultural societies, while the state is political entity with higher level of independence. While many states are nations in some way, there are many nations which are not independent states (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, quoted in Pan Nacionalisti?ki pokret, 2008).

As for patriotism, it is an expression which could be defined as a positive attitude of individuals or a group of people towards their/s homeland. Patriotism could thus be a pride towards the achievements and culture of the homeland, intentions to maintain homeland's character and identity and in one word, to keep the society homogeneous. Also, patriotism means that homeland as it is, is a moral value and that the individual has to put himself above all interests of the society. This also means that one individual "has!" to sacrifice his own life for the homeland.

However, patriotism is usually interpreted as nationalism and this goes that far that it almost became a synonymous. The reason can probably be found in the fact that the nationalists almost always call themselves as patriots (e.g. in wars).

One definition of patriotism can be found in the comment of Vladimir Gligorov in which he discusses patriotism and the truth.

In his comment Gligorov (2007, quoted in Pollitika, 2007) states "that it could hardly be said for someone that he is a patriot if he thinks....., and then follows a line of obviously wrong reasons which are usually connected with liberal intellectuals" (Gligorov 2007, quoted in Pollitika, 2007).

"A mistake, this should be important to the intellectuals, is in the fact that conclusions on what should people think about politics and everything else are drawn from political obligations. Patriotism however, does not oblige to an opinion whatsoever. The opinion obliges to some other values. For example, if someone thinks that Serbia is responsible for wars in the last decade of the last century in the former Yugoslavia, which is one of the examples of the often named non-patriotic opinion, this can be because it is the truth. Generally speaking, patriotism, as well as any other political, legal or moral obligation, does not oblige in any way to the opinion and it does not limit the freedom of the opinion or its expression. Thus, there are no opinions which are pathologically non-patriotic nor can one be a traitor or collaborator in thoughts. One can be right or wrong or make a mistake but only when it comes to opinion and expressing thoughts....." (Gligorov 2007 quoted in Pollitika, 2007)

Gligorov (2007, quoted in Pollitika, 2007) also points out that it is not less important what someone thinks. In a contrary, it is very important to find out, for example, if some concrete patriotic commitment is based on good reasons. While patriotism is not an argument, arguments are necessary for patriotic commitment to be asked and accepted. Patriotism is thus a political obligation because people are asked to live according to the state or public interest and not some other interests.

"Patriotism is not a moral obligation although it is commonly understood as one. Moral obligations are universal such as obligation not to lye or stay silent about the truth. For example, this is if someone thinks that it is patriotic to oppose the facts about genocide in Srebrenica. The confusion about patriotism being a moral commitment, I suppose, starts in authoritarian societal structures, where those who are expected to be patriotic do not participate in making decisions about what is patriotic act or behavior. Another way to see this is to notice that patriotism is conflict, or putting this in a mild tone, distributive obligation. Patriots do not always have to have an enemy, but there is certainly a conflict between personal and public interest where giving up from your own interest is justified with the need to support "our" interest before "their" interest. As it can be seen from patriotic notes, in which there is always a traitor and collaborators, some sort of citizen enemy is always tied to patriotism. In this, almost unavoidably, significant role is played by liberal, "unfair intelligence", because they do not want to dirty up their thoughts and arms. And they are usually in fond of cosmopolitism, which is indeed in contradiction to patriotism. In democratic societies, inside enemies do not exist, and every public or state interest must obtain legitimacy in free public debate and through political competition. This does not mean that in democratic societies there are no intentions to limit the freedom of opinion and expressing opinion by calling for patriotic commitments. Nearly every democratic society found inside peace by throwing one or another way of patriotism and the same counts for the peace between the states. Because, in conflict between the two states on both sides there are patriots and this should be enough reason to see the limitations of this political commitment. If one cares for arguments" (Gligorov 2007 quoted in Pollitika, 2007).

Arguments made by Vladimir Gligorov are exactly what this paper is counter arguing. This is a view of what patriotism turned into in modern times perhaps but it is certainly not what it is meant to be. Patriotism as such means, as already mentioned, love towards homeland and willingness to put public interest before your own. And, it is only this. It does not mean to create enemies inside the country or to oblige someone to patriotism. The question that Gligorov should have discussed is if nationalists use patriotism to foster nationalism in people by "manipulating the masses which are generally seen as easy to manipulate" (Williams and Carpini 2004 in Topi?, 2008). Thus, the question is weather nationalists use patriotism for fostering their' own interests and for holding power. But, patriotism as such has nothing negative in itself. Being patriot does not necessarily mean being nationalistic or destructive towards those who do not have such strong feelings towards common homeland. In this sense, we can discuss using patriotic feelings for certain purposes but it cannot be said that patriotism is bad per se.

