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Patriotism vs Nationalism

Patriotism is a devotion to one’s country. In a generalized sense applicable to all countries and peoples, patriotism is a devotion to one’s country for no other reason than being a citizen of that country.

patriot (plural patriots)

1. A person who loves and zealously supports and defends his or her country.

Nationalism involves a strong identification of a group of individuals with a political entity defined in national terms. It can be a belief that citizenship in a state should be limited to one ethnic, cultural or identity group.

An issue that keeps nagging away at my subconscious is the relationship between patriotism and nationalism. Whether you can express one without the other, whether feeling either is compatible with liberal values and principles, and what drives the sentiments. This dilemma was brought to the fore again this week with the Welsh Assembly local elections. Having voted Labour and Lib Dem in the past, and not particularly enthusiastic about doing so again, it was a choice between the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru. If you’ve been brought up in South Wales with family ties to the coal mining community (my maternal Grandfather was a coal miner in the Rhondda Valley) and witnessed the pain and poverty the Thatcher years and it’s aftermath brought to the area, voting Tory is not an option. It looked like it was going to be Plaid. I had already voted Plaid in the General Election of 2010 so it wasn’t a big deal, but the old question of nationalism reared its head once more. Now I know voting for a party such as Plaid or the SNP is a million miles away from giving the thumbs up to the BNP, but the perception of nationalism is still something that rankles with my desire to be part of a global community, not isolated and exclusive. The spectre of separatism still looms with the ideals of nationalism, whether left or right wing.

Is the Welsh nationalism of Plaid Cymru the same as that of Meibion Glyndwr (Sons of Glyndwr), Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru (Movement for the Defence of Wales) or Byddin Rhyddid Cymru (Free Wales Army)? Possibly, but the crucial difference is the method by which independence is to be achieved. For Plaid it would be a referendum, for the aforementioned paramilitary groups it was burning holiday homes and bombing water and power lines. Welsh nationalism is defined as: emphasises the distinctiveness of Welsh language, culture, and history, and calls for more self-determination for Wales, including independence from the United Kingdom. Aspirations held by all Welsh nationalists, but there’s a risk that this could alienate non-Welsh residents (as well as Welsh), and if you ignore the history of Wales these sentiments look quite BNPesque. This is where my discomfort must come from. Looking at the Plaid platform it’s obvious that this is not the angle they are coming from:

1. To promote the constitutional advancement of Wales with a view to attaining Full National Status for Wales within the European Union.

2. To ensure economic prosperity, social justice and the health of the natural environment, based on decentralist socialism.

3. To build a national community based on equal citizenship, respect for different traditions and cultures and the equal worth of all individuals, whatever their race, nationality, gender, colour, creed, sexuality, age, ability or social background.

4. To create a bilingual society by promoting the revival of the Welsh language.

5. To promote Wales’s contribution to the global community and to attain membership of the United Nations.

You only have to look at the candidates put forward in Cardiff to see that Plaid are true to their word. The candidate for my particular constituency this time around is Liz Musa, a Cardiff born daughter to a Welsh mother and Nigerian father. At the General Election the candidate was Farida Aslam, a Muslim single mother. Plaids Riverside councillor is Mohammed Sarul Islam, and former candidates include Mohammad Ashgar the first AM from an ethnic minority and daughter Natasha Ashgar. In 2006 on the International Day of Peace, the group Muslims for Plaid was launched as a reaction to the party’s stance on the Iraq war. The BNP have recently called Plaid a ‘fake nationalist’ party and claimed that a vote for them is a vote for the further Islamification of Wales, due to the growing relationship.

So, I’m satisfied that a vote for Plaid is progressive and not at odds with my leftist leanings. They’re nationalist in the sense that they aim to promote the Welsh culture and language that has been eroded with Anglicisation since the days of the Welsh Not and earlier, but not in the sense that it should be done at the expense of other cultures that have found home in Wales.

What about patriotism? It’s a word that has been hijacked by the right-wing in recent years and has come to evoke sentiments similar to nationalism, the Union Jack and the St. George’s flag. In the minds of Teabaggers and EDLers, any inclination towards the left, any criticism of our troops and foreign policy, or any feelings on immigration, Muslims and multiculturalism that edge towards sympathy or objectivity are considered unpatriotic. Anything that doesn’t put white Britons first, second and last is unpatriotic.

There is also the feeling that the concept of being so proud of somewhere just because of an accident of birth is strange one. Yet I still get goosebumps singing Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, the hairs on the back of my neck still stand up watching footage of Barry, Gareth, JPR, Gerald and Phil from the 70’s. It still fills me with pride to remember great Welsh people like Aneurin Bevan, John Charles, Richard Burton, Dylan Thomas, Carwyn James and Tommy Cooper, to name but a few. My sense of national pride comes from knowing the history of my country and its people, the achievements of these people, and how we continue to overachieve in the fields of sport, the arts and culture. Not from any sense of superiority we have over any other country. Not because of any military conquests, an ability to build empires or the arrogant belief that we brought civilisation and democracy to the third world.

The EDL have a slogan that goes along the lines of ‘Patriotism isn’t Racism’. As a statement of fact, this is 100% true. But the EDL definition of patriotism has more in common with right wing nationalism or jingoism.

More on nationalism:

It can also include the belief that the state is of primary importance, or the belief that one state is naturally superior to all other states. In some cases the identification of a national culture is combined with a negative view of other races or cultures. Some nationalists exclude certain groups. Some nationalists, defining the national community in ethnic, linguistic, cultural, historic, or religious terms (or a combination of these), may then seek to deem certain minorities as not truly being a part of the ‘national community’ as they define it.

Jingoism is extreme patriotism in the form of aggressive foreign policy. In practice, it is a country’s advocacy of the use of threats or actual force against other countries in order to safeguard what it perceives as its national interests. Colloquially, it refers to excessive bias in judging one’s own country as superior to others – an extreme type of nationalism.

I saw the EDL being described recently as ‘Untranationalists’.

Ultranationalism is a form of nationalism that expresses intense support for one’s nation, and is often characterized by authoritarianism. It can lead to reduction or stoppage of immigration, expulsion, oppression, demagoguery, emotional aspects, talk of presumed real or imagined enemies, threat to survival, crack-down, limit of trade through tariffs, tight control over businesses and production, militarism, populism and propaganda. Ultranationalism has the potential to lead to conflict within a state, as well as between states, and in its extreme form leads to war, secession or, in the case of enthnocentrist ultranationalism, genocide

They would certainly tick a few of those boxes.

Patriotism is a celebration of ones own country and countrymen, once it strays beyond that it ceases to be patriotism. Is it possible to be patriotic without being nationalistic? It would seem so. Is nationalism necessarily a negative trait? It doesn’t have to be as far as I can see. As with any political ideology there’s a broad spectrum of ideals that pick up more unpleasant characteristics as you approach the extreme right. When ethnicity, culture or religion is targeted in a notion of nationalism, the sense of pride has been overtaken by a sense of supremacy. That’s when I get off the ride. I’m happy to celebrate and promote the people, the country, the cultural history and the language of Wales, but I’m also happy to welcome other people and languages that will enrich the cultural history. I don’t want the Wales of 2011 to be the same as the Wales of 1811, but there’s no reason why I can’t be proud of both.

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