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Opinion And Observations: Patriotism In USA vs Belarus

*Patriotism or national pride is the feeling of love, devotion and sense of attachment to a homeland and alliance with other citizens who share the same sentiment. This article reflects the observations of Valery Kavaleuski, the author of Belarus Security Blog, about American and Belarusian version of patriotism he made during his studies in the United States.

The level of patriotism in the U.S. is at a very high level even despite a slight decline in indicators. According to a survey by the Gallup Paul agency, the level of patriotism in the U.S. in 2013 was 85%, down from 92% in 2002.

At the same time, patriotism in the U.S. is not something monolithic and monosyllabic, it has different components. The basis of patriotism in the U.S. is constitutional rights and freedoms.

Americans believe that exercising their rights is very patriotic.

This allows one to openly criticize the government, seek policy changes, and mobilize other citizens to solve common problems. Perhaps there is no country where society exposes the government to such harsh and impartial criticism as in the U.S.

The first amendment to the Constitution, adopted in 1791, doesn’t allow the adoption of laws that may restrict the rights of freedom of speech, press, assembly, religion.

Comparing the public reaction in the U.S. and the UK to the Edward Snowden scandal, Professor Kevin O’Connell noted the differences in attitudes to the government.

In Europe, the actions of the authorities are perceived with certain credibility, while the attitude of Americans is always suspicious because the U.S. as a country was founded by rebels.

Comment: In Belarus, the state interest dominates the rights of the individual. The state systematically violates the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution. Those who defend their rights are accused of lack of patriotic behavior.

State symbols

State symbols in the U.S. is a striking element of patriotism. The national flag is the most recognizable symbol. One can find a huge number of flags in any form and place, including the private property of Americans.

Each state has its own flag and residents often hang them next to the national flag. Congressmen and senators display their state’s flag in their offices next to the U.S. flag, emphasizing their commitment to the interests of their constituents.

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The U.S. national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner” was written in honor of the American flag during the siege of Fort McHenry by the British in 1812. It is traditionally performed during important public and sports events.

It is often performed live, reinforcing the solemnity of the moment. Most Americans know the words of the national anthem and sing along with it.

Comment: unlike the official flag and anthem of Belarus, it is safe to say that in the U. S. the flag and anthem belong not only to the state but to all people of America.

Born and raised patriotic

From early childhood, Americans receive an important educational setting about the social advancement of the individual.

Everyone can become whomever he wants, anyone can be a president.

It is clear that, as a matter of fact, only few have such an opportunity. Nonetheless, such an attitude helps to shape a sense of belonging to the fate of the country, responsibility for what is happening at the local and national level, and a desire to participate in public initiatives.

Comment: In Belarus, “become what I want” ambitions can bring more trouble than success. The system pushes away talented and energetic people, it doesn’t allow them to realize their abilities and ambitions, breaks them down or makes them look for opportunities abroad.

Patriotic education in the U.S. begins early. From the first year of school studies, before the start of classes, students daily recite the Oath of allegiance to the flag.

The oath sounds brief and concise: “I swear allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and the Republic, which he symbolizes, of one Nation under God, indivisible, with freedom and justice for all.”

The practice is not ubiquitous. In some states, the Oath is not recited at all or recited once a month, in some schools, only students of the primary school swear the oath.

The central ideas of patriotism in the U.S. schools are the principles of freedom, equality and justice. The qualities of a patriot’s character are courage, responsibility, gratitude to the founders and self-sacrifice in the name of the common good.

Comment: patriotism in Belarus is built around a state ideology that is contradictory, inconsistent and unconvincing. It leaves more questions than answers to where Belarusians came from, where they stand and where they go.

Patriotism as an obstacle

The academic field in the Unite States seeks to be free not only from systemic patriotic education as part of the educational process, but also from mentioning patriotism altogether.

In this case, patriotism is seen as an obstacle to a critical approach to assessing foreign and domestic policy issues, including the current president and all branches of government.

During the two years of study in the foreign policy program, I have never had to find references to patriotism from either students or teachers.

On the contrary, there was often harsh criticism of the most complex issues: the invasion of Iraq, the Guantanamo prison, the use of drones, and others.

Comment: it’s hard to imagine how this approach can be implemented in Belarusian universities. It is obvious that our students are in most cases limited in their ability to apply a critical approach when discussing what is happening in Belarus and abroad.

Military

An important institution for the manifestation and development of patriotism in the U. S. is the Armed Forces. After the terrorist attacks on 11 September, 2001, there was a significant surge of patriotism in the country, the flow of people willing to join the Armed Forces increased significantly.

Attitude to the military in the U.S. is extremely respectful. Each politician in his election speeche necessarily mentions the interests of “men and women in uniform” who protect the country and its national interests.

Americans don’t transfer critical assessments of the country’s leadership to the military, for example, regarding the decision to invade Iraq.

The U.S. military receive considerable support after leaving the service. One of the most valuable are benefits for paying higher education. Therefore, one can often meet veterans, most of them fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, among the students.

Several of my fellow students, including girls, served in the Armed Forces: the army, military police, military intelligence, special forces, and the Navy. One of them voluntarily appealed to the army hiring office on the day of her 18th birthday, and after that she served in the army for eight years, Iraq included.

Every November, American universities pay tribute to such students. High-ranking military, military orchestra, a solemn ceremony of raising the flag and honoring all types of troops.

Comment: the Belarusian military is hardly noticeable in the country’s social and political discourse. The relatively stable image of the Armed Forces of Belarus correlates little with the low prestige of military service.

Voting

Voting at elections is also considered a manifestation of patriotism, when citizens have the opportunity to influence the choice of a state and state leaders. However, the participation of Americans is not characterized by high activity.

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In the 2012 presidential election, the number of voters who voted was 54.87%. For comparison, in 2008, when Barack Obama was elected for the first term, 63% of voters voted, which was the highest figure since 1960.

Comment: By inertia, voting in Belarus remains a civic duty, but there is little doubt that neither the election results, nor the state policy, nor the change of persons depend on its implementation.

The president

A living symbol of the state and a source of patriotism is the president of the U.S.

Americans are proud of their presidents, even when they have something to be criticized for. Presidents, as well as their activities before, during and after the presidency are carefully studied.

For Americans, it is important to see the human side of their presidents, or, as one of my interlocutors put it, it is important to humanize them.

Due to the fact there is a time limit for one person to be a president, new names and new biographies appear.

Comment: because of the complete opacity of the person and the life of the first and only president, Belarusians still have no opportunity to really know who has run the country for over twenty years.

No ethnic, national, or linguistic background

Patriotism in the U. S. has no ethnic, national, or linguistic background. Representatives of all nationalities live there and Americans appreciate the possibility of contact with other cultures.

In educational institutions, where many foreigners study, international days and weeks are held, during which anyone can demonstrate their national costumes and talk about their cultural traditions.

The healthy patriotism of other nations commands respect from Americans.

Comment: It is easier, in a sense, to be a Belarusian in the U.S. than in Belarus. The Belarusian language in a multicultural environment is perceived with interest and doesn’t cause a wary reaction of the Russified Belarusians and the police.

Conclusion

Studying the practice of strengthening patriotism in the United States gives some answers to the question of why the level and content of patriotism in Belarus continues to fall. Despite propaganda, Belarusians don’t feel involved in the political process and decisions.

Authorities and a ordinary person has nothing in common, there is a two-dimensional face on the TV screen and the name of the president, but there is no human content. The policies of the president, the discussion of alternatives, the decision-making process and their logic are becoming less and less understandable.


Belarusians are less likely to share their decisions and increasingly recognize their nature imposed by the state.

Activities in favor of public interests  – the sphere that in the U. S. allows to regulate relations between the state and the individual – in Belarus is still perceived as an exotic occupation, which often creates inconvenience for the authorities, but doesn’t bring real benefits.

State symbols seem unnatural and imposed, their use is straining and insincere. The denial of the system of critical approach leads to the fact that the individual in Belarus doesn’t feel the relevance of his ideas for improving the system itself and the conditions of life.

Everything has already been decided, and any attempt to offer an alternative is a challenge to the system. The lack of conditions for fair competition undermines confidence in the possibility of self-realization in Belarus, pushing young people out of the country and depriving the public of the influx of fresh ideas and people.

The experience of strengthening patriotism in the U.S. and in other countries cannot be automatically transferred to Belarus. However, one should not ignore the depressing level of patriotism in our country.

The need to revise approaches to patriotic education becomes especially acute in the context of aggressive Russian propaganda and the weakening of Belarus as a sovereign independent state.


Text by Valery KavaleuskiThe views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial staff.

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