Nationalism and Patriotism

Datum: 20.02.2003
Period:  Premijer 2001–2003.

Lecture by Dr Zoran Đinđić held to students of Banja Luka University

This is not a scientific lecture, or a speech in the traditional sense of the word, but simply an effort to have one theme dealt with from possibly an unusual perspective, relying on some arguments supported by facts: where else can we find such place as Banski Dvori in Banja Luka, to start a little thinking process that for some of you may bring about a move towards understanding some things that are important in your lives.

The essence of any organized system, whether it be living individuals or communities, states or societies is that they exist in some environment. This means that there is something beyond it and that thing beyond it is its environment having essential impact on destiny, survival, successfulness or failure of that organism or organization to understand its environment, if possible to establish some of regularities in its environment’s behaviour and adjust to it. Indeed, there are some rare exceptions, when an organism is capable of having such a huge impact on the environment that it does not care about what is going on in its environment given that it is the one which defines it. For example, America today: one organism that finds it completely unimportant what is going on in the world which represents the natural environment of that country, but instead, believes that the country is so powerful that it may shape and redesign its own environment.

History has known several such examples that led to collision with reality, but it turned out that no such organism, whether it be the state or ideology, seems powerful enough to control its environment; any of those that had exercised such behaviour eventually perished, from the Roman to various other huge empires. Even Chares Darwin defined one of his findings saying that: "in the brutal struggle for survival it is not the biggest or the strongest, or the wisest who survive, but those who are the fastest in adjusting to changes in their environment". That is exactly the formula for success. Anyone who believes that his/her environment is just a stage where one defines his/her rules, may live in that illusion for a while. But after some time, an individual collides with the consequences of own arrogance and eventually perishes. This means that any society or community need to be able to realistically perceive its place in a much wider system of concentrated circles: firstly its region, then the wider community, continent and then the entire humanity. Where possible, it should try to identify the common behaviour and rules imminent to such environment and try to use it in its own interest to detect any trends that it may fit into – without blindly confronting it and sharing the faith of Don Quixote fighting windmills. On the other hand, it must not take a subordinate role and simply linger on the logic of such environment, but instead, live its own individual life trying to avoid hazards that it is unable to deal with and surely, endure some blows that it cannot predict, which is also inevitable.

That is a general theory of society and however trivial it may seem, it is rather enlightening since as people, we often used to neglect it and seek for justification in the belief that we are not fit for this world, but instead, that we are celestial people to whom none of the earthly rules apply. And so, in the end, we paid the earthly cost for the theory we tried to promote, proving that we do not belong in this world. But in the end though, it is all about the cost you pay. If the payment is made on earth, then you are an earthly traveller. If you fly in the sky as an angel, thank thee is no toll that you have to pay and there are normally no costs incurred. As soon as there are costs involved, that means that you are the part of material system and you have to make forecasts to determine whether such expenses are too high for you and make sure that you do not overpay it. Of course, our living environment, any nation or country, have their own rules, which had been formed throughout ages and certainly are not to be perceived as a chaos we encounter on a daily basis, but rather relies on specific rules that, if monitored and carefully studied, may help you to find your way around and predict future events. In other words, in 1989 it was not difficult to predict the decline of communist ideology in all its elements, economic, political or ideological and it was not to difficult to realize what would dominate the last decade of 20th century and in 21st century: having the focus of world events move from the confrontation of large ideologies and blocks to global competition economy and eventually, the Information Technologies. That was not so hard to predict, but many leaders of nations did not, which caused devastations among those nations guided by the obsolete ideas and assumptions that the world still functions according to old patterns. This may be compared to a city map with all the streets and crossings included, but that map might just as well be a map of some archaeological city that existed there one thousand years ago, and when you drive in that city you logically enough turn into wrong streets and get lost, and eventually fail to reach the destination. By this I want to illustrate that there are certain trends in what we call the World, and humanity, and that for any people or nation wishing to succeed in such environment it is crucial to understand those trends. If it is not strong enough to confront them, change them and impose own trends, it must think of the way to adjust to them and use them in its own interest – its small interests in the big World. During the past one hundred or two hundred years we may identify trends that have been analysed and studied, those that are crucial and comprehensive enough to be called the ‚megatrends‘ actually affecting the destiny of entire humanity and redesigning the shape of society on the Globe. Those trends are not limited or temporary, but actually change the phases of humankind developments. The human society or a part of human society moves from one status to another. That is the unfinished process, but it may be recognized in certain manifestations.

