Nations becoming something more: European perspective

Sitting in Lähetyskirkko in Helsinki, an old church with a very contemporary and welcoming feel, I was  drawn to the stained-glass window with the map of the world. Enframed within the ornate design, it looked beautiful but small and somehow fragile. Just like those amazing images from the outer space which make me think about “the whole world in His hands”.

The world and the continents may seem monolithic but not so once we zoom in and the borders of the nations come into our focus. As I was looking at Europe, my mind was playing one of those interactive maps which show how the borders of the European nations have shifted through the millennia, centuries, decades and years. With so much… too much blood spilled fighting over these lands and the borders. And Latvia, this small corner on the Baltic Sea, has suffered under many powerful and shifting winds of history.

Here I was in Helsinki, participating in a State of Europe Forum (SOEF) which focused on the current European challenges and also opportunities for creative solutions. Christian leaders from many different backgrounds – arts, church, government, politics, science, academia, business, education, environmental work, etc. – came together with an agenda to explore difficult and important issues. The SOEF framed these topics within the premise of “the largely Christian origins of the European movement, and of ongoing Christian responsibility towards the shaping of Europe’s future”. The underlying question – “why do such roots matter for the future?”

One of the sessions focused on the current trends of rising nationalism and populism in democratic nations. What concerns me the most, though, is when religion, specifically, Christianity gets weaponized to legitimize obviously authoritarian, undemocratic and simply unjust ideas and actions. For example, the infamous Crimean speech in 2014 which the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, gave on the occasion of annexation and “unification” of Crimea with Russia. “Everything in Crimea speaks of our shared history and pride. This is the location of ancient Khersones, where Prince Vladimir was baptised. His spiritual feat of adopting Orthodoxy predetermined the overall basis of the culture, civilisation and human values that unite the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.”

Russia is an obvious and easy target to highlight these trends but unfortunately it is not the only example. It comes much closer. I could name various similar ideas in the West  – in Brexit debates, elections in the U.S.A., memory and identity politics, migration policies and foreign policies in other Western countries. Therefore in any public discussion that focuses on Christianity’s influence in the history of European nations, we, Christians, have to take a very hard and long look into the mirror and examine our own reflection. Why do we allow for our faith to be weaponized in such ugly ways?

Recently I heard some statements which I really liked. These were stated during Riga Conference 2019 panel discussion on ” New powers – shaping regions or shaping history?” by Simon Serfaty, a professor of political science at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, USA. He was discussing the weaknesses in authoritarian systems and how the “new” and “renewed” influential nations, for example, China, Russia and Turkey “live their future in the past tense” with revisionist approach. S. Serfaty described the project of European Union as “a matter of necessity, not a matter of choice” and asked the audience “how, when and whether this necessity is gone?”

S. Serfaty concluded: “The liberal hegemonic order did not force its participants to become somebody or something else; it forced its participants to become somebody or something more.” This statement immediately reminded of my personal experience growing up in the Soviet Union and now living in the European Union. I thought to myself: “Exactly! Soviet Union tried to shape us into something else against our own will but European Union gives so many nations a chance to try to become something more.”

More than simply nations focused on their own nationalistic interests with attitude ” God bless us (and no place else)!”  In the current global situation it would be extremely difficult to defend the so-called fundamental EU values – respect for human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, rule of law, equality and peace –  outside such an unprecedented platform of “Unity in Diversity”.

Our renewed attraction to “greatness”

One leader has promised to make “Russia Great Again”, one businessman has vowed to make “America Great Again” and others in Europe and elsewhere are declaring the same. Then there are those of us who have never been so “great” and just want to keep our countries the way they are. Or keep our countries… period.

These days we talk a lot about nationalism, populism and all kinds of other “-isms”. I am not an expert in anthropology, sociology or political science. I write this blog simply as a person who expresses my own views. This time I write as a citizen of European nation and also as a Christian who wants to engage other Christians in a deeper conversation and reflection about these issues.

