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Perspective: A dispatch on democracy

Fred Moon

This perspectives piece comes as a dispatch from Warsaw, Poland.

When I arrived here by train last weekend, I exited the station into what I thought was an independence-day celebration. For Poles, the 11th of November is like our 4th of July, and the streets were filled with people waving flags, lighting fireworks, and singing songs. But what I thought was a patriotic celebration was actually a nationalist political demonstration. And this got me thinking about the current state of democratic governance across the world.

First, democracy is fragile. Once won, it can be lost. In fact, Polish Independence Day commemorates the restoration of Poland’s sovereignty after 123 years of occupation and oppression. There are no guarantees in this game, and the struggle is ongoing.

Second, patriotism can and must be separated from politics. A nation should be able to celebrate and take pride in the struggles and sacrifices that have been made in the process of achieving self-determination. And this should be able to take place without turning into extreme forms of nationalism and xenophobia.

Finally, a commitment to the democratic process means not only tolerating but making room for others—even those who have ideas and ideologies that threaten democracy itself. Nationalism appears to be on the rise in Europe and elsewhere. But democracies cannot prohibit expression of these abrasive ideas without invalidating their own commitment to open dialogue, debate, and governance. It’s never been easy, and we are all involved in the struggle.

I’m David Gunkel, and “to jest moja perspektywa.”

Northern Illinois University professor and author