The first such transition, huge transformation has taken place from industrial to information society. In 19th century, there was a transition from rural to industrial, and in 20th century from industrial to information society. Such events cause enormous changes of mentality among people, their behaviour and perception, the instruments and tools they use to satisfy their needs and qualifications required in order for them to be successful. What makes the nations and individuals successful in industrial society is not sufficient enough to ensure success in the information society, too.

Another vast megatrend is also connected to economy – the transition from production economy to economy of services, causing huge changes in the structure of society. There may be around ten characteristic trends changing the structure of society, institutions and consciousness and naturally, they require a changed approach in order for a society to be successful. For example, from national economy to the world one, from closed little markets to competition, where today, at almost any point on Earth, people may produce whatever they want. That means that there are no more privileges for a region, people or economy. Any economy in the world may produce the same items. Nowadays the question is what we can produce to be better, more successful, faster, of better quality, cheaper, so as to be competitive to what has been produced in China, Russia, Brazil, European Union or anywhere else on the Globe. That is something completely new and creates enormous pressure of international competition, and requires that own capacities are prepared and ready to encounter severe international competition. Now imagine, as a matter of comparison, that your football clubs are playing in a cup where Manchester United, Sao Paolo, Milan and all the world-known clubs are participating. If you wish to win any of the games, that would require comprehensive preparations, training and completely new approach to the game. In other words, it is easy to be the first in the village league, but the question is whether in 21st century, the village leagues will exist at all or there will be just one league where you may be among the best or be at the bottom. There are no more questions about whether you are the best or the worst. You are either successful or unsuccessful.

There is no more East or West, communists or capitalists, Catholics or orthodox, these or those. There are only successful or unsuccessful individuals. And that is the 21st century league. First of all in economy, and then of course in ideas, innovations, quality of institutions and anything else that accompanies such trend. There is also another trend from centralization to decentralization, from formerly having the decisions taken on a hierarchical level, in the headquarters, which all the other levels of organization of society only used to execute, to the trend of delegation, decentralized operation with decisions taken at the level of society encompassing the bodies that eventually perform such decisions, close to citizens and where citizens will be able to control them, and treat such bodies as services for the citizens, rather than exercising the will of an authority.

If you start thinking about my words, you will realize that all of those trends have something in common, something that used to be static, material, that is gradually turning to something more flexible, movable and resting on communication, speed, getting your way around, what we may call the procedure rather than the substance. Indeed the question that may be put considering all that has been said is what happens with countries, people and nations? Obviously, anything that we inherited from the European and global past, such as firmly defined sovereignties states with their governments, authorities, is also gradually getting closer to the general trend.

Today, IMF and the World Bank, or American federal reserves defining the interest to loans raised in USD, have more influence on the economy of a country than one government alone. This means that there are no more economic sovereignties of such type, connected to a single country. Similar trends take place in the politics.

Joining the EU practically leads to wavering a significant part of state sovereignty of individual countries that formed this union and such integration process practically encompasses the increasing number of states, which leads to the final situation that in around twenty, thirty o fifty years there will be a world organization, such as the world government, that would be based on voluntary wavering the state sovereignties of hundreds of states. But that would be a big delusion to think that the national interest and the states would disappear I believe that such conclusion is wrong.

In my opinion, they are only being transformed and adjusted to trends described above, without having something that Kant dreamed of in his essay about perpetual peace or Marx’s dream to unite all the proletarians. Aren’t we all the same, there are no borders, no nations, no states, but only one humankind constituting one nation. No, I rather believe that at least as we can predict from our perspective, the main legal entities and bodies to participate in such trend will rather be the states and nations organized within such states, If the megatrend during the past one hundred years was to disintegrate what used to be stabile, firm, static, then a question of some collective identity is raised. What is then happening to the national identity, something that has been defined within a state as the interest which has to be protected, defended in such a global market or global competition? Whenever we talk about an organism and its environment, we mention that by adjusting to the environment such organism must be successful in achieving its goals.

