How can nationalism be a positive thing

Football and national awareness

"Patriotism can be abused"

Studies have shown that at major sporting events, nationalism increases while patriotism decreases. Cicero Online spoke to the social psychologist Ulrich Wagner about the danger of national symbolism, a healthy sense of home, the national anthem and a peaceful Europe

Mr. Wagner, are you a patriot?

No.

Why not?

There are good arguments for identifying with one's own country. It is essential for social coexistence, for a country to function at all. Too strong identification with one's own country, however, harbors the risk that those who do not belong to it will be marginalized.

Is that a thing that applies above all to us Germans because of our past? No generation after the Third Reich can claim to have a relaxed relationship with the German fatherland.

That has more to do with psychology. It is no different in other countries. The fact that we have a National Socialist past only makes the problem even more difficult. Empirical studies show that patriotism and nationalism always go hand in hand with the danger of delimiting others - especially nationalism. There is the question of whether patriotism is more of a good form of identification. But even then I would be careful. There is a very simple mechanism behind this: If I identify myself very strongly with a group - it can be a football club, an organization, a company or even my own country - it means that I attach part of my identity to this group. And since most of us strive to develop positive self-esteem, this leads to an attempt to enhance my group - at the expense of others.

But we are all citizens of the world, we live in different countries on different continents. We distinguish ourselves from one another solely through the difference in our language or our appearance. Do we not have to do this a little bit in order to distinguish ourselves as individuals or is the trend directed towards us gradually abandoning this awareness in the course of globalization?

There is a risk with national identifications because we mainly define ourselves through national affiliation. For example, being Greek plays a big role at the moment. To be a Turk too, because of the debate about Turkey's annexation to the European Union. But you are right: in the last 40 or 50 years we have seen a very significant change because today as Germans we identify strongly with Europe and that has a very satisfying consequence. In the 1960s and 1970s, from the perspective of the Germans, the typical immigrant was the Italian. Prejudice and discrimination in this direction have practically disappeared because today we identify more with a European community.

But aren't we also observing an opposing trend in the course of the euro crisis? Euro critics and nationalist populists in particular are striving for less Europe and are trying to strengthen the individual countries again.

That's a very tough question for a scientist. I don't know of any data that would confirm that. Of course, especially with regard to Greece's indebtedness, I am told that there is such a thing as hostility towards Germans in Greece, because the Greeks have the impression that we are now finally turning off the tap. But I cannot say whether that will lead to a return to national identities. At least I fear that this will open the field for the populists.

Johannes Rau once said: “A patriot is someone who loves his country. A nationalist is someone who despises each other's homelands. ”Can these two concepts really be empirically separated? Or are they rather two sides of the same coin?

Nationalism thrives on comparison with other nations. It is strongly influenced by identifying with one's own nation and at the same time being more positive towards other, foreign nations.

Does that mean that nationalism automatically goes hand in hand with the devaluation of others?

You have to say it that way. The debate about patriotism comes from political science and sociology. The idea behind it is as follows: It should actually be possible to identify with your own country in a way that does not make others worse. Patriotism is therefore not so strongly associated with this demarcation component, but with pride in achievements in one's own country, for example with pride in democratic development - and that is a positive finding. Research also shows that nationalism does indeed correlate with xenophobia. The more nationalistic someone is, the more xenophobic they are. With patriotism, it tends to be the other way round. But: if the patriot has a preference for democratic development, there is also an identification component here. And it's dangerous. That can be abused.

What is dangerous about it?

I don't have to identify with my country to appreciate democratic values. I could just as easily say: I am a democrat. In the case of the patriot, society-building components should be in the foreground. And they don't stop at any national border.

Well. But, on the other hand, don't we also need a healthy sense of home for a lively European identity? According to the principle, if I know myself, I can open myself up to other nations or cultures better. Let us take German values ​​and virtues: Don't they have to be cultivated in some way because they contribute to a very unique, perhaps also societal, understanding of “foreign” virtues?

First of all: A democratic social development is not connected to national borders. At the same time, however, we also know - especially from migration research - that it is important for some people to focus on their ethnicity. It is quite natural for migrants to cling to what they call home for some time to come. That has to do with finding an identity and here we are again very close to national identification. We just have to be careful with it. Sometimes you need to focus on your own story, including its negative aspects. But - and here I am addressing politicians - I get a stomachache when this form of identity creation is so hyped in connection with major sporting events. If someone wears a black, red and gold wig at the public viewing, it does not mean that they will end up leaving the stadium as a nationalist. But constantly charging national symbolism from the political side can be problematic.

Is this event patriotism even patriotism? Or is it simply the shared fun experience that counts here?

The fun component is clearly in the foreground. But that has happened before - after all, there have been soccer world or European championships not just since the 21st century. But in the past these sporting events weren't so much linked to national affiliation. I don't want to be a grouch, but - and here I am leaving my psychological discipline and judging from a political science perspective - the ongoing public initiation of such identification events carries a certain risk. At the 2006 World Cup, it was always assumed that the “world is visiting friends”, that an open form of encounter is happening here and that this will stir up a new, better form of patriotism. But our data speaks a different language: at that time there was a slight increase in nationalism and a decrease in patriotism.

In this context, what do you think of the action of the Green Youth with their “patriotism? No, thank you! ”- stickers? Aren't these just a couple of brakes on fun where your own narrow-mindedness comes through?

I would prefer a public discussion. Basically, they treat the debate on exactly the same level: if patriotism comes along with flags and wigs, the Green Youth responds with the same slogans in the form of stickers.

What do you think of the proposal to make the national anthem compulsory in German schools?

The question is whether we are dealing here with educational goods. The subject of the national anthem, including the first two stanzas, belongs in a German, history-conscious lesson. But that doesn't mean you have to sing the song, especially not mandatory.

Finally, let's take a look over the chain-link fence: Germany actually has a very good reputation abroad. We are hardworking and honest ... Can you psychologically assess whether our European neighbors would fear a new, patriotic Germany?

I have to be very strict with myself again: I have no information about public opinion in other countries about Germany. What I do observe, however, is that different images of Germany are being played with. And at will. Depending on whether the German foreign policy fits the respective country or not, one or the other facet is unpacked and instrumentalized accordingly. Sometimes we are cosmopolitan and the EU's driving force, sometimes the image of German greed, Merkel's savings didact and how this exacerbates the crisis still prevails. This perception always depends on political developments, on further debates, especially in connection with the euro crisis.

Mr. Wagner, thank you very much for the interview!

The interview was conducted by Sarah Maria Decker

Ulrich Wagner is Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Marburg and researches the explanation, reduction and prevention of conflicts between groups, in particular xenophobia, discrimination and violence


Out: Cicero. Online magazine for political culture, national identity. On the Internet: http://www.cicero.de/berliner- Republik/patriotismus-laesst-sich-missbrauchen/51201 (May 27, 2014)

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