If you love your country, don’t be a patriot. Patriotism smothered the revolutionary rush in Brazil and sent the giant back to sleep a few weeks ago – and the UK saw the same happen 10 years ago.
For two weeks, Brazil featured in the world news as the country of grassroots revolution. The protests that started off as a mere show off against a R$0.20 (ca. 5p) rise in the São Paulo transport fare soon acquired unforeseen dimensions. People in every corner of Brazil (and even expatriates in every continent) took to the streets to release their pent-up frustrations and demonstrate against poor healthcare, education, security, corruption and the extravagant costs of the World Cup. I joined the London demonstrations then (click here).
The government and FIFA became nervous, and it seemed that change was inevitable. The world watched in awe and admiration, European newspapers and Internet commentators expressed their support. Many pundits explicitly wished that the same happened in their countries.
Then came the Brazilian victory over Spain in the final of the Confederations Cup. Suddenly the nation forgot the streets, embraced the Brazilian flag and celebrated the three goals scored with vigorous chants in front of television instead (bar the extremely wealthy and lucky who could afford a ticket to see the match live). Suddenly the few demonstrators outside Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro seemed foolish and redundant. The passionate pleas and demands on Facebook and other social networking sites disappeared almost instantly. The “the giant woke up” signs were quickly replaced with “go for it Neymar”.
Demonstrations have not died out completely. A few small ones remain scattered across the country (such as the creative protesters outside Beatriz Barata’s wedding), but reporting is largely confined to social networking sites and hardly features on the national and international news. The promises that president Dilma made in response to the protests are being gradually rejected in the Brazilian Senate, and people are watching this happen from the comfort of their sofas and chairs. Football has a somniferous impact on Brazilians.
Sep Blatter, the president of FIFA, must be jubilant. He can now swiftly proceed with his racist and homophobic battlewagon, which moves around every four years delivering corruption and social inequalities to every corner of the planet.
Brazil once again became the country of football and carnival, and nothing more.
A similar phenomenon happened exactly 10 years ago in the UK, in an event entirely unrelated to Brazil. On February 15th 2003 The British Stop the War Coalition held the largest political demonstration in the history of London. The BBC estimated that around a million attended under the slogan “No war on Iraq”. The vast majority of the UK’s population rejected the war, polls at the time revealed. I also had the privilege of taking part in these events.
Less than five weeks later the United States and the United Kingdom invaded Iraq under the false premise of finding weapons of mass destruction. Suddenly public opinion polls shifted and the majority of the country now supported the war. People felt that it was their duty to “stand by the troops” and “support our boys”. The twisted rationale mandated unequivocal backing of the soldiers once they were on foreign ground – even if what they were doing is dirty, illegal and immoral.
Brazil and the UK are two very different countries. The UK has a history based upon belligerence and imperialism, while Brazil has a reputation for football and carnival. What they have in common is that both governments have resorted to patriotism when they wanted to calm down and manipulate their population at a time of civil unrest.
Military affairs and football are very different in nature, but they also have many similarities. They are both normally performed by young males. Both are also largely publicised, powerful and lucrative industries. They stir hearts and emotions, and have a very strong grip on the masses.
Both president Dilma and former prime-minister Tony Blair aroused patriotic feelings in the masses in a timely and efficient manner. They gently placed the rebels who were trying to change the course of history of their countries in the backseat. Tony Blair urged people “not to forget our soldiers”, while Dilma said that her government would have “Felipão standards” (the Brazilian football coach). So forget change and love our young boys instead. Kicking a ball or shooting a gun, they are still our boys!
Patriotism killed the protests in both Brazil and the UK. It prevented them from reaching revolutionary dimensions, it silenced the valiant and the brave.
The patriotic rhetoric is so powerful that one is often traduced as a betrayer and defector if they don’t abide. This has often happened to me. For example, in 1998 I was a victim of verbal abuse (and almost physical violence if I hadn’t run) by two total strangers on the streets of São Paulo simply because I looked happy immediately after Brazil´s defeat to France in the World Cup final. The two males deemed my merry body language thoroughly unacceptable and decided to take the matter into their own hands.
Similarly in the UK, I was once asked “why don’t you leave the country” because I refused to support British troops in Iraq. For the record, I do not celebrate the deaths of British soldiers. I commiserate their death, just like anyone else’s. But I don’t support and forget the immorality of what they did. My grandfather was also a soldier (in the Spanish Blue Legion, in WWII), but I do not take any pride in that. He was a peasant turned warrior born in poverty and forced to fight for ideals which he probably never understood. I pity him (he was left physically and mentally scarred), and his ordeal does not arouse any sympathy for WWII in me.
Patriotism is toxic and dangerous: it shifted public opinion during the Iraq War, it muffled the protests in Brazil. It probably helped Franco to energise the Spanish troops in WWII, leaving my grandfather disabled and forcing my 14-year father to move to Brazil. The United States also use it constantly in order to justify their latest invasion and slander those who don’t agree with them. Americans’ unconditional love for their flag is the fabric of their highly destructive demeanour in international affairs.
I love Brazil, and I love the UK – that’s why i’m not a patriot. If you genuinely love your country, don’t be a patriot.
I love the Brazil of hanky-less document-less caetano, the crystal clear notes Gal Costa, being entranced by Glauber’s Black God White Devil, the smoke of Fumaça Waterfall, the sunset in Porto da Barra, the colourful, boisterous n fragrant cultural syncretism of Bahia. But the national anthem, the kicks and twists of Ronaldo and Neymar do not move me.
I love the UK of the Beatles, Shakespeare and Amy Winehouse. I take enormous joy in feeling the wind and basking on the pebbles of Seven Sisters and Beachy Head, or watching the sunset on Parliament Hill, listening to the many languages spoken on freaky Camden High Street, and all the people that coexist in peace. Yet my lungs do not fill with pride and emotion at Wootton Bassett and Carterton because I am not a patriot.
Patriotism is like an abusive and dysfunctional relationship. It’s a pathological love based on irrational sentiments, such as possession, control, jealousy and adulation. It is also like a fundamentalist religion: arrogant, exclusive, prejudiced and rabid. Patriotism serves to justify the most horrendous injustices and atrocities. So if you genuinely love your country, don’t be a patriot. Show your love in a useful and constructive way instead!