Andrew Henderson

Andrew Henderson

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The cost of patriotism: examples of nationalism in Europe

Dateline: Skopje, Macedonia

Skopje’s city center is half Caesar’s Palace, half Turkish bazaar.

The country, which declared independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, has been undergoing an ambitious campaign called “Skopje 2014”, in which giant monuments have been erected all throughout the cobblestone streets of the city center.

These monuments, which include statues, fountains, and other works of art, spring forth from the ground in a somewhat haphazard way. It’s as if some city planner just started walking around pointing, “build something over there”.

These statues and fountains are huge. One fountain, which features larger-than-life bears and ancient warriors, has a mist effect that rivals what you’d see in front of any casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

Skopje 2014 was designed to clean up the city and inspire national pride. It was also designed to If you ask the Greeks, they’ll say it’s a big middle finger.

For many Greeks, Macedonia shouldn’t even be called Macedonia. The country – referred to in Greece and elsewhere by its former official title, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) – takes its name from the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon and the surrounding Greek and Slavic regions.

The two nations still argue over who can lay claim to legends like Alexander the Great.

Walking around Skopje, it doesn’t take long to figure that out. Almost every pedestrian bridge has dozens of statues of ancient figures, from warriors to scholars. Macedonians are proud of their heritage.

In some ways, this nationalism can be a good thing. Many of the Macedonians I’ve spoken to are well aware of the opportunities around them. They aren’t sitting in their country with their hands over their ears, refusing to consider better opportunities elsewhere.

Of course, it took a sense of nationalism for Macedonia and other Balkan countries to declare their independence from the former Yugoslavia and demand to be their own nation. Nationalism in this region, as in so many regions, is dictated largely by ethnicity and religion. Muslims, Orthodox, and Catholics in the Balkans wanted their own states.

In my mind, more nations means more freedom. Smaller countries are good. I’m in favor of seeing once communist regimes like Yugoslavia broken up into the seven countries it is now.

However, as we know, nationalism is overall a very bad thing. Macedonians and countless others have paid a heavy price for what they have today. Europe is littered with tragic results from examples of nationalism led by politicians brainwashing their people the same way politicians around the world brainwash their own citizens today.

While there are distinctions between nationalism and the patriotism many US persons claim to foster, patriotism is supposed to be rooted in peace – something a country that has spent the vast majority of its existence fighting some kind of war can hardly claim.

We recently discussed what I call “the Paris Hilton Effect”: the idea that a country, once rich enough, becomes lazy, imperious, and provincial.

Unlike people here in the Balkans who are seeking out the best opportunities available in their local economies, US persons and others in the western world have taken the nationalism beat into them by their government as an excuse to be close-minded to opportunities for wealth and freedom.

Last week on Memorial Day, I spoke to an old friend of mine in The Land of the Free who hasn’t totally gotten on board with the concepts we talk about here. He has tried, but never gets that far.

Throughout our conversation, my friend continually referred to the United States as “my country”, saying that he had recently unfriended people on Facebook for “speaking negatively” about the United States.

One of these unfriended individuals was an immigrant who moved to the US from Asia, having bought into the typical propaganda that it is a land of total freedom and prosperity where anything is possible.

After several years of constantly being harassed by the police and even having a traffic cop proposition her for a date to get out of a ticket, this friend started making plans to leave said Land of the Free – and posted about it on Facebook.

My friend spoke so emotionally about the fact that someone would dare question what happens in “his country”. It really bothered him.

And that’s exactly the problem with what is going on in countries like the United States today. So many people have been so brainwashed to accept anything and everything that has an “American” label slapped on it that they become jingoistic.

Take a look at many of the self-proclaimed “patriots” today. They are really nationalists in that they want their government to solve problems regarding things such as immigration. Many of them are members of groups like the Tea Party or the Republican Party.

These are the people complaining about laws like Obamacare depriving US persons of economic freedom and personal liberty. They complain about the government making them register their guns, and many rightfully believe the government will one day outright take their guns.

These “patriots” complain about all of the things the government does, then promptly go out and pay homage to a flag that represents – what else – the very government they despise.

They claim that doing so means they love their country, not their government. But the two are really one in the same. I’ve been reminded of this traveling through Europe outside of the borderless Schengen Area.

When I arrived in Serbia, I was subject to passport controls. Then again in Macedonia. When I leave for Kosovo on Sunday, I’ll be subject to more passport controls. Each of the places that requires me to submit to their “papers, please” routine proudly waves their own flag.

Yet, throughout history, people just like you and I have passed through their “national borders” unchecked. The only thing that has changed is some new government proclaimed itself in charge of a new set of arbitrary lines.

Nationalism, the way it is presented in countries like the United States, hinders the free markets and personal liberties US conservatives claim they want.

While I may not be fond of some of the selfish tactics used by some immigrant groups, what conservatives call “illegal immigration” is really the ultimate free market for labor. Forcing certain people with the wrong “papers” to stay outside of a set of arbitrary lines – set by the government you hate – is the antithesis of a free market.

It’s nothing short of unilateral crony capitalism.

In a world of sovereign nations run by criminal governments, I’ll take smaller countries over larger countries every day. The size of the United States and the government’s ability to steal money from 300 million people is the reason the government has been so successful in squelching personal freedoms around the world.

However, if you believe that government is either ineffective and bad (or both), you must admit that nationalism – the love of one’s country – is no different than love of one’s government. It is worship of the State at its finest.

There is a difference between saying, “we’re proud to have Italian heritage, live in New York, and have large Sunday dinners” and saying “now that I’m a US person, I should use a local mafia to enact my whims on others”.

If you speak emotionally about “my country”, chances are you are missing better opportunities elsewhere. I don’t see a lot of died in the wool “patriots” investing in overseas real estate. They’d rather “keep their money in the country” and “build American jobs” as if they have some civic obligation to do so.

Meanwhile, these “patriots” miss out on ways to not only make more money, but to live in places that offer more freedom or a better quality of life.

If my options are to barely scrape by in Los Angeles or to thrive in Chile, Singapore, or even Macedonia, I’ll take the ladder any day. I don’t owe it to my government to be poor.

So ask yourself: are you overly attached to the stripe in the sand that separates your country from another?

Are you missing out on places to create, protect, or grow your wealth because you’re afraid every bank on the other side of that stripe will steal your money? Or that only people who have the same passport as you do are trustworthy?

It can be hard to break free and realize that the world is largely the same and that, with nearly two hundred sovereign nations, chances are “yours” isn’t the best.

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