Business and travels over the past month have focused my attention upon two rather diverse destinations: Africa and the Czech Republic.
Africa, for all of its beauty and charm, is a rather bleak tapestry of failed states dominated by corruption, impoverishment and hopelessness. A sampling of headlines from the past 24 hour news cycle includes: "Terre'blanche killing exposes South Africa's old racist divide," "Lord's Resistance Army Continues Killing Spree," and "Africa at 50: Tiring of Democracy Experiment?" Uninspiring.
Artificial national boundaries, inharmonious ethnic and religious diversity and powerless states unable to govern beyond the periphery of urban centers give rise to easily transferable loyalties and desperate social movements. All of this lends to a unique African conception of nationalism. In pre-colonial Africa, rulers governed over people, not territories. Popular dissent was expressed through migration and adoption of / submission to a new ruler. Such sentiments have survived into the post-colonial age, which partially explains the potency of charismatic demagogues. Europeans love to hate their national identities, but very few actually doubt their nationalities (eco-hippy "citizens of the world" notwithstanding). Among Africans, nationality may rank #2, #3, #4 or lower in the priority of identifiers and allegiances.
On the other hand, while in the Czech Republic I convinced my lovely Czech lady to escort me through Prague's Communist Museum - a truly unique experience. It made me wonder. It made her sick. And owning that her country yet has a robust communist party in the legislature, she increasingly laments that her countrymen seem willing to countenance a certain degree of corruption among politicians as simply par-for-the-course. Indeed, Europeans seem to expect such behaviour and respond with a somewhat resigned "boys will be boys" dismissal. I live in the playground of Berlusconi, after all.
All of this simply reminds me that Americans, whatever their faults, are a fortunate people, still proud and righteous, jealous of their patriotic honor and swift in their justice. We acknowledge our identities within the context of states (at both levels of federalism) and have not succumbed to the enervating despair of political apathy.