The contrast between the euphoric national unity underlying Thursday night’s football match against Panama and yesterday’s Memory Day reflecting an extremely polarised but also deeply alienated country is sad indeed. The memory of last December’s World Cup triumph in Qatar still glows afresh, resonating infinitely beyond the lucky 60,000 clinching stadium tickets or even the five million who took to the streets in celebration at the time, but the memories of the most tragic day in Argentine history are not only fading but badly tarnished.
Both yesterday’s date and this entire year as marking four decades of continuous democracy should be occasions for displaying national unity but instead all too many people regard Memory Day as the start of yet another long weekend, while many of the marchers expressing the strongest abhorrence for the 1976 military coup seemed almost to be celebrating it. Leaving aside such questions as whether the coup deserves a public holiday in the first place rather than the more positive anniversaries of the return of democracy which are something to celebrate (a penchant for marking the negative with public holidays also extending to the outbreak of the 1982 South Atlantic war or the death rather than birth of independence hero José de San Martín) or when the National Day for the Memory of Truth and Justice actually began (in 2006, as generally believed, or in a law of August, 2002?), if we are going to mark the occasion, we should do it right.
Perhaps the perversion of Memory Day is best represented by the absence of the opposition from the weeklong III World Forum on Human Rights also commemorating the 40 years of democracy. It takes two to tango here. The sectarian attitude of seeking to turn a national cause into an ideological banner is obviously deplorable and was carried to extremes by Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner when she claimed that human rights were not on the agenda until her late husband came to power in 2003 as if the film Argentina 1985 had not come within an inch of an Oscar a fortnight ago and as if nobody had seen it. But why was the opposition not protesting their exclusion from this human rights and democratic festival in the strongest possible terms instead of complacently moaning up another criticism of Kirchnerism? Do they care so little for human rights and democracy that they do not resent that exclusion? One would hope not but some attitudes (such as ex-president Mauricio Macri dismissing the whole fight for memory, truth and justice as a “racket”) indicate that they see human rights as so much demagogic baggage to be written off rather than as a precious jewel stolen by a corrupt populism which must be recovered for the citizenry as a whole at any cost.
Another example of how polarisation has poisoned remembrance is the controversy over the figure of 30,000 going missing during the 1976-1983 dictatorship (the “30,000 reasons” in the La Cámpora banners yesterday). In a previous editorial on the 2022 census, this space referred to the Biblical curse on King David’s census for seeking to place a number on the Chosen People when they represent something far more transcendental – some 3,000 years later the fetish over the number of missing is a similar case in point. Despite attempts to criminalise any denial of this figure, disputing it is not on a par with Holocaust denialism – Raúl Alfonsín’s CONADEP commission (the basis for the juntas trial”) enumerated almost 9,000 which had risen to some 15,000 by the end of the century before 30,000 became dogma. To dispute this figure is rather to miss the point just as much as its blind acceptance. The number is unimportant (does Chile’s total of 3,000 missing make Augusto Pinochet’s crimes against humanity any better?) – the heart of the matter is that monstrous contradiction in terms of state terrorism and no numerical or semantic quibbling should make us lose sight of that.
Despite the increasing distance from the 1976 military coup on its 47th anniversary, Memory Day cannot be consigned to the past because it is all about impunity, which also belongs to the present and future. Some who deplore state terrorism should ask themselves if the government’s takeover bids against the judicial system are not also seeking impunity while those who seek truth and justice now cannot be indifferent to it in the past. A day for forgetting some things while remembering the essential.