Patriot Games

Patriotism fascinates me. Even though for many purposes I am reluctant about the concept of the nation state, there is something to be said about the emotional attachment to your country. And despite postmodernity and globalism this sentiment seems to be alive and well in many places across the globe.

Last week I had the pleasure of experiencing Norway’s Constitution Day in Oslo (17 May) for the first time. Our choir Camerata were welcomed by our friends in Uranienborg Vokalensemble to a day of celebrations and community across boundaries. And to me personally, it was a connection to my heritage that left a lasting, positive impression.

Oslo 17 mai

On other occasions I have curiously and even happily joined in national celebrations in Australia, the United States, Canada and Singapore. Denmark, however, is another matter. We could all agree on 17 May that it is a shame we don’t have anything similar in my home country. There may be good reasons for this, and for my own reluctance.

It is obvious that there are bad types of patriotism. It is not a pretty sight when patriotism devolves into loving your own country as opposed other countries: an excluding nationalism, instead of an including nationalism which embraces differences in the midst of all the unity. E pluribus unum.

This was the message in the church service in Oslo Cathedral on Constitution Day, the keyword being thankfulness. Being thankful for what you have been given, for the deeds of others before you (founding fathers, and previous generations), and turning that thankfulness outwards in embracing others and welcoming them into your community. This was the founding ideal of the United States. It should not, however, be allowed to mutate into fascism. This is a valid fear, and probably part of the reason why Danes are wary of patriotism.

Immigrant countries such as the United States and Australia have a natural head start here, compared to old-world countries. But remembering concepts such as Manifest Destiny, White Australia, or Apartheid, even that seems to be no guarantee.

Going back to Denmark, the Danes have a quirky way of believing our people, country and system to be the best in the world, while at the same time looking down on any explicit exhibition of patriotism. We are too good for that. In fact, better than everyone else. Ironic.

My own rootlessness also plays a part. Regular readers will know of my struggling with identity and continuous reluctance about staying in Denmark. Perhaps it’s easier to love a country that you have actively chosen, instead of one you happen to have been born in. I could definitely connect with my Norwegian heritage last weekend, but I’m sure the novelty will wear off eventually. And by emigrating to another country, would I really find the sense of belonging that is currently lacking? Probably not.

Where, then, to find that sense of belonging? An old gospel song comes to mind: This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through…

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