Oleg Orlov: 'In defence of patriotism'

posted 19 Apr 2015, 20:54 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 20 Apr 2015, 22:09 ]
13 April 2015

By Oleg Orlov, member of the board of the Memorial Human Rights Center 

Source: HRO.org (info)
In the Sakharov Centre there was a discussion about the lecture by Sergei Adamovich Kovalev, “Notes on Patriotism”.

Comments on the text of the lecture by Sergei Kovalev were made by political analyst Tatyana Vorozheikina, professor Vladimir Lukin from the Higher School of Economics, human rights defender and president of the American Sakharov Foundation, Aleksei Semenov, member of the political committee of Yabloko, Viktor Sheinis and myself.

Here is the text of my speech.

In defence of patriotism

Sergi Adamovich, it is difficult for me to argue against you. It is difficult because from my point of view your lecture is brilliant. It is also difficult because we are both in agreement over a wide range of questions. Finally it is difficult because for me you always were, and remain, the Teacher. But, nevertheless, I shall try.

To begin with – this is what I agree with.

It would be strange if I did not agree with the fact that questions about international integration in our world today are the most important set of problems demanding solutions. These problems have been raised by many thinkers, including Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov. Globalisation of the economy, globalisation of ecological problems, possession of weapons of mass destruction – all this makes integration a question of the survival of humankind.

I agree that patriotism is a notion drenched with emotions and concerned not in the slightest with legal nuances. I agree with the fact that political speculations flourish abundantly on patriotism.

Thanks to the overflow of conflicting emotions it is difficult at times to discuss the issue of patriotism peacefully and with mutual respect.

I also agree with the fact that patriotism, i.e. “love for one’s country, the homeland” is an irrational feeling and clearly has its roots in biology: defence of one’s tribe and territory is innate behaviour. It is a feeling inherited by man from his pre-human ancestors. Moreover, this also goes for the more general notion - “love”.

What I cannot agree with is the idea that patriotism in the world today is a basic characteristic, that is a characteristic inherited by us from our ancestors, but whose meaning has been lost in the process of evolution.

In my opinion patriotism in today’s world plays a significant role. This role is by no means negative: on the contrary, patriotism now helps fight totalitarianism, protects human societies, prevents whole countries from hopelessly sinking into darkness.

I shall try and give a few examples.

Sergei Adamovich, in presenting your system of conclusions and arguments, you put forward a distinct and unambiguous opposition between “egotistical patriotism” and “the beneficial unity of mankind”

That said, I am certain that in speaking about the unity of mankind, you are automatically thinking of a project of integration based on the principles of modern democracy and meticulous observation of human rights.

Once again I agree: it is basically that real-world process, that vector of movement, following which humankind will be able to survive.

The first stages of this process of integration led to the creation of the UN. This process has manifested itself more consistently in the work of a wide variety of international mechanisms designed to protect human rights.

Moreover, even the UN and the mechanisms of the conventions acting within its parameters, come laden with a handicap resulting from their “birth trauma”.

The problem is that these institutions and mechanisms have been created by governments the absolute majority of which do not want to give up even one iota of their own sovereignty. In short, these institutions and mechanisms are either very weak or act on the principle of deals made among governments.

A more effective process of integration based on the principles of democracy and human rights exists in Europe. Our country was included in it in to some degree, but unfortunately was never seriously prepared to participate in it.

Nonetheless, this vector of movement was marked out.

In the system of coordinates built in this way, your evaluations would be true: “There is a single beaten track for an integration process, but the egotistical interests of governments stand in its way, also including those governments that we call ‘Western’.

The egotistical interests of political and economic elites hinder integration. But these elites very often speculate on the notion of patriotism for the sake of their own interests.”

But as it appears to me, the real picture is significantly more complicated. The integration model, at the basis of which lie the principles of democracy and human rights, is by no means the only one in the world today. There were and are other integration models and even new ones can emerge.

It was only quite recently that the communist integration project disappeared into the past. This was a project in the name of which, although, of course, utopian, many millions of lives were sacrificed.

At the end of the last century, after the collapse of the communist integration project, it seemed to many that humanity had achieved the end point of the socio-cultural evolution of mankind.

It seemed that a long period of ideological confrontation, global revolutions and wars had come to an end.

Francis Fukuyama even declared, in a book of the same title, “The End of History”. If this assertion were true, then it would be possible to say that egotistical patriotism stands in the path of establishing human society as a single unity.

Then and only then would it be possible to pose the question: “Has patriotism now ceased to be a basic characteristic?”

And yet, at the same time, just at the end of the last century, an alternative integration project started to appear even more powerfully: the project of totalitarian fundamental radical Islam.

Supporters of this project view the idea of patriotism with no less hostility than other “integrators” – like the communists in the early years of their project of unification.

The radical Islamist project similarly lays claim to universality, just as the communist and democratic projects. Its final goal is to envelop the entire globe and reconstruct the life of all humanity. This project cannot be underestimated. It manifests itself in many different way.

The visible, threatening appearance of this integration project is the so-called Islamic State in the area of the Middle East which is spreading its influence into ever more regions, also including Russia’s North Caucasus.

But this is just one of the faces of the Islamic integration project. It is clear that in this form the project is unacceptable for the majority of the Muslim world. However, the radical Islamic project will in any case hold huge attractive power for millions of people, just as the communist project years ago was compelling. And if today Islamists are killed in Syria, Iraq, Libya, their cause will re-emerge all the same in another region in one way or another.

We see that, instead of the ‘end of history’, the ‘war of civilizations’ has come to the world.

It is hardly going to be possible to put an end to the radical Islamic project by military force alone. Personally, I would suggest that only a powerful reformist, intellectual impulse, coming from the Islamic world itself, would be able to put a final end to this project. I am certain that this will come about, sooner or later. 

