Life Abroad,  Summer,  Thoughts

This Fourth of July

As we moved from the United States to the Czech Repubilc, I assumed we’d be trading one country’s national day for another. Turns out, which is not altogether surprising if you are familiar with Czech/Czechoslovak history, the Czech Republic doesn’t exactly celebrate their national day – there is none of the fervor that is associated with American Independence Day. The history of the 20th century has made things a lot more complicated.

There is Independent Czechoslovak State Day (October 28th) when Czechoslovakia declared their independence, maybe the closest thing to Independence Day there is here, but also Restoration of the Independent Czech State (January 1st), when the Czech Republic as it is today became independent from Slovakia — this one is usually marked by fireworks at 6pm, the day after New Year’s Eve.
In my experience, the Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day (November 17th) seems by far the most marked and celebrated – marking the fall of the Communist party and beginning of a new democratic future.

So yeah… it’s complicated. There are no parades to speak of (maybe a march on November 17th) and you’d honestly be hard pressed dragging a Czech out to a national parade. On May 1st (Labor Day), attendance at the state’s Labor Day parade was mandatory – there’s a reason why, in contrast to many other countries, May 1st is probably the single quietest day of the entire year. One village I’ve heard of even had a parody Labor Day parade in recent years.

So unlike Iceland, Norway, Poland, and some of the more patriotic countries of Europe, there is usually not much celebrating these days besides revelling in that public holiday weekend goodness. Not that I ever was all about American Independence Day, though.

Sure, I love the summer and celebrating this day with my family, going to our small town parade and patriotic service to follow… maybe a barbecue later in the day, the beautiful fireworks, and man am I a fan of John Phillip Sousa marches for whatever odd reason (have you heard a more beautiful piece of music?) but it has never been my favorite holiday. Especially as I grew older and celebrated with friends, our Fourth of July seemed very empty to me – just an excuse to party, wear red, white and blue bikinis, shout “‘murica!” to passerby in a so-ironic-it’s-no-longer-ironic sort of way. In my young adult years, it started to ring hollow to me.

This year, I am particularly concerned with how and why my fellow Americans will celebrate this upcoming holiday.

I just know in my heart of hearts that regulations are going to be completely ignored by many, social distancing will drop by the wayside, and people are going to want to celebrate in the way they’ve always known how – still, right in the middle of the first (and hopefully only) wave. Things aren’t going well, pandemic-wise as you may have noticed.

It takes one to know one, and I know that us Americans are prone to some kind of… exceptionalism. This stubborn independence and failure to rely on “big government” messages telling people to stay at home and wear their masks will be the reason for my country’s failure in the Coronavirus pandemic. It’s heartbreaking to say this, to watch this. I feel really sorry for my countrymen and women feeling helpless in the face of this crisis. But then again, I used to have this sort of thinking, too.

I remember the moment that I was first really shook in my American ideals. There have been past times traveling, when a pair of Egyptians asked me at a hostel in Budapest in 2006, “Why did you guys re-elect Bush?!” As an ignorant twenty year-old, I had no idea anyone else was actually watching this! I realized then how American politics send ripples to the entire world.

But it was an English lesson I was teaching at the local university here in my second year in Budejovice to older, wiser faculty members that stopped me in my tracks. For some reason, the word propaganda was brought up. (Side note: If you ever want to piss off an American, try using the words propaganda and blind-patriotism, especially in the same sentence – it’s lethal) We were talking about propaganda from, perhaps Russia or the Middle East when a very well-traveled student piped up,

“But you know, America uses propaganda as well.”

I stopped cold… almost like my blood froze for a second. No we don’t, of course is the knee-jerk response in my head. But I thought for a second. Right there, standing in front of eight people. “Yeah…. I guess we do have propaganda, don’t we.” The discussion moved on.

Clearly, I’ve thought about that interaction for months and years afterwards. I think the definition of propaganda really sounds familiar in our current day and age: “Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view.”

We are not and have not been immune in any way from using propaganda, no matter which political party was involved. It is, perhaps, as American as apple pie.

I hope that my country can see past this and realize that the only way to contain the virus is to stay at home and mask-up. Viruses don’t care if you get tired of them and want to go to a party, barbecue or other holiday happening. This is just going to keep happening and more people will fall ill until everyone takes it seriously.

I also have my concerned with why we are celebrating this year. I mentioned the rowdy, collegiate celebrations of yore that rang empty for me, and I think this year of any other, we need to examine the meaning of Independence Day and the fact that even though independence was declared on that day in 1776, this did not mean all people were free.

This Fourth of July, I will be thinking a lot about the Americans who do not receive equal treatment, who were not paid reparations. We need to make sure all people are treated equally and behave as such.

As I mentioned to Alex the other day, “America, you’re in time-out this year”. No parties. No groups. No raucous celebrations of years past. This is the year for some much-need reflection on our part, the people of privilege, and how we can do better as a nation going forward. Let’s celebrate with intention in the future.