“At the moment, I love Germany!” wrote my German friend, in an email last summer. The impetus to such patriotic feelings was, of course, the football World Cup of 2006. She told me to be very happy that despite all the warnings of xenophobic attacks, everything was peaceful and no-one had to be afraid. ”Even our critical newsmagazine, Spiegel, flashed the headline: ’The big German party’”, she proudly wrote.
Many commentators have interpreted the great nationwide celebration during the World Cup as the first true moment of national pride for Germans after the Second World War. Possibly for the first time my friend, along with millions of other Germans, publicly expressed patriotism without guilt.
The new patriotic liberation of Germany comes in an era that has been said to put such sentiments, along with the whole nation-states and national cultures, in decay. Especially after the Cold War, the power and significance of states and nationalism is seen to be downplayed by globalization, the increasing social, economic and cultural connectedness across national borders. In the mid-90’s, such social scientists and economists as Kenichi Ohmae and Jean-Marie Guehenno, even saw globalization as the end of the nation-state.
But, as the German example clearly shows, in the 21st century it has become evident that nation-states and all the patriotic sentiments related to them are by no means withering away.
What explains the faulty prediction by many social scientist in the 90’s is a misreading of globalization. It was thought the ever greater intercultural change through flows of migration, tourism, information and products, would lead to a slow but inevitable homogenization of cultures.
By this they misunderstood the very nature of cultural identity, which becomes determined and affirmed, not in isolation from other cultures, but in intercultural contact. As one of the most famous students of globalization, Roland Robertson notes, even the nation-states themselves were formed and established during an era of a great increase in transnational trade, travel and communication in the late 19th century.
The experiences and comments from my German friend seem to affirm the views of Mr. Robertson. For her, the most important reason for patriotic pride was the international approval: ”There are no bad news that the foreign people are afraid or want to leave”, she wrote. ”I am so happy that all people can take home a picture of Germany that is peaceful and full of joy… The local radio station says that the international press is as positively surprised as we are ourselves.”
It was us foreigners, then, who finally gave Germans the permission to feel proud of themselves as a nation.