Patriotism or nationalism?
LONDON EYE - Stephen Lillie (The Philippine Star) - April 25, 2013 - 12:00am

23 April was the feast-day of England’s patron saint, St George. Not surprisingly, St George’s Day is not a big deal in the Philippines. The greater significance of this date here may be 23 April 1946, when Manuel Roxas was elected to be the first President following independence. But even in England, the largest of the United Kingdom’s four nations, St George’s Day receives less attention than those of Scotland’s St Andrew or Wales’s St David.  

In the Middle Ages in England, St George’s Day enjoyed a level of importance close to that of Christmas. However, its significance waned after Great Britain was created out of England, Wales and Scotland in 1707. Moreover, as Britain de-colonised in the 20th century, we went through a phase where overt patriotism was frowned upon by many. Our patriotism became a personal thing, understated and not something to be paraded in public. Worse, the flag of St George seemed to many to have been captured by political extremists.

But things are changing. Today, Britons feel much more comfortable with their national identities. For the English, the flag of St George is again flown proudly by sports fans as they watch rugby at Twickenham or soccer at Wembley, and painted on the faces of children as they go off to cheer their teams. The English flag has regained equal pride of place alongside the symbols of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in our vibrant United Kingdom. The overwhelming majority of people in England are proud to be both British and English.

Despite being thousands of miles away, this should give encouragement to those who work for peace and reconciliation in the Southern Philippines. Our experience is that it is possible to take pride in one’s local and cultural identity, and to have local systems of accountability and governance, while remaining a loyal part of the wider nation state.

The Great British author, George Orwell, gave one of the best accounts for why patriotism should not be confused with nationalism. In 1945, he wrote: “A patriot believes this country to be the best place in the world for himself but has no wish to force his ideas on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.”

This week also sees two other significant dates for me. 21st April was the 87th birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, not only our head of state but a source of genuine pride for the British people. Today, the 25th April is ANZAC Day, when friends in Australia and New Zealand pay solemn tribute to their soldiers who fought and died at Gallipoli in 1915, as well as in subsequent battles and wars. 

At a time when nationalism remains strong across this and other continents it is timely to remember the lessons of history, and pay attention to those who have gone before us — our great authors and thinkers, but also our soldiers. Patriotism is a great and unifying force. Best we have that rather than needing to send the flower of our youth to counter the forces and effects of nationalism and division.

(Stephen  Lillie  is  the  British  Ambassador  to  the Philippines)

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