Naked patriotism

Montenegro will continue to exist, to the extent that its citizens stay committed to two principles: that the country remains sovereign from external interests and pressures, and that its citizens remain sovereign from political pressures by oligarchic structures. Three years ago I wrote here about a profession that does not officially exist in Montenegro but is nevertheless inordinately popular. That profession is patriot.

How does the love for one’s country become a profession? Who chooses it as a profession? Is this good or bad for Montenegro? Do we have a scale on which to measure the extent of patriotic commitment?

Patriotism is an intimate feeling, which is seriously compromised by shouting, looking for internal and external enemies, blowing antagonisms out of proportion, nationalist fuelling of fantasies… The fragility of patriotism is precisely what opens up a wide space for manipulation with lies, and that, in turn, is the strongest pillar of the ruling political circles in Montenegro. The goal is simple: to channel the discussion away from the real problems for which the professional patriots have no solution!

Worse, patriotism here gets defined as loyalty to the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), and it is based on a laconic division into those who are “fort the state” and those “against the state”. In the long run, this can only be bad for the state itself, because the state cannot, and must not be personified by a single party, let alone an individual-leader.

Patriotic emotions can be useful in instrumental or motivational manner to mobilize the citizens for a particular action. However, genuine patriotic sentiment means that the citizens live up to their civic duties on a daily basis: from regularly throwing the garbage where it belongs to reminding others who neglect the social norms and regulations and voting against those with an unpatriotic track record in the office. On the other hand, insisting on patriotic identification, measured by the loyalty to a single party, limits the citizens’ ability to hold them accountable for bad policies, to maintain a healthy distance from party officials, institutions, and other actors, and to make decisions of public interest.

Ever since the referendum, DPS is surviving on this ridiculous thesis, trying to keep us in the past, in the dark from which we will be unable to see, let alone protest about the endemic corruption, connections between organised crime and political decision-makers, abuse of public institutions and resources for the benefit of a single party, political control of the judiciary, impunity of crimes… and the basis of all this is the same false, circus-like, pub-worthy, passé patriotism.

Circus-patriotism must be stubbornly countered by civic patriotism, whose subjects are the citizens, their freedom and their rights. All the indoctrination notwithstanding, it is possible, and even desirable, to love my country and to be able to recognised its flaws, to look for the ways to overcome these flaws in order to make the country better and more beautiful. We must keep rejecting with indignation the insistence that all those who oppose DPS must be traitors, must be ashamed of themselves, because the biggest enemy of the state is precisely the party which undermines its legal system, making the citizens unequal before the law.

I know that some DPS supporters, who have long been fed on this circus-patriotism, have suffered tremendously because of the recent publications of transcripts, recordings and other proofs that lay bare the bestiality of the ruling elite. From the angle that identifies DPS and its survival with the survival of the state of Montenegro, all those who white about these affairs and call for the perpetrators to be punished become enemies who deserve to be taught a severe lesson. The supporters of circus-patriotism do not realise that only processes of truth and responsibility are making a society and a state sustainable and worthy of its citizens.

For decades, it has been a common knowledge in the Montenegrin public that Miroslav Ivanišević, from the position of the Minister of Finance and deputy Prime Minister, had been part of many shady business transactions, such as off-shore establishments, cigarette trade, dubious privatisations, and the rise of Montenegrin tycoons, including himself… There were many investigations and plenty of evidence questioning the credibility of his office. The epilogue: Ivanišević was appointed to head the

Senate of State Audit Institution. He was rewarded by one of the most prominent new positions in the country, and all the evidence against him was rejected as an attempt to undermine the state of Montenegro by slandering the life and deeds of its officials and their best friends. Defensive patriotic rhetoric apparently melted away in the intimate atmosphere of the cabinet. The patriotism is naked, much like in that old cult film by Živko Nikolić “In the name of the people”, aka “The road to Kinshasa”.

In the end, we are choosing between a society of free citizens and a society of so-called “post-officers”, whether they are dependent petty employees or blackmailed officials. Freedom has to appear first in our heads, before it spreads through the social channels, weakening the tycoon constructions in favour of a democratic and accountable government.

And Montenegro will continue to exist, to the extent that its citizens stay committed to two principles: that the country remains sovereign from external interests and pressures, and that its citizens remain sovereign from political pressures by oligarchic structures.

Daliborka Uljarević, Executive director of the Centre for Civic Education (CCE)

Published in Vijesti, 02. 04. 2013.