The terms 'nationalist' or 'nationalism' bring back memories of things like Nazi Germany or, at least, former US president Donald Trump's platform. But a political force, without demeaning other nationalities or any jingoism, can simply promote national identity, using and teaching national language at schools, especially when those things are suppressed (for example, in Belarus, Lukashenko discourages using Belarusian which is seen as some sort of opposition agenda). What would you call such a political group or politician, if not nationalist? What is the equivalent of that word but with neutral or positive connotations?
What would you call, for the lack of a better way to put it, “benign nationalism”?
The word for "benign nationalism" is nationalism.
Also, the word for "malignant nationalism" is nationalism.
How can this be? Because Nationalism simply pertains to being oriented towards the Nation.
It's true that, like all group-identity-oriented philosophies, Nationalism focuses on markers which differentiate the in-group from the out-group.
But, of itself, Nationalism contains no implicit misanthropy or philanthropy towards the out-group.
Any given expression of nationalism can be either:
- exclusive and hostile towards the out-group
- inclusive, sharing and welcoming towards the out-group
If a nationalist expression adopts a welcoming perspective towards the out-group, it should be regarded as no less Nationalist.
The terms 'nationalist' or 'nationalism' bring back memories of things like Nazi Germany
This is Far-right Nationalism - which is both exclusive and hostile towards (some or all) members of the out-group. What makes it malignant is not that it is nationalist, but that it is far-right.
Nationalism may be expressed in ways which are highly tolerant of, if not entirely inclusive and welcoming to members of the out-group:
The Velvet Divorce on Jan 1st 1993 was the culmination of successful nationalist movements in the Czech Republic and Slovakia which wanted to take their countries forward separately rather than as a joined-up federation. These nationalist movements were benign - and yet they were, indisputably, nationalist.
The Faroese Independence movement which seeks to establish the Faroe Islands as an independent national state no longer governed by Denmark is a benign movement. But it remains, nevertheless, nationalist.
The London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony was a dramatic piece of nationalist pageantry, celebrating world-famous British literary characters (James Bond, Harry Potter), British automotive engineering, British pop music, the NHS... and doing its best to paint a Union Flag on both the invention of the World Wide Web and the Industrial Revolution. In parading these national markers, the show did not seek to exclude the international community, but rather welcome everyone in, saying: "This is what Britain is all about - look at what we've done! We want to share all this with you. We are a country of progress and innovation. Come and be our welcome guests!"
A number of other respondents have suggested that patriotism is the benign counterpart to a malignant nationalism.
This is a common misnomer and it isn't correct because patriotism and nationalism are actually two different things.
- Nationalism pertains to the Nation
- Patriotism pertains to la Patrie (or the homeland, the motherland, the fatherland)
The first is primarily focused on the in-group as it exists and defines itself today, its current needs and future ambitions, always influenced by the philosophical perspective that what is best for the in-group is of the in-group, by the in-group, for the in-group.
The latter is a quasi-religious, romanticisation of the homeland in which long-standing, half-remembered (or semi-imagined) culture, customs and traditions are venerated.
Nationalism may invoke Patriotism (and far-right nationalism almost always does), but it has no requirement to do so.
Importantly, depending on how it is expressed, Patriotism can be malignant and lean towards excluding others, no less than Nationalism.
Nationalism and Patriotism are both philosophical perspectives but they are not equivalent.
Crucially, both philosophies can be found on both sides of the competitive / collaborative dynamic.
While each centres on markers which differentiate their target demographics from the world outside that demographic, both philosophies may express themselves with hostile or with welcoming intent.
The word for benign nationalism is nationalism.
The word you’re looking for is patriotic:
Patriotism generally has a positive connotation. It’s used for various positive sentiments, attitudes, and actions involving loving one’s country and serving the great good of all its people. — “Patriotism” vs. “Nationalism”: What’s The Difference?
Promoting the national identity, culture and language of a nation that is perceived to have been oppressed is generally known as "nationalism", despite the ambiguity and possible negative connotations.
For example, the movements for independence in Scotland, Wales and Catalonia are generally known (including by many of their supporters) as Scottish, Welsh and Catalan nationalism.
Other relevant terms include "civic nationalism", "cultural nationalism", and "national independence movements".
In your example, Belarus is already an independent state, so that last term could not apply.
If you want to talk specifically about people in Belarus who fight for the right to use their native language, you could refer to them as to linguistic human rights activists. There's also the concept of cultural rights, which cover a broader set of national or ethnic identity features than just language. Ethnic nationalism could also fit, though it would not be perceived as "benign" anymore by many people.
I wouldn't describe such as "nationalists" at all if all they do is defending their own human rights without trying to do so at the expense of other national groups. I.e. a hypothetical party trying to promote Belarusian by banning other languages in schools or on TV would be "nationalist". A party trying to get the number of schools teaching Belarusian in agreement with the number of kids having Belarusian as their native language is not.
Requesting a word or phrase, the poster asks:
What would you call, for lack of a better way to put it, "benign nationalism"?
Why not just use the word 'nationalism', but tag it with the phrase "(lower-case 'n')"? This phrase comes from the inverse of the more common phrase, a "With a Capital.." letter, used to show emphasis.
Many words have become politically loaded or carry some pejorative taint, including the words "socialist", "communist", "secular", "patriot", "nationalism", and "liberal", among others. In such cases you can use a form of the phrase "lower-case" to tag that the word should be taken without any loaded connotation. This avoids long explanations.
- "Bob is a little too liberal (little 'l') in his views for me."
- "Marry went to a church retreat. She will live as a member of a communist (lower-case 'c') group that share their time, talent and resources in support of each other."
- "Sally visited a group of little 'p', patriots in Washington."
- "Most Americans support medical care for wounded veterans, national standards for food, air, and water safety, as well as public schools and Social Security. These are all 'socialist' programs (with a lower-case 's')".
- "We all support nationalism, with a lower-case 'n'. No one wants private companies owning and charging us to use our interstates; nor the private ownership of the military, the NTSB, the FBI, or our National Parks."
Benign nationalism is patriotism, where patriotism is to place importance of the nation before individual(ism); "nationalism is a kind of excessive, aggressive patriotism", which places importance on one's own country/nation well beyond individualism to over & above other (group of) nations as well.
Communism on the other hand is the belief in a classless society without privacy or private ownership; being "a form of socialism", which allows private ownership but the bulk of wealth is "communally owned and managed by a democratically elected government", similar to getting paid in shares working in a company instead of just cash salary (thereby granting part ownership of property/wealth, in this case the company).
Since nationalism is "aggressive patriotism", benign nationalism would be patriotism.