With regard to such trends that are easier to analyse, referring to economy and institutions, we may identify a trend that refers to collective identity, and simultaneously defines what happens with that collective identity during the society modernization. I think that it may be described as the transition from nationalism to patriotism, with the nationalism acting as the expression of collective identity in a relatively static society. I think it wrong to believe that the development in such domain of modernization from nationalism would lead to internationalism. To sum up, the nationalism is not reversed internationalism. If we define nationalism as collective identity of a static, generally rural and industrial society, this does not mean that the collective identity of a modern society is necessarily expressed as internationalism. Internationalism is on the completely different tracks. Functionally, it does not satisfy the need for identity which used to be satisfied by nationalism in another type of society. In think that the real reverse to nationalism is patriotism. I believe that if we pay attention to the structure present in all these processes, if we wish to transfer it to the process of forming the collective awareness, it may be concluded that the nationalism is substantial, refers to some ethnical or another membership, it is static, tends to polarize things, lacks communication, is unable to join in the competitive market, to participate in exchange, all of which is vital for achieving success in a modern society, but is rather imminent for static societies and taking positions and rigid attitudes in such static societies. You may see that such type of collective consciousness really exists only in the societies the development of which was hindered in other segments, such as economic, state and historical, which exist in the regions where such process did not develop normally, but instead, suffered certain historical hindrances and setbacks, consequentially producing the social structure that under the circumstances, redirects their collective identity towards a static feeling such as the nationalism.

Another vital thing is that nationalism relies on motifs. Patriotism is connected with results and consequences. At that is the basic difference between traditional and modern societies. This means that there is a possibility, and there are historical examples of nationalism which destroyed the nation while trying to expand it. But this is not their flaw. The crucial thing from the international prospective is that they had the intention to help their own nation. If that is true, and if they prove their intention, then they have found the justification for their actions, because they claim that they sincerely wanted to, although in the end it was detrimental for their own nation. What they blame after is not themselves, but the circumstances. If you remember the beginning of this story, the circumstances also represent the part of planning. If you should plan things in a way as if there is no world, but only yourself, than you are God – and if you are God any discussion is out of place. And if you are God, then there will always be the environment where you will have to plan your strategy, and if such environment eventually rejects your strategy and causes failure, then it is your fault and not the fault of that world. In other words, if you fail to get your way around in one environment, you should not blame the nature, and international politics may be treated as such nature. Tempests, tornados, floods, all of that is happening and not much of ethical thinking happens at the time. There are interactions of powers, forces and you should understand all that and somehow survive all of it without getting hurt. Those who are apt to introduce morale into the situation, stating: I have intentions, and with such intentions goes for something, ending up as a failure, is either naive or incapable. That is actually imminent to those traditional societies where the leadership over a country is being moralized or idealized. What you may hear is: we want something, our intentions are good, our motives are fine, and whether we will succeed, that does not depend on us but something else, and if we fail, then we may say: there has probably been some global conspiracy to prevent us from being successful. And then we are peaceful, since we found the explanation for all our failures.

However, if we base the collective identity on something of a more modern form, such as patriotism, then instead of ethics of intention, we will have the ethics of responsibility, and instead of justifying our intentions, we will justify the obtained results, and instead of giving morale speeches about how good we are, and about our rights, we will make detailed analysis of what are the chances that we succeed with our goals. In that case too, we will be accountable for any consequences, without trying to justify ourselves by motives. And here is where the crucial difference lies. That difference too, is connected with our dilemma whether we, as Serbian people, can enter 21st century with one modern form of collective identity, or we will try to build up some mechanisms of a modern society in industry, economy, institutions, whilst in our minds we will keep an archaic form of collective identity that will be based on such moralistic approach, where responsibility is never assumed by those conducting an activity, but by the environment that will probably reject such activity.

It is therefore very important that through a reflection of our own history we realize the reasons for such a frequent failures, after which no one felt responsible or believed that he/she did something wrong, instead of which others were blamed. Does such position promise fewer defeats in the future? I don’t think so I believe that such position rather guarantees that in the future we will have a considerable amount of what we experienced in the past. This means that if you approach a problem from one side and always with the same attitude, you may expect no progress in the future. So, if the results were poor, change the attitude. If you refuse to change the attitude, do not complaint about getting the same results again. To conclude, if we want to be more successful in 21st century that we used to be in 20th century, we have to redefine the perception of ourselves and our environment, after having analyzed the international trends.

