A German, European, globalist, Jurek Wille is very much at home in the present but still extremely conscious of the past and the implications of pushing patriotism too far. He has learned much from understanding his country’s past.
Where are you from and where do you now live?
Jurek Wille: I grew up in Berlin, Germany. Besides that, I lived for short times on Martha´s Vineyard in the US, in Southern Germany and now in Reims.
Define patriotism as opposed to nationalism
Nationalism is the escalation of patriotism. While the latter implies a certain pride in belonging to a certain social, political, or historical community, the former does so in a very excluding manner, oftentimes by basing their identity on ethnicity.
Nationalism believes in a natural order of societies and the unattainability of membership through other means than birth. I strongly oppose this.
How is patriotism approached in your country?
Understandably, patriotism remains a sensitive issue. I noticed that many Germans reject any form of patriotism for fear of association with National Socialism. Our pride usually ends with our cars or our beer. When I see a German flag flying on a private property, I sometimes catch myself thinking that a Nazi must live there, while it is a totally normal sight in other countries.
This is not only a pity, but also dangerous because the Far-Right has claimed the prerogative of interpretation when it comes to German identity and our flag.
Despite this, Germany´s values go fundamentally contrary to their convictions, as we stand for tolerance, inclusion, peace, and democracy. And I, as I believe most Germans are, am convinced that anyone can be German if they truly believe in these values and commit to them, no matter their origin, skin color, or religion.
We have… become a peaceful leader of the free world
In the end, it would make me very happy to see us reconquer patriotism, interpretational sovereignty, and our flag. This would also take a lot of wind out of the populists’ sails.
Are you a patriot of your country?
Certainly! My father grew up in the GDR, my grandparents during the Third Reich, they never experienced freedom until their retirement. Many people around the world are in similar situations. People tend to forget that, so yes, I am a patriot. We have overcome our past and become a peaceful leader of the Free World and Europe, which probably nobody would have expected at that time. I am proud of that.
I am especially proud of my East German heritage. East German identities and accomplishments are often neglected in public debate and the formation of our “German identity”. It is still very West German centered, and I believe that fuels the populist movements in the East.
But I would also describe myself as a European patriot – one is unimaginable for me without the other. Germany belongs to the EU and the EU belongs to Germany. I believe that this is the case for many people of my age who, like me, see themselves as Europeans, Germans and in my case also as Berliners.
However, I want to point out that being a patriot does not mean blind allegiance, on the contrary, as a patriot it is important to continuously reevaluate our leaders´ performances and holding them accountable if need be. For example, I believe that the inhumane treatment of refugees, literally letting them die at our borders, is the most unpatriotic act we could commit.
How can patriotism be beneficial today?
On the one hand, individuals and societies can gain strength through the unity of patriotism that otherwise would have been inferior to individual interests. Thus, groups can act self-less and I like the idea of everyone contributing to the greater good.
Patriotism can also be a source of bravery to engage the change and sacrifice personal gain for it.
On the other hand, patriotism can become very dangerous when it evolves into nationalism. We must make sure that we never think of a society to be exclusive.
To what sources do you attribute collective pride?
As I said before, I believe patriotism can root in different sources, be it a shared history, cultural or political identity. I just hope that ethnicity ceases to be used as such a common denominator.
Every country has its flaws, but patriotism does not need to be an additional evil. On the contrary, it can serve people as a source of strength and altruism so badly needed to better our countries.
A true patriot acts in the interest of the weakest members of society. You know, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link and by working selflessly together, we can uplift everyone. Without love for my fellow citizens, why would I bother to go the extra mile?
Does patriotism have a place in today’s world?
It depends. For some people, patriotism will be obsolete, others will find comfort in it. Honestly, the European Union would probably not exist if it wasn´t for patriotism.
Personally, I take great strength from my identity as German and European. It guides me in who I want to become, where I want to go. But I always remain open-minded and curious.
I hope to be able to add pride in being a member of a possible global society in the near future.
About the Article
A personal look at patriotism compared to nationalism in Germany.