Honestly, I think we will soon have to nominate Adolf Hitler as the Time Magazine ‘Person of the Year’. It does not matter if in Europe, America, Asia or Africa – someone gets compared to him. I think Hitler would be very proud that he has such a monopoly on the ugly side of nationalism (I say it sarcastically). Calling people the modern day version of ‘Hitler’ or using the words ‘Nazi’ and “fascist” has become the norm.

Sometimes it makes me want to explode. For two main reasons. Firstly, much of the time people don’t even know what they are talking about. Nationalism and racist ‘national socialism’ of Hitler’s Germany is not one and the same. And I don’t like when people get insulted and demonized. Also, you have to understand what ‘fascism’ is as a form of governance and ideology to use the term properly (I don’t even understand it fully).

Secondly, by putting all this emphasis on Hitler we avoid talking about many other historical figures or national and community leaders (including our own) who were excessively nationalistic. It is easy to point all our fingers at Hitler and scratch our heads trying to understand how could Germans follow him. I scratch my head and think how could any of us follow such leaders and such ideas.But we have and we do and we will if we are not careful and self-critical.

I agree with Rosemary Caudwell (UK), a lawyer specialising in EU law, including three years in the European Commission in Brussels, and her definition of unhealthy nationalism. “We live our lives in the context of a particular nation or region, and it is natural to have a sense of belonging to that nation, and a desire that it should flourish. When that attachment is linked with a sense of cultural superiority, with hostility to those outside the particular national group, whether they are minorities within the nation or neighbouring countries, or even a lack of solidarity or compassion, then it is excessive nationalism.”

Let’s highlight the words ‘cultural superiority’, ‘hostility’ and ‘lack of solidarity or compassion’. Most of us have an immediate negative reaction and if we believe in an absolute moral truth, we will agree that these ideas are simply wrong and bad. Still, if we are honest and humble enough, we will admit that often we live it out or are dangerously close to living them out.

Do you want to know what kind of “greatness” bothers me the most? The kind that says “Everything good comes from us and everything bad comes from them.” The kind that says “They will respect us again which means they will be afraid of us again.” The kind that says “We are more special than others. We have a special destiny.” The kind that says “If you don’t agree with us, you are against us.” The kind that says “We don’t care what others think about us. We don’t care if they don’t like us.”

As a Christian, I believe that anything that promotes a sense of superiority, hostility and lack of compassion or solidarity, is not “great”. It is the exact opposite!

There are never ending debates about how these kind of ideas become popular. Is it the leaders who influence the people and tell them what to think? Is it the people who influence the leaders and tell them what to say? Is it the media who get used and manipulated by one or the other or both? To me it is like debating which come first – the chicken or the egg.

I think that these ideas are always around. They are always hovering in the shadows. It is a part of our human brokenness and we are all prone to it. But they will not take root and bear any fruit if there is no fertile ground. These beliefs and attitudes are always looking for a fertile ground and people who will cultivate it.

We need to take a hard look at our communities and nations. Where is the fertile ground for this excessive kind of nationalism. Then ask the difficult questions – why is it so fertile? I hear many explanations – people are so angry; people feel so victimized and powerless; familiar life is changing too fast; this or that nation feels disrespected and humiliated; nations feel threatened… the list of reasons goes on.

I cannot help but think of the time in history when Jesus explained the principles of God’s Kingdom to people who had all these things. If anybody could feel angry, victimized, powerless, humiliated and threatened, it was the nation of Israel. And in the end Jesus was rejected by its leaders because he challenged their sense of “cultural superiority, hostility and lack of compassion.

The book of John records this revealing conversation. “What are we accomplishing?” the religious and civil leaders asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” So, they decided that Jesus was the biggest threat to their national security and also his way was not the way to restoring their “greatness” or the “greatness” of their nation.

So, what are we trying to accomplish? I hope that we don’t become fertile ground for idolatrous ideas which God so strongly opposes. I hope that we want our nations to be more humble and self-critical, more friendly and more compassionate. I hope that we want our communities and nations to flourish but never at the expense of someone else.