But, this raises a question asked at the beginning of this paper. What is the truth? Who is right here? Is anyone?

What was Gandhi then? Was he a nationalist or patriot? Or Gandhi's fight was all right because he fought for independence from the UK so he had an argument? If so, why is that an argument? And lets take it is. But then, who doesn't have arguments for being patriotic? States in peace who are not fighting for freedom or which are not in war, says Gligorov? Which country is that? Every country, in Europe at least, coexists with their minorities and citizens of different origin and they are patriotic at the same time and, there is nothing wrong in that.

The real issue is controlling the misuse of patriotism in favor of nationalism. However, politicians, in order to pursue their nationalist politics, often use patriotism in their rhetoric as a first weapon for moving the masses. This is wrong however this has little to do with the real patriotism in itself.

The real cause of (destructive) nationalism and its relations with patriotism

Taylor (2000) explains the citizen democracy by explaining what nationalism and patriotism are and what is the difference and why we need both.

In his view, modern democratic state needs one healthy dose of patriotism and in this, he defines patriotism as a strong feeling of identification with the state society and a will to give something for it. That is why, according to Taylor (2000), states are trying to implement patriotism and to create a strong feeling of common identity and this is tried even there where it did not exist before. That is also why it was an urgent need of modern democracy to try to disorder the balance inside the identities of the modern citizen so that being a citizen has an advantage over other sides of ones identity such as gender, class and religion. The state, according to Taylor, simply needs to feed this feeling to survive. Otherwise, the state and a whole nation might disappear or loose its importance.

Taylor (2000) then explains that this is related to nationalism because if we think of patriotism as a strong identification of citizen then the nationalism is one foundation for patriotism but not the only one. We can talk about nationalism when the foundation of joint political service is some ethnical, linguistic, cultural or religious identity which exists independently of the state society.

In this view (Taylor, 2000) patriotism can also have a meaning which it had before for the elderly. I love my homeland and what makes it mine are its laws. Outside of it, it is lacking its natural means and it is not mine. There is no pre-political identity here, in a contrary, patria is politically defined. In two revolutions based on patriotism (French and American) this was the shape the patriotism had and none of these two revolutions was nationalistic. Only later on, Taylor argues, did the revolutions turned nationalistic. After that, nationalism became a rule for patriotism and the society started to understand patriotism through nationalism.

Instead of seeing liberal institutions as simply universal, the spread of nationalism confirms the idea, Taylor argues, that in every society they must be created according to the special measurement of the inhabitants.

As argued before, when politicians want to motivate masses for action, they interconnect patriotism and destructive nationalism and by this they foster their goals they want to achieve (e.g. going to the war, ethnical cleansing, etc.).

Thus, we can talk about using patriotism for fostering destructive nationalism. I say destructive nationalism in order to refer to negative aspects of nationalism such as wars, ethnical cleansing, etc. Nationalism can also be positive if it serves the purpose of protection of the traditional culture from too much modernization or colonization. Keeping the tradition, historical and cultural habits of living is not a destructive nationalism for sure but some sort of modern liberal nationalism. This again might sound as patriotism since I discussed this before, but patriotism in this case would be a feeling for the culture and history only whereas nationalism is some sort of action to protect the mentioned. In this way, I would offer a distinction stating that patriotism has the same idea of protection of the culture, tradition, history, etc. but that patriotism is a feeling for these values whereas nationalism is a concrete action to protect them. If this nationalism does not turn into breaking somebody else' rights or freedom, then it is the liberal nationalism which is only fostering national interests in general.