The rate of democratic trends in terms of participation of the citizens in decision taking has never been higher in the history of mankind. Those are the facts. We sometimes forget this due to different forms of abuse taking place due to enormous power concentrated in some instruments which occurred due to enormous power that some societies obtained. But from the relative point of view, the power today is far less abused than ever before in the history. At the same time, the image of power today is worse than ever before, given that a democratic consciousness has been built up, which does not tolerate any form of abuse, not even the discussion on abuse of power, which of course does not imply that there are no countries where big abuses of power happened, being understood that even what I am saying now does not necessarily apply to any country. In any case, I think that one should not be a pessimist, since politics is a noble discipline.

The biggest risk of having the politics presented in a pessimistic way is that honourable and rueful persons do not wish to ever get into politics, as the politics is usually presented in media as something negative, which applies to any country and not only ours. As a consequence, a voluntarily negative selection is made, in such a way that those who have a good opinion about themselves and their moral, say that they would never deal with politics, since the politicians are corrupted, thieves, conmen, and eventually we end up with insufficient number of honourable persons that would be ready to take responsibility for what is of crucial importance, and that is general wealth. In the end it may happen that due to such spontaneous campaign the politics becomes what it seems to be in the media today, and that is, the activity which corrupts people. I think that it would be in the national interest to try to rehabilitate the positive notion of politics and make it clear that corrupt people will not be allowed to lead the state in which you live and your children are expected to live in the future. You must ensure that important positions are taken by good people, since your daily hard work and earnings will mean nothing if at the end of the day someone will ruin all of it. And if so, a million of you may be as good as it takes, but all in vain. If acting on your behalf, someone ruins your success, than you had better not even make the effort – you could have slept of went fishing instead. To be more specific, the politics is an instrument for enabling significant transactions in a society, without which nothing could be done. Today, there is no society without politics and those who keep talking about what the experts should do, are actually playing tricks on you.

It has to be recognized that in modern societies, the political structure, political institutions are the only instruments that may be used as a support for carrying out big social projects. The society must control that instrument and each individual has to be interested in the quality of its performance, given that the safety, life and future of an individual depend on their performance. The best way to manage this is to get oneself involved since the participation also constitutes another huge megatrend from the representative democracy to the democracy of participation. In particular, from your voting every four years for someone, to the various forms of civic initiatives or activities in your local community, you should make sure that the pressure you exercise on a daily basis reflects on taking decisions that are vital for you This is what provides quality to a society I do not know to which extend you are interested or motivated to do that, but if you are not, do not be angry if decisions that are detrimental for you are taken on your behalf.

