September 18, 2014
Opposition blasts Forster’s appointment
Yesterday’s appointment of philosopher Ricardo Forster, a key member of the pro-government think-tank Carta Abierta, to a position with a name that raised many eyebrows — secretary of strategic coordination for national thought — was subject of lively debate throughout the day that included a fair share of mockery and hyperbolic statements.
According to a presidential decree published in the Official Gazette, the philosopher will be charged with “designing, coordinating and developing a think tank for national thought” and will form part of the recently created Culture Ministry led by folk singer and human rights activist Teresa Parodi.
A surprising detractor of this move was Silvana Giudici, Under-Secretary for the Strategic Plan of Buenos Aires City.
“They took down a portrait just to be able to put this one up,” Giudici wrote in her Twitter account along with a picture of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. (She was referring to the 2004 removal of the portrait of late dictator Jorge Rafael Videla from the walls of the military base in El Palomar.)
The President “appointed Forster and other bureaucrats to think. Have they already printed new forms to comment?” Guidici said sarcastically.
Forster seemed at points to try to play down his office, saying yesterday that “the goal will be to organize talks and discussion forums.”
Although known for his pro-government views, Forster insisted he is open to hearing other ideas.
“My views are neither partial nor biased. We’ll incorporate all intellectual traditions, from the role of (19th-century statesman Domingo) Faustino Sarmiento to the most forgotten traditions of thought. We’ll make room for the liberal tradition, for the left and for Radicalism,” the philosopher added.
Over the top reactions
Other members of the opposition quickly made their opposition known to the office. And while they avoided equating it to a Stalinistic approach, George Orwell was repeatedly mentioned.
“The creation of the Strategic Coordination for the National Thinking Secretariat looks like an uneasy evocation of the Orwellian Ministry of Truth,” Radical (UCR) party lawmaker Ricardo Alfonsín wrote on Twitter, referring to the classic book 1984.
“It’s an insult to our intelligence,” GEN party lawmaker Gerardo Milman replied when reporters asked him about Forster’s appointment. “The post looks like that of the Deputy Ministry of Supreme Happiness in Venezuela,” Milman said, alluding to the office created by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro last year.
“Thinking is built upon ideas and ideas have no (political) flags,” the Broad-Front UNEN representative said.
But Forster insisted his new job had nothing to do with thought control.
“I want to make clear the secretariat will not pursue the goals of a political commissariat,” Forster told the daily La Nación. “The goal is to amplify voices, it won’t be a dogmatic space.”
Late last night, the philosopher appeared at the 6, 7, 8 news programme and used similar arguments to defend his appointment.
Forster is one of the founders — along with the late essayist Nicolás Casullo and architect Jaime Sorín — of the Carta Abierta (Open Letter) group, composed by intellectuals who