But until that time, it will be necessary to somehow withstand this evil, and evil that is continuing to advance. Withstand, including by means of force. 

External intervention will hardly be able to play a decisive role in this. We can hardly hope for success without the active resistance of those people who themselves live in these countries where this new totalitarianism is trying to put down roots. 

And here we must never undervalue the role to be played by this far from 'rudimentary' feeling of patriotism.

For example, the explosion of patriotism that seized Jordan after the terrible pictures of the execution of the captured Jordanian pilot were published.

Another example is the patriotism of residents of the Kurdish regions of Iraq who, at the expense of great loss of life, halted the advance of radical Islamic radicals.

People do not want to give their fatherland up to the fanatics.  They do not want to change their usual way of life. They do not want to reject those sacred objects that their ancestors worshipped. They do not want people who have come from afar to order their lives. People unite against the invading strangers.

It is possible that this, as you say, is 'primitive patriotism'. But this is far from a rudimentary attribute, since it has not lost its significance for the survival of large communities of people, for saving them from disappearance from the face of the earth.

And here it is necessary to remember another epoch and the role of other patriotisms - of Lithuanian, Polish, Ukrainian, and so on - in the struggle against Soviet totalitarianism in the 20th century.

As we see as well, in the 21st century this role of patriotism in combating totalitarianism has not been exhausted.

Now I shall try to show the meaning  of patriotism in the modern world from one other side. Typically, many think  that for most people freedom is itself perceived as a good.

And that in conditions of free choice a person will typically choose the path to greater freedom. Alas, this statement does not correspond with reality. 

Evidence for this can be seen in the Arab Spring, and in the most recent developments in Russian society.

People, brought up in different cultures, different historical traditions, as a result make different choices. And the choice made can be far from being in favour of freedom and equality of rights. On the contrary, it can be in favour of stability and a hierarchical society.

The feeling that one is a participant in a great force, even if as a mere speck of dust, can turn out to be more valued by people than the possibility of freely choosing one's path in life.

I do not mean to assert that certain cultures or countries innately have a particular attitude to freedom and human rights.

I think that in this respect gradual evolution of views is possible, or even sharp changes as a result of the accumulation of internal mutations against the background conditions favourable for these changes.

I am convinced that, in the final account, societies that have chosen to move in the direction of freedom will win.  

But, unfortunately, the history of our country time and again, in one century after another, goes round in a circle. Short breakthroughs towards freedom and social self-government give way to significantly longer periods of slavery and arbitrary government.

And now the majority of the people of my country prefer, above freedom and the realization of their own rights, something else: 'Crimea is Ours', 'Russia getting up off her knees', 'Back to the glory of the empire'. People call this patriotism, and I have no grounds to doubt this. 

If a majority of my fellow citizens think like that, so be it. It's their patriotism. The authorities not only use, but cultivate these moods. A cycle of positive feedback arises: the authorities by their manipulation of public opinion secure the hysterical support for their mad actions.

But, once having obtained that reaction, the authorities are obliged to act in accordance with it, and can no longer stop. Hysteria increases. The system loses its stability.  

The country one more time takes the path to unfreedom.

What should the minority, that does not like these developments, do in these conditions? 

If we follow your assertion, Sergei Adamovich, that patriotism is a rudimentary attribute, and put in the first place the feeling of belonging to humankind, what then will serve to keep me in this country? 

In that case it would be better that I honestly served humankind in another place. In a place that I choose with the help of rational judgements. If, of course, they will accept me there.

But after all people who put the well-being of humankind, and not their country, in first place also live there. They will try to help all those who want to go there to do so - without taking into account the interests of their own country. And they will help me, among others.  

And that is what happens. People, including those for whom freedom and the right of choice are values, leave those countries where freedom is suppressed .

I do not have the least desire to condemn these people. It is their right, all the more so since some of them are force to leave.  

But what will happen if this process is brought to its logical conclusion? The result will be the further terrible polarization of the world. 

In those countries where freedom is suppressed, none of those who value freedom and are ready to struggle for it will remain. There the gloom will only grow yet darker, and without any hope of the very possibility of change: there will be no one to support those shoots of the new that will, despite everything, always appear in society and culture. Any positive 'mutations' will die. As a result, the evolution of such a society in the direction of freedom will be simply impossible. 

What would be left for us in Russia, in the event of such a course of events, to hope for?

Should we hope for external intervention that would bring democracy and human rights to our country from beyond its borders? I do not believe in the slightest that such a hypothetical intervention would have positive results. It is impossible to implant democracy and human rights in our country from without.

My country needs pressure to be put on it from outside, but only the citizens of Russia themselves can change the country from within. 

But what will happen if everyone who is ready to change something leaves?

Fortunately, there is the absolutely irrational feeling of patriotism.

What, other than patriotism, could force people to remain and try to fight 'for the success of our hopeless cause' - both in Russia and in other countries of the same kind? No logical thinking would do the trick. Only an irrational feeling.  

In speaking of patriotism of this kind, I have in mind the patriotism described by Lermontov, whom you yourself cited in your lecture. He says of  Russia: '...country of slaves, country of lords. / And you, dressed in blue uniforms, / And you, a people obedient to them.'  

While at the same time: 'But I love - for what, I don't know myself - The cold silence of her steppes, / Her forests' boundless motion, / The flooding of her rivers, wide as seas./ [...] And on the holiday, in the dewy evening, / I'm ready to watch until midnight / The dance, the stamping and the whistling/ To the drunken chatter of the peasants.' 

This is the love of the fatherland, and not love of 'your excellency'. An absolutely irrational feeling. But it's our only hope. 

Source: Ekho Moskvy

Translated by Frances Robson