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National Day

This Sunday is the 1st of August. Since my early childhood that has meant one thing: the Swiss National Day. We were normally on holidays in Switzerland in early August and enjoyed the celebration. We decorated the house and a small cart with flags and bells, dressed in appropriate festive clothes and then made our way to the local celebrations in front of the castle by the lake. In the evening we ate a lovely meal of buns and cheese with chocolate pudding for dessert. Sitting on the balcony we watched the display of fireworks, the fires lit on mountain peaks and the parade of illuminated ships on the lake. It was always a day to remember. Later I lived in Switzerland with my wife and first child and we participated again in many of the celebrations. Even now we continue to celebrate the 1st of August. It’ll be cheese fondue at our house on Sunday evening.

Coming from Germany where any sign of patriotism was regarded with the highest suspicion, I quite enjoyed the Swiss display of national pride and celebration. Of course, such pride always is a too-edged sword, particularly if it tips over into nationalism.

Another country, another experience of a national day. The 6th of August is Independence Day in Bolivia. There it is customary to celebrate the national day with military parades and other events that highlight the fighting spirit of Bolivians. While military fervour has been a tried method to foster national pride for millennia, in the case of Bolivia there are just a few problems: Bolivia has been involved in many wars, but it has lost every single one of them; all men have to complete compulsory military service, but their experience is so dismal that most men have a very low opinion of the military; over its 200-year existence Bolivia has experienced a military coup every three years or so on average. That means that the military is more feared than loved and the focus on military patriotism for many people highlights the shortcomings of their country rather than pride.

In New Zealand our main national day (Waitangi Day) has mainly been marked by tension and controversy. Some of that may be exaggerated by the media and there may well be reasons for it. Still, sometimes I wonder if it could not just be a joyous occasion, when people celebrate the good in this country, irrespective of where their ancestors came from. Also, if they made better cheese in New Zealand, I would have one more reason to celebrate 🙂