This is the question that I will attempt to answer now, through a twofold interpretation. One relates to the recent Argentine aftermath and the forms taken by the remembering that impregnates society. The other has to do with the past – the nature of the Junta and its dictatorship as well as the transformation accomplished within Argentine society during the Dirty War.
Contemporary Argentina has gone – still goes - through a complex process of national reconstruction and reconciliation, intensified as new generations get involved. Within a society eager to come to terms with the tragic years of the Dirty War, remembrance has become a cultural imperative (‘Remember! So as not to repeat’: ‘Recordar! Para no repetir’), running the risk of dictating the memory carriers as well as their mode of visibility and reception, especially when culture has been one of the victims of that period. (1)
An interesting case is Nunca más, the report of the CONADEP published as a book in 1984. (2) It quickly became a best-seller. The scholar Frank Graziano (1992: 50) points to the disconcerting consequences of this success:
In contrast to this first interpretation, the idea of an animal universe embedded in the Dirty War arises. Behind the “redemption” proposed by the Junta lay the attempt to transform Argentine society: a “purification” process implemented by the most brutal repression and radical dehumanization. (3)
This process did not concern only the prisoners:
Just as the victims of torture were set ‘outside of the pale of humanity’ (thereby providing the mytho-logic for their deprivation of human rights) in the same gesture by which they were set outside of Argentine nationality as apátridas (‘countryless’), so too were the torturers socially ostracized and ‘dehumanized’ once they had been ‘deprived of their personalities’, through training (Graziano: 95).
The coup d’état of the Junta was staged during Carnival week, the most appropriate period for a regime fond of spectacular showiness, masks, ‘operating theaters’ (as were called the detention centers, the quirófanos), dramatic speeches, and mythical constructions: a surrealistic parade that is, at the same time, revealed and undermined by the zoology. Indeed, by opting for parody, Martin Favelis discards the tragic representations that would have “confirmed” the self-perception of the Junta members as heroes carried by a messianic mission.
Emptied of its holy accents, the whole eschatological lie of the Dirty War - the reorganization of the Argentine society around values of dignity, beliefs, civilization – is brought back to its dry reality: an absurd world whose actualization, unfortunately, took the most horrible forms.
1. Protest songs, avant-garde theatre, statements of artists, clothes, or free spectacles for students groups or popular districts were all declared elements of a process of cultural subversion aiming at the dissemination of extremist ideologies. First targets of the massive ‘disinfection’ led by the Junta were intellectuals and students. Haroldo Conti (editor of the literary magazine Crisis), Raymundo Gleyzer (filmmaker), Miguel Angel Bustos (poet), Carlos Pérez (editor), Antonio Di Benedetto (writer, journalist) were amidst the first ‘subversives’ to be abducted and ‘disappeared’. The psychiatric, psychology and psychoanalytical departments of universities were shut down. 44.3 % of the desaparecidos were under the age of 25. 1976-1983 were years of cultural asphyxia.
2. In December 1983, President Alfonsín created by decree the CONADEP (Comisión Nacional sobre la Desaparición de Personas / National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons), which conducted a nine-month research. It resulted in 50.000 pages report whose summary was presented to the President on 20 September 1984. The report was then published by the University of Buenos Aires Press as Nunca más in November.
3. In other terms, the Process of National Reorganization whose main pillars were ‘Christian morals, national tradition, and dignity of the Argentine being’…
4. The prisoners were “reduced to assuming the lumpish posture of a piece of troublesome trash to be disposed of” (Graziano: 104). To such extent that the prisoners selected for execution were referred to as ‘packages’.
Frank Graziano, Divine violence: spectacle, psycho-sexuality, and radical Christianity in Argentine ‘Dirty War’, Westview Press, Boulder, San Francisco, Oxford, 1992, 328 p.
Commission Argentine des Droits de l’Homme, Argentine: dossier d’un génocide, Textes, Flammarion, 1978, 344 p.
Elizabeth Jelin and Susanna G. Kaufman, ‘Layers of memory: twenty years after in Argentina’, in Genocide, collective violence: popular memory – The politics of remembrance in the 20th century, Ed. David E. Lorey and William H. Beezley, SR Books, 2002, 258 p.
Stéphanie Benzaquen (° 1971, France) is a researcher at the Theory Department of the Jan van Eyck Academy.