IMG_1128

Discussing these questions with a group of students from Myanmar

Viens vadonis sola, ka padarīs Krieviju “atkal varenu”. Viens biznesmenis sola, ka padarīs Ameriku “atkal varenu”. Politiķi un vadītāji Eiropā un cituviet dod līdzīgus solījumus saviem vēlētājiem. Kaut kur pa vidu ir pārējie, kas nekad nav bijuši “vareni”, un grib vienkārši savas valstis tādas, kādas tās ir. Vai arī vienkārši grib savas valstis.

Šodien mēs daudz diskutējam par tādām tēmām kā nacionālisms, populisms un visādi citi “-ismi”. Neesmu eksperte ne antropoloģijā, ne socioloģijā, ne politikas zinātnē. Blogā paužu savas personīgās domas un uzskatus, un šajā reizē rakstu kā vienas Eiropas valsts pilsone, un kā kristiete, kura grib iesaistīt šajā diskusijā un pārdomās arī citus kristiešus Latvijā un ārpus tās.

Teikšu godīgi. Man liekas, ka drīz būs jāpiešķir žurnāla “Time” Gada Cilvēka nosaukums Ādolfam Hitleram. Kur vien griezies, kāds tiek ar viņu salīdzināts gan Eiropā, gan Amerikā, gan Āzijā, gan Āfrikā. Pats Hitlers drošvien ļoti lepotos, ka viņam tāds monopols uz nacionālisma ļaunāko izpausmi (atvainojos par sarkasmu). Kur tik netiek atrasti mūsdienu “Hitleri”, un apzīmēti “nacisti” vai “fašisti”.

Reizēm liekas, es tūlīt zaudēšu savaldību. Divu iemeslu dēļ. Pirmkārt, vairākumā gadījumu cilvēki nesaprot, ko paši runā. Nacionālisms un ‘nacionālais sociālisms’, ko praktizēja Vācija Hitlera vadībā, nav viens un tas pats. Turklāt man nepatīk, ka cilvēki tiek tādā veidā demonizēti. (Neciešu karikatūras ar ūsiņām.) Manuprāt, daudziem nav arī zināšanu un izpratnes, kāda ideoloģija un valsts pārvaldes forma ir ‘fašisms’ (es pati to izprotu diezgan pavirši).

Otrkārt, veltot visu uzmanību Hitleram, mēs izvairāmies no sarunām un pārdomām par daudziem citiem tautu vadītājiem, varoņiem, politiķiem, kustību vadītājiem (arī savējiem), kuri praktizēja pārmērīgu nacionālismu un rasismu. Ir viegli norādīt uz Hitleru kā kaut kādu etalonu, un tad mēģināt saprast, kā izglītotie un civilizētie un kristietībā sakņotie vācieši varēja viņam sekot. Taču es mēģinu saprast, kā jebkurš no mums spēj sekot šādiem vadoņiem un šādām idejām. Bet mēs esam sekojuši, un sekojam, un sekosim, ja nebūsim paškritiski.

Es gribu citēt Rozmariju Kadvelu no Lielbritānijas, ES likumdošanas eksperti ar pieredzi darbā Eiropas Komisijā Briselē. Man patīk viņas definīcija nacionālisma negatīvajām izpausmēm. “Mēs visi dzīvojam kādas konkrētas nācijas vai reģiona kontekstā, un tas ir dabiski, ka jūtamies piederīgi savai nācijai, un vēlamies, lai tā plauktu. Taču, ja šī piederība tiek saistīta ar sajūtu, ka tava kultūra ir pārāka, ar naidīgumu pret tiem, kas nepieder tavai nācijai, vienalga vai tās ir mazākumtautības valsts iekšienē vai kaimiņvalstis, vai arī trūkst solidaritātes un līdzcietības, tad ir izveidojies pārlieku liels nacionālisms.”

Iezīmēšu vārdus “kultūras pārākuma sajūta… naidīgums… līdzcietības trūkums.” Lielākajai daļai ir skaidrs, ka tās ir negatīvas lietas. Turklāt, ja mēs ticam absolūtai morāles patiesībai, tad šīs attieksmes un izpausmes ir vienkārši sliktas. Diemžēl mums jābūt godīgiem un atklātiem un jāatzīst, ka pārāk bieži dzīvojam ar šādu attieksmi, vai arī esam tai bīstami tuvu.