Taylor (2000) argues that sometimes active minorities are making up the feeling of not getting along and of being jeopardized by the majority and thus, the feeling of enemy happens. This actually leads to the destructive nationalism and to xenophobia among people. For example, Indians and Moslems lived in the same country for centuries in a peace which hardly exists anymore. However, when it came to Indian independent state, although Indians did not wanted or even tried to jeopardize Moslems living in India, the Moslems reacted negatively fostering destructive nationalism by feeling jeopardized by the majority. This is why the conflict happened and it was not because the majority actually did something apart from fostering the liberal nationalism in actually acting for its country to change it. Indians were not even patriotic in this sense but nationalistic.

Same counts for Croatia. It was Croatian nationalism which made Croatia to ask for independence from former Yugoslavia but this nationalism was not destructive but liberal because Croatia wanted to act to gain independence, to have its money from the industry for itself and to keep its country's culture and all that I discussed before saved and for itself. It was the Serbian minority to rebel against this independence because of, as they said, being afraid and feeling jeopardized by the future majority. This is how the conflict started and it could have been avoided easily if the Serbian minority gave a chance to Croatian majority to gain independence and start a peaceful coexistence.

However, this again brings us to the question of the freedom of the media, propaganda and brain washing but also to the question of politicians using patriotism to foster destructive nationalism which I discussed before and which clearly happened in this situation. Just like Moslems and Hindus in India, Croats and Serbs also lived in peace in Croatia having celebrations of their religious holidays together, marriages between Croats an Serbs were something normal, etc. This was all broken because of miss using of patriotism to foster destructive nationalism instead of letting the liberal nationalism to take place.

Taylor (2000) argues that "liberal nationalism suffers from too many tensions. Everyone is a citizen with no differences, however the state still has its raison d'etre in cultural nation and to which not all citizens belong. These are the tensions that need to be solved." As Taylor (2000) points out, this needs to be resolved but the question of sacrificing the universality on the altar of the nation should not be asked because that would be the traitor of identity.

But, the question of what the truth is still remains unanswered. What is Karadzic, a war criminal or a hero? Actually both, depending on the side one is talking to. Why? Because political elites who had control over the boiling situation in Bosnia before the war started, used patriotism to foster destructive nationalism. Masses again proved to be easy to manipulate and thus perceived Karadzic as a hero who is trying to protect them from dangerous majority of Bosnian Moslems and Bosnian Croats and therefore performed destructive nationalism and finally the war happened. What might be a situation in Bosnia now is a situation of liberal nationalism fostered by all three sides just with a difference that all three sides are fostering their own nationalism in one country trying to protect themselves from other two sides although none of the sides is doing anything at the moment really. However, if handled in a wrong way this triple liberal nationalism could easily transform to destructive nationalism and in new total war.

Perhaps the real truth is that Gandhi was wrong when he said there is only one big truth and everyone has a little peace of it. Maybe it is the truth that everyone has his/her own truth and that every person has a right on it and nobody can be completely wrong if he/she does not know for the other. This again brings up the question of the media due to the fact that we live in the modern time when technology is more advanced then before when different authors discussed what I discussed here. However, this is also the question of willingness for cooperation and willingness to build peace and peaceful coexistence which should be raised in terms of minorities as well as majorities and not majorities only (which is the situation nearly everywhere in the world and particularly in the region of former Yugoslavia).


Phillips, B. (2008). Lectures in sessions "What can we learn from the Peace Movements? Lessons from the Past and for Present and the Future". Peace Academy, Sarajevo, B&H (18.07-28.07.2008).

Taylor, C. (2000). Prizivanje gra?anskog društva. Circulus: Beograd, Serbia.

Topi?, M. (2008). Creating (gender) scandal: Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Media. Paper presented at X. International Interdisciplinary Congress on Women: Mundo de Mujeres/Women's Worlds. Universidad de Complutense de Madrid, Madrid, Spain (02.-09.07.2008).

_______________ Što je nacionalizam? Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Taken from Pan-nacionalisticki pokret. Available at: Retrieved on August 11th, 2008.

________________Male sive stanice ili, to je to, patriotizam (2007)., Croatian Blogging website. Available at at: Retrieved on August 11th, 2008

[1] This essay is a result of participation in sessions "What can we learn from Peace movements? Lessons for the Past, Present and for the Future", in the Peace Academy, July 2008, Sarajevo, B&H where we frequently discussed the issue of the truth and different interpretations of the truth in former Yugoslavia when it comes to conflicts in that region.

[2] Assistant, University of Zagreb, Faculty of Political sciences, Department of Journalism, Zagreb, Croatia