National pride revisited

Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH ProIgual

My long-time colleague Panayote Dimitras of the Greek Helsinki Monitor is being harassed for the alleged slandering of Greece. A right-wing MP in a parliamentary question accused Panayote of insulting and defaming Greece “wherever he goes.” For the record: Greek Helsinki Monitor is a human rights organisation, which by virtue of its mission uncovers human rights violations in Greece and elsewhere. Ostensibly, improving human rights in a country should make it a better place. So, why the fuss?

The answer to this lies in a misplaced sense of “national pride.” This is not a specifically Greek phenomenon. There are stories from around the world about people being persecuted for “insulting,” or “slandering,” or “libelling,” or “defaming” — in plain terms, for criticising their countries. Criticism there is not received well, whether it is about shop service  or about their political system. Most typically people who have courage to speak up in such environment happen to be human rights activists; they are therefore sworn “enemies” of “patriots.”

I empathise with Panayote and really hope it ends well. “National pride” and “patriotism” can at times reach epic proportions — and disastrous consequences. Still, it is rather sad that Greek and other “patriots” behave in this way. Suppose, you have a friend and a problem. Would you rather have your friend lie to you that you don´t have a problem, until it gets out of control, or would you rather hear the truth and solve the problem?

Genuine pride in one´s country does not mean shutting up critics. It means working to make things better in that country, including its record in human rights. That sometimes requires learning things about your country that might not be flattering, but that is hardly the fault of a messenger.