Ziniet, kāda “varenība” man nav pieņemama? Tāda, kas saka “Viss labais nāk no mums, un viss sliktais nāk no viņiem.” Tāda, kas saka “Viņi mūs atkal cienīs, jo atkal no mums baidīsies.” Tāda, kas saka “Mēs esam īpaši. Mums ir savs īpašais liktenis.” Tāda, kas saka “Ja tu mums nepiekrīti, tu esi nostājies pret mums.” Tāda, kas saka “Mums vienalga, ko citi par mums domā.”

Mans kristietes uzskats ir, ka jebkura ideja, kas veicina sava pārākuma sajūtu, naidīgumu un līdzcietības trūkumu, nav “varena”. Tieši pretēji!

Nebeidzas debates par iemesliem, kāpēc šīs idejas kļūst atkal populāras. Vai vainīgi ir vadītāji un politiķi, kuri ietekmē tautu, un saka, kas tai jādomā? Vai vainīga ir tauta, kas ietekmē vadītājus un saka, kas tiem jārunā? Vai vainīgi ir masu mediji, kas cenšas izpatikt gan vieniem, gan otriem? Man tas atgādina prātošanu par to, kas radās pirmais – vista vai ola.

Manuprāt, šīs idejas vienmēr pastāv. Tās var paiet malā, bet kaut kur ēnā un tumsā lidināsies. Tā ir cilvēces salauztības sastāvdaļa, un mums visiem var būt uz to nosliece. Bet šīs negatīvās nacionālisma idejas neiesakņosies un nenesīs augļus, ja nebūs auglīgas augsnes. Šādi uzskati vienmēr meklēs auglīgu zemi, un cilvēkus, kuri to kultivēs.

Mums jābūt ļoti paškritiskiem. Kur ir auglīgā augsne šīm idejām manā tautā, manā valstī? Un jāuzdod vēl viens svarīgs jautājums – kāpēc šī augsne ir auglīga? Kāpēc cilvēku sirdis un prāti to visu tik labprāt pieņem? Ir daudz un dažādi skaidrojumi. Cilvēki ir novesti dusmu stāvoklī; cilvēki jūtas kā bezspēcīgi upuri; viss ierastais un pazīstamais tik strauji mainās; tautām liekas, ka citas tautas tās neciena un pazemo; tautām ir bail… tie ir tikai daži no iemesliem.

Man prātā nāk Jēzus dzīves laiks un viņa laikabiedri. Jēzus skaidroja Dieva Valstības principus cilvēkiem, kuriem bija visi no šiem iemesliem. Ja kāds varēja teikt, ka jūtas dusmīgs, bezspēcīgs, pazemots, apdraudēts, tad tā bija Izraēla tauta. Taču tautas vadītāji noraidīja un ienīda Jēzu, jo viņš izaicināja viņu “pārākuma sajūtu, naidīgumu un līdzcietības trūkumu.”

Jāņa grāmatā ir pierakstīta vienreizēja saruna. “Ko mēs ar to visu panāksim?”, sprieda tautas vadītāji. “Šis cilvēks rāda tik daudz zīmes. Ja mēs ļausim viņam tā turpināt, tad visi sāks viņam ticēt, un tad nāks romieši un atņems gan mūsu templi, gan mūsu nāciju.” Tā viņi nolēma, ka Jēzus ir vislielākais drauds nācijas drošībai, un viņa piedāvātais ceļš galīgi neatbilst viņu priekšstatiem par “varenību”.

Ko mēs ar to visu panāksim? Es ceru, ka mēs nekļūsim par auglīgu augsni idejām, kas Dievam nav pieņemamas. Idejas, kas nāciju vai ko citu dara par elku. Es ceru, ka mūsu tautas kļūs arvien pazemīgākas un paškritiskākas, arvien draudzīgākas un arvien līdzcietīgākas. Es ceru, ka mūsu saviedrība plauks un zels, bet nekad uz kāda cita rēķina.