We have no friends in the world. That’s the bad news. Far less bad news is that nobody in the world has good friends and nobody loves anyone. There are only protocols. There is a diplomacy that presents it in a much more agreeable way. Everyone defends their own interest and loves someone else within the limits of own interests. In the event of disturbances, the one who gets hurt is the weakest among all. On the highway, if you drive a small car, with trailers and cisterns passing you buy, do not try to cut in, or otherwise, you might get hurt. Whether someone passed to a wrong lane to the right or to the left should be left to St Peter to resolve, but you will be in heaven by the time. What I mean is that you should assess the situation, your own capabilities, the route of those trailers, or other, depending on whether you are in America, Russia or China, and on the type of vehicles used on the highways, and try to fit in somehow and eventually reach your destination. In general, a highway is broad enough. If you are a capable driver, the width of the highway should be enough so that everyone may reach the destination. Some people tell me, we are orthodox, that is why we stand no chance. Greeks are orthodox too, but they still used the opportunity to join the convoy and they are very successful in the back of that line. Thirty years ago, the difference between us and Greeks was huge in our favour. Today, they are far above us, in the same proportion. Greeks have a high Gross Domestic Product. This means that Greeks produce more than 50 million of us, including the countries I mentioned: Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania, Romania, Moldavia, and Bulgaria, on an annual level. All of us together, have lower production than Greece whose population is nine million. That is the outcome of their decision to adjust to the world trend, at a certain point, thinking: let us be the part of the world, instead of being against it, we do not necessarily have to merge with it. They have clearly defined their national interest: if they are to put veto on Turkey, they will put it and their veto as the European Union member would prevent its admission to EU. Such model is the only one we must opt for. There are no permanent friendships and no secret animosities in international politics. There are some constellations in which certain forces are found on the opposite sides, and in such situations, it is always wiser to assess the risk and if the risk is too high, it is better to avoid such situations. We were not in the position to make such estimates in Belgrade, simply because at the time, the decision taking was left to persons who were unable to understand what was going on worldwide. They saw the fall of the Berlin wall as an incident to be followed by erection of a twice as high Wall in the nineties. According to them, in 1989 it was pulled down by mistake, but as soon as in 1992, 1993 or 1994, it will be as good as the Chinese Wall. Of course, that was stupid. It was clear that the whole world trend was heading that way and that socialist system in terms of economy and ideology had been defeated, that it had fallen apart and that the future should be sought elsewhere. And so it was us who paid the price. It would be a great mistake to pay double. We did pay once, and we will pay the second time if we are to deal with the same issue all over again, and mark the future with Kosovo defeat. We were defeated once and throughout entire history, we have been creating the myth. Of course, we may present it as our victory. But it was a defeat and if you make your defeat a victory, then you are practically celebrating your defeat. Instead of saying: that is what happened, let us analyse why, we were not united, we did not understand the situation, this and that happened. Let us do something to correct it and be on the winning side next time. I really believe that is possible. But for that, you need to hold certain position: in order to be the player following the rules of the global game, you have to meet some of the minimum requirements to be accepted as the player. If you constantly violate the rules, saying: this I do not want, I want only what appeals to me, they will send you out of the game and say: sit on the bench over there, and play according your rules now. A balance should be found between obeying the rules and surely, overstepping such rules to a certain extent, so that the referee doesn’t notice, or different combinations leading the way to scoring and finally, winning the game.

In my opinion, we, as the people, have problems with our leaders being too egocentric and self-centred. They think that everything exists only to serve them. In the West, the development of democratic societies made sure that the leader is only perceived as the civil servant of the people and the nation, and he/she may keep the position only if he/she leads the way to progress to the extent to which he/she gives the plan that is capable of leading the nation to success. Mistakes are possible. But as soon as the leader decides to place own interests above the interests of the nation, saying: I may have become a problem, but I am not going anywhere, because people do support me – he/she will lose credibility. Let me also add something on the issue which is rather painful for us: why is the Balkan politics so much more connected to mythology than in this classical Central Europe. Because we have had problems with national countries. We were practically the people who lived in foreign states. We had Austro-Hungarian and Turkish empires, and within such empires – states we had certain positions, but we did not have our own state. Thus, the collective identity used to be expressed through ethnical identity, since it could not be expressed through political institutions, which could not even exist, at the time. Since there had been a collective identity, it was expressed through language, culture and faith, since those were the only attributes identifying communities. There were no states, but only the community. If you asked someone who was the best expert for language, culture, faith – writers, poets, orthodox priests – whether they are the best representatives of a modern identity, the answer would be: not exactly. Why? Because they are inclined towards exaggeration, exclusiveness, poetry, myths, because that is their job. And if you should analyze our politics for the past one-two hundred years, you will realize that there has been more preaching than political programs. Indeed, the former had been presented as political programs. But if you read it, and see that most of the offered are unreliable information, different stories from the past, different symbols, anything that may just as well be positive in terms of general political culture, but actually is bad in terms of an operative politics that requires a clear plan, strategy, confidential plan that may be analysed, then it is not good. One should form a team and say: please make several scenarios based on what may happen, if we want to. There are quite few political manifestos, Serbian ones, relying on such modern concept of politics, but there are a number of those based on the combination of poetry and religious preaching, due to which we were not very successful. To hold heated speeches and address people with emotions is one thing, while planning a serious state politics is another.

