Tradition and Future: National Identity in a Changing World

Talking about tradition, national identity, patriotism is both easy and difficult.

It is easy – because everyone gradually got used to the speeches on this topic. For someone, it comes from the heart, for someone – from late Soviet patriotic literature, for someone – from the pre-revolutionary tradition. But we are accustomed to the fact that a speaker, talking about the importance of patriotism, raising patriotic feelings, is doomed to success. Surely, many people are waiting for the same speech from me, since, starting from the word Artek, it is easy to build the reasoning logic about patriotism and fill it with examples of patriotic behaviour of our pupils.

It is difficult – because all this talk is not about that. And there are quite a few barriers that are quite obvious.

The first is the presence of a large number of strong and decent people who prefer to be as far as possible from this topic. Someone thinks that patriotism is not needed at all, someone does not want to “get dirty”, doing this together with really opportunistic persons. Such a barrier exists, and it makes no sense to ignore it.

The second barrier is historical tradition. Of course, it’s not Tolstoy who said that “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”, but the British poet Samuel Johnson. But let’s be frank, neither Tolstoy nor Saltykov-Schedrin spoke anything good about patriotism. Yes, the experience of dead patriotic scholasticism in the late USSR remains also in memory of many persons. Moreover, in modern society (and in very different circles), there is and periodically spills out a request for national self-deprecation, a sense of the secondary nature of one’s own country. For example, each of us was surely an eyewitness to such conversations among Russian tourists abroad — and not necessarily among the capital’s intellectuals.

The third barrier is the abundance of overused clichés. 

For example, there is nothing more strange than the phrase of “fostering patriotism among young people”. Patriotism is love of country, emotion, feeling, and raising it is as meaningless as the feeling of love for a woman or a sense of humor. It is possible to cultivate, strengthen, value, but “educating” is absurd

These comments are important to me, and it makes no sense to start a conversation about patriotism, tradition, without making these reservations. After all, our experience in Artek is not the experience of compulsory “baptism” into patriots. This is daily joint work of teachers and pupils. When the dead formulations are instantly ridiculed, and the living ones will find a response and development.

Therefore, I will talk about how we agreed with the pupils of Artek on understanding of patriotism.

First, it is the feeling of non-secondary nature of one’s own country. Someone considers it the best in the world, someone – does not. But in general, today’s young people, having discovered the diversity of the world for themselves, often fluent in several languages, are ready to make a more conscious choice in favour of Russia than their predecessors. This choice is not from hopelessness, but from the perception of Russia as a value. It is not by chance that the phenomenon of students returning to Russia after studying abroad is becoming more and more common today.

Second, it is the understanding that belonging to a strong and large culture, civilization is a powerful competitive advantage. There is a phrase: “Before the Lord everyone is equal, but all are special.” And this “feature” is an additional resource of a person, which is drawn in the family, education, hobby, and national culture. The more such resources, the stronger your prospects are.

Third, it is the understanding that national identity is needed, first of all to a citizen, and not to the state. 

My personal awareness of the importance of patriotism reflected understanding of it as a civil need. It is not the state that imposes love for itself, but the citizen who receives additional support from being in a community

If a person does not feel being in this community, a large community, this means weakness for him. Skills, knowledge and other “soft” features only work when they are imposed on the emotional background. Those who did not have a social circle or did not feel its values, have much lower chances of winning a competition with those who had such a community. A comparison with soldiers is appropriate: those who did not feel incorporated into a unit during the exercises will always lose to those who have such experience.

Furthermore, starting from such understanding, we can already ask ourselves more specific questions. Should we transform the love for the homeland into technology and, if so, whose experience should we take more actively? How should we treat national egoism – as an annoying misunderstanding or a natural state, characteristic of many different nations? Can patriotism provide additional energy to the personal development of young people? What is the role of the family and how to help parents find the right words and the right behaviour algorithms in important situations of life? How to avoid falsehood and observe our main principle – to build honest relationships with children?

I do not want to absolutize the experience accumulated by Artek, but I must say: we do have this experience. We will be happy to see the forum participants among the guests of our camp and hope that such synergy will help regard patriotism not as reincarnation of Soviet approaches to love for the motherland, but as a powerful wave, fed by today’s youth energy. This energy gives us reason to hope and count on gaining competitive advantages in a changing world.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.