I was irritated some weeks ago by the comments of Jose Moya, a Barnard College professor, who said on Worldfocus that Argentinians have increasingly little memory of the “Dirty War” of the 1970s and 1980s. “Eventually it will become something like Franco in Spain that fewer and fewer people remember,” Moya said.
He was wrong about Argentina, and wrong about Spain. Both countries are doing much to make sure new generations remember the victims of state-sponsored murder.
The depth of my disagreement with Moya became clear recently during a visit in Buenos Aires to the Parque de la Memoria along the River Plate, which commemorates the deaths of at least 20,000, perhaps 30,000 people at the hands of Argentina’s military government. It reminded me in some way of the Vietnam Memorial, listing thousands of names on slabs of stone, giving substance to the names of mostly young people whose lives were swept away.
Strange thing about the place. It has the look of a monument that hasn’t been finished yet, although it was authorized to be built 12 years earlier.
It is surrounded by barbed wire, empty spaces patrolled by lone guards, at first it seems no one has been there. And then, moving in on the names, I saw little yellow flowers crammed in the chinks. People have come to see the names and remember the loved ones who disappeared often without a trace. When I focused in on the names, I could see each was listed by year with their ages when they died. Most of those listed were very, very young.
From 1976 to 1983, the Argentinian military government practiced state terrorism. They dragged away supposed agitators and terrorists who most of the time where innocent teachers, students, union activists, philosophers, musicians, then tortured and killed them.
Beyond the windswept monument, I looked out to the broad, ocean-like River Plate. On a rock, just offshore, stands the statue of a person facing the waves, symbolizing the people whose bodies were dumped in the river and swept away.
Argentinian writers still focus on the Dirty War, artists produce pictures and sculptures, filmmakers make movies, in order not to forget. In some cases, mothers and grandmothers still search for children who were taken in infancy, given fake names and adopted by the torturers of their parents.
In Spain, meanwhile, more than 70 years after the Spanish Civil War, family members are still hunting for mass graves of the victims of Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s regime. The Civil War still haunts Spanish society. In both countries, there are revisionist historians and extremists who try to minimize the brutality or rewrite history, as if the cause of the murders was somehow more justified with time. But monuments, journalism and art will protect and ensure the persistence of memory, and the accuracy of history.
- Peter Eisner
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