If you look at France, England, Germany, Austria, you will see a higher degree of “nationalism” than the one encountered here. But over there, it is not recognized as nationalism. It is patriotism. What Americans did in Vietnam was not nationalism. It was patriotism based on wrong assumptions, which ended up by saying: that was a mistake. What I mean to say is that our handicap is partially reflected in our expressing the national interest in a wrong way, by primarily linking it to ethnical groups, ethnical difference and one static position that brought to certain failures, as such approach is not appropriate in modern societies. This does not mean that we should now reject our national interest and say: the alternative is internationalism, let the world do whatever they like, we will follow. No. We have to redefine the way we express our collective identity similarly to what was done by the nations who were successful in defending their national interest. All those countries that I mentioned quite clearly define their own national interests and they keep defending them without being accused of nationalism. It is not quite hypocrisy to say: they do exactly what we do as well, only they are more powerful and say that it is not nationalism. No. There is really a difference in forming their collective identity. I find that we should depart from such type of nationalism, as the only ethnical biasness and constant insisting on traditional symbols and values, without concurrently losing the national interest that we may define as patriotism. But it is not only the members of Government but also all the other citizens living within one formation, such as Republika Srpska, such as Serbia, Yugoslavia, Serbia and Montenegro, who may very easily express whatever is essential for the development of their country, in terms of patriotism. The effectiveness should remain and they should avoid being criticised of something primitive, archaic and of not being able to communicate at the global level as nationalism, as message, as ideology is not communicative. One cannot proceed with it, other than those countries where there are religious confrontations and similar emotions - they understand what we are talking about, - but this is not the field we should fight on. I am only referring to global relationships, as the game in which we have to follow the rules, just like anyone else does to a certain extent. Of course, if we may achieve some of our goals using other mechanisms, as others do, we should do it too. But only so far as we do not break the basic rules. In general, everyone is trying to avoid rules as much as they can, but in average, you will realize that the global rules are complied with. That is a kind of world’s traffic where limitations of speed are being violated, people cut in, but all these are only exceptions to the rule and we must generally obey international rules, which is good for us because thus we remain in the world traffic. On the short-term basis, some moves made this way or another that do not completely follow some rules can be tolerated, if it is in our interest.

Difference between ethics and morality is quite essential, because what is beneficial for one people through a public discussion – is the ethics. Morality is the matter of intention that I say something is good. I believe that it is good, and I will do it because my motivation is right. The fact that in the end it will be a disaster, is not my fault, I did it for good reasons. I despise that. I think that it is the excuse of the weaker. I am not interested in intentions. I am interested in consequences. Any one has good intentions, which I believe is the matter of decency. I do not discuss others’ intentions. I assume that anyone has good intentions. But it is so trivial, that I am not interested in that. I am interested in what comes next .If no positive consequence comes out I am not interested in good intentions. If it does, I am also not interested in having someone explain the motivation. In public life I am interested in consequences that are good for the community in which the public life is exercised. If you have permanently bad consequences, I find it irrelevant whether something was motivated by divine justice, or some other justice based on good intentions, because in the end, the community that is supposed to succeed eventually perishes. Nothing can be carried out without technology. Intentions too, which have no tools to be applied, are nothing but nice wishes. And of course, instruments without ethics may be disastrous because - Auschwitz was the perfection of technologies, but only to execute the mean project.

Therefore, a community has to constantly discuss what is good for it and seek for instruments in the politics to carry that out. Provided that particular discussion on values and objectives is inevitable for each human community. And never will the politics become technology, because there will always be the question of its purpose. If it does not serve people in that community, than it is nothing but the alienated power which people need to destroy. And of course, they will destroy it, because why should they give their lives to have someone else carry out own goals at their cost. I think that there has been a small irregularity in 20th century, given that during the process of introducing technologies a feeling was created that the human community is similar to an enterprise or some of the economic categories, viewed through benefits and costs. The human community will always be dealing with a component of values, morality. Something important to someone. I believe that a component of justice will always remain in the human community. Human community cannot exist without a component of justice, because it is in human nature to seek for a success, given that the main attribute of a person, unlike the animals, is to experience satisfaction, be famous, get a chance to use own potentials – that too, is a form of justice. The community that does not provide for that cannot be successful, since people usually boycott such community and are not willing to participate in increasing its power and wealth. As soon as the question of justice is raised, given that different individuals believe that they deserve to have different things, you already have to introduce the issue of democracy, which means the opportunity to discuss it in public and set priorities for the society. Since not all the requests of individuals can be met, the question has been raised about what is better for the society: to construct the highway or provide loans to farmers, whether this or that should be given? Since the funds are limited, and everyone wants something, a democratic structure should be established where social potentials will be invested, and such democratic structure should take decisions accordingly. That is also an exciting job that practically represents the basic attribute of human societies, discussions on what the justice is an attempt to have each generation define their way to achieve justice.