“Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all others because you were born in it.”

In my younger and more vulnerable years I was very patriotic. I was convinced that Romania is one of the greatest countries in the world. There is a common thing any foreigner sees when meeting Romanians: they all complain and say how much they hate Romania. This is so obvious that one of my foreign business partners thinks that he would get wealthy instantly if only he could monetize this intense feeling. For years now I’m trying to understand why this happens – and I think I finally got it. Also, it applies to many other East European countries as well.

Propaganda and the school.

Every country is good at making up for itself a great history out of any sort of past. The history offers local models, heroes, patterns we identify with. Being a part of something great makes you great. When someone tries to take that greatness away you fight back. You defend your country because it has made you great as well, by association. This is a very simple way of turning weak people into strong weapons. We all feel the need to be part of something bigger. For many it’s the preferred football team or religion – and you can see the extreme manifestations of that. We even have Jane Elliot’s Exercise to prove how simple it is to turn people against each other based on shallow beliefs of superiority.

Romanians got their part of great historical achievements from their own history books. History is written by winners to justify the past and secure the future. The last big winners in Romania were the communists, and they wrote the current version of our history.

To see the people’s superior view of their own country and how inferior neighboring countries are – please visit http://www.urbandictionary.com and search for Romania, Ukraine, Hungary, Serbia, Poland and so on. You will see people cheering the great things making their country the best in the world – such as Ukraine’s great cossacks army, which kicked everyone’s ass in the 18th century. No one aside from actual Ukrainians really cares about this propagandist achievements, but they serve their purpose.

The communist dream

Westerners usually think that in communist countries people were all mean, red and busy working on their plan to conquer the world. Obviously, this is not true. The communist regime sold a dream in which the fight for freedom and a better life were basic duties. Sounds familiar? You get the same thing in many other capitalist countries. They sold the utopian idea of an egalitarian system, where all the people have a job, a house and enough money to live a decent life. Take away the egalitarian part and those are all ideas you hear in each election campaign. After tens of years of communism people forgot what started the ideology, were born in the new utopian system, and along the way got intoxicated with their country’s huge role in world history.

The communist regimes proved their inefficiency – mostly because they lacked a free market, not necessarily because of the politics (China, anyone?). Still, people were born and raised in that social and political ecosystem. They were prepared to live the dream. It had a basic promise: Be a good citizen, respect your country and regime, work just like the others and you will live a good life (job, house, enough money for the family, good schools for the children etc).

The broken promise

After more than 40 years, the Russian-inspired communist regimes collapsed in the 90’s. The dream had become a nightmare in the 80’s, with people struggling to get food and praying for water and electricity. Having a planned economy, pushing controllable non-values in key positions and closing the borders proved fatal.

In the 90’s, intense movements occurred in ex-communist countries. Moving to a capitalist economy was a lot harder than people initially expected. The only ones prepared for the new way of doing business and making money were the few that had ties to foreign markets – the important people in communist years. The new capitalists were the former communists, not just in business, but in politics, administration and so on.

Taking advantage of turbulent times, those that had the international opening and the local connections got very rich, very fast. Regular people, who expected capitalism to treat them right, were in for a big surprise. Liberty and democracy did not translate into jobs and enough money. Huge overnight inflation and collapsing industries lead to unemployment. People had the foreign products they wanted, but no jobs and no money. Back to a new, democratic form of nightmare!

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