For many, patriotism is a way to express pride and love for their home country, and nothing more. It’s something that when dealt with correctly, can unify small communities and whole countries. But as Poland’s Independence Day on Saturday showed, there is a very fine line between pride and prejudice. It’s not that all patriots are racist or xenophobic, but in recent times it has begun to seem like any form of patriotism can pose a threat given that it is part of a larger ideology that, as proven in Poland, is a danger to so many minorities in white-dominated countries.
Saturday’s Independence Day in Poland saw a 60,000-person strong protest of far-right activists calling for a “white Europe”, as they marched through the country’s capital. Protesters threw smoke-bombs and carried slogans such as “refugees get out”, “pure Poland”, and perhaps most horrifyingly, “pray for Islamic Holocaust.” An anti-fascist counter-protest was organized in an attempt to combat the hatred but was much smaller in size, and several women participating were physically abused by the far-right extremists. Now, a question is posed: is this the new face of patriotism, or simply another display by extremely conservative Nationalists?
In fact, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the terms ‘patriotism’ and ‘nationalism’ are synonymous. Moreover, another synonym listed is ‘xenophobia’. Admittedly, this does seem like quite a leap. The former is supposedly a love for one’s homeland while the latter promotes hate and intolerance. But as it turns out, not so much. Non-prejudiced patriots are still inadvertently supporting those who tell second or third-generation immigrants to go back to their own country, boycott a supermarket for including Muslims in their adverts, or, even worse, attack people in the street for the color of their skin or country of origin. For example, patriots voted ‘leave’ in the EU Referendum last year and Britain has since seen the “highest spike in religious and racial hate crimes ever recorded” in the 11 months following the decision. Coincidence?
The fact is that when far-right extremists see patriotism, they see support for their own ideologies and believe it validates their hate – just take the millions of Trump supporters that are allowing bigotry to prevail in contemporary America. Patriotic sentiments can be dangerous when they get into the wrong hands, especially since it’s such a seemingly harmless concept, the reality can be overlooked. But the reality is that minority groups in Europe, specifically Muslims, Jews, and immigrants, are suffering as a result, at the hands of the people whose views on patriotism are validated.
If your patriotism doesn’t include and celebrate immigrants, refugees, and people of all religions, it isn’t welcome in my country.