December 12, 2013
Understandable outrage, unacceptable opportunism
If Tuesday’s big news was the suspended sentence against former transport secretary Ricardo Jaime (following ex-president Carlos Menem’s reappearance in court the previous day), today’s editorial would rather comment on an issue much closer to this newspaper’s human rights traditions — the uproar over last weekend’s barbecue at the former ESMA Navy Mechanics School concentration camp (now a memory space), prompting the resignation of museum official Eduardo Tavani. Nor is this the first time — a Christmas party at ESMA hosted by the Justice Ministry late last year triggered similar outrage.
Two positions clash over ESMA with victims of military repression on each side. Some see any celebration as dancing on graves while others consider the victims have the right to give a new meaning to a place where the worst atrocities were committed. Any stance is highly relative to who is making it. Thus when the indignation comes from direct victims of military repression, there is no choice but to understand and respect their opinions. Yet it is entirely another matter when the critics are opportunists with an axe to grind against the current government —people who never cared a hoot when the damage being done was not just a symbolic offence to memory but the wholesale slaughter of thousands or even voices actually backing the military despots (whether obliquely by advocating “reconciliation” or even blatantly). Again when the barbecue is defended by youthful government supporters who argue that this partying only seeks to triumph over a place of death by celebrating life, this might ring slightly hollow when coming from yuppies who have milked the human rights cause for lucrative careers and political capital. But again it is a different matter when the defence is made by those with spotless human rights credentials. And defence is possible. The ESMA premises are simply too big to be confined to an either/or proposition — it is perfectly possible to preserve part of the installations intact as a permanent remembrance of extermination with all the purism of an Auschwitz while redesigning other sectors of the grounds for artistic, musical, intellectual and other cultural aims. Nor do too many people seem to have been horrified during two decades of democratic government about ESMA retaining its original purpose as a naval engineering academy despite all the crimes of the military dictatorship.
Even when an issue seems to challenge our emotional responses in the extreme (the Syrian crisis could be another case in point), it is always wise to think through our reactions.