14 May 2015

Other people's patriotism

Peace doves, Catherine Park, Victory Day 2015
I'm wearing a St. George's ribbon, Victory Day 2010
Greeting Elektrostal's veterans, Victory Day 2010
Catherine Park, Victory Day 2015
Catherine Park, Victory Day 2015
On May 9, our Friends meeting couldn't use its normal meeting place because of the Victory Day holiday, so we met in a theater near the Dostoevsky museum. Afterwards, we walked to the nearby Catherine Park. Since this was a major anniversary of the Nazi capitulation -- 70 years -- we saw patriotic messages and symbols all around us. A military band played. Souvenir stands were doing a booming business in badges, t-shirts, pilot caps, and flags; practically everyone already had an orange and black St. George's ribbon.

You may have seen coverage of this year's Victory Day celebrations in Russia, particularly in Moscow's Red Square. You're less likely to have seen pictures of peace doves, such as the ones (above) I saw at Catherine Park. The peace doves don't tell quite the same story to nervous Western viewers as those ranks of soldiers and their tanks and planes. (However, the doves do link back to the politicized peace movement of the Soviet Union during the Cold War.) Nor do the pictures of children feeding ducks or playing in the water quite fit the cold-war-revival stereotypes.

Most of the time, I feel right at home here in Elektrostal. Obviously, in any new country, some things just take some getting used to. (We've just been through three days of scheduled hot-water shutdown. There'll be two more weeks of the same in July. And why don't the government offices that demand forms from you make those forms easily available, along with clear instructions?)

These days of heightened patriotism are another matter. For pacifists like me, the unquestioned linkage between nationalism and militarism is troubling. Stalin's negatives are going down and positives are going up in pollsters' statistics, although over half the country still has major doubts about him. More than that, it is clear that, particularly in light of today's international tensions, dissenting views on history, and particularly the details on Russia's participation in all the phases of World War II, are not always welcome.

But here's the thing: shouldn't one's own native patriotism be looked at just as critically? Aren't Americans generally inclined not to question the link between patriotism and the armed forces? Are we as critical about the massacres and forced displacements of our own history as we expect others to be about theirs? As for World War II, are Americans generally aware that over half of ALL deaths in World War II, worldwide, were deaths of Soviet citizens? And that 80% of Germany's casualties were on the Eastern Front?

At its best, patriotism is a positive quality, providing an emotional investment in learning the best qualities of one's own country and seeking to preserve and extend those qualities. Here in Russia, I tend to worry more about students who don't seem to have any patriotism at all than about students who are "too" patriotic. And, again, maybe all countries have their share of super-patriots who prefer to see the world in terms of us-and-them rather than thinking about how to bless the global community. We have our messianic Americans, and Russians have their own equivalents, each seeing the outside world as threatening sabotage and contamination. But, parades and politicians aside, Russia on May 9 looked a lot more like the USA on July 4 than you'd guess from news clips.

For Christians, there's another dimension to all this noise about patriotism -- despite the efforts of some politicians to exploit faith for their own political ends. God is the one who can "bring the mighty down from their thrones"; countless empires have come and gone while God's people have endured, and we have no biblical warrant to believe our present-day systems are immortal. Countries and their armies and hierarchies are our own elaborate human versions of animal territoriality, and only our conceit keeps us from realizing how little separates us from the rest of the zoo. The one advantage we might have is that we creatures can come to know the Creator and thereby begin to live by Gospel order, forsaking the butcher's bench of empire for a chance to build our lives with God at the center. But as soon as we start thinking that this makes us better than those other benighted people who wear ribbons and march in parades ... we've slipped right back into the old imperial mentality.

Related:


An extraordinary ordinary story for Russia's Victory Day: The story of a long life.

A case study on politicians talking about faith: Jed Bush's eloquent defense of Christianity, according to Kathleen Parker. How do you think Bush did?

Ravi Zacharias on worship and emotion (a video): "What you win them with is what you win them to."

Religious conservatives, "nones" and interfaith dialogue: "Too often, interfaith programs fail to attract broad participation and have little social impact. One major reason for this is that they tend to take place in an echo chamber of religious progressives."

Music's crisis, and how to fix it: "If you want to use music, you've got to pay for it."

Friday PS, the sad news via the Guardian: BB King dies in Las Vegas aged 89.



Video from the Tedeschi Trucks Band:




2 comments:

Linda said...

Beautiful photos.

Johan Maurer said...

Thank you, Linda. Judy took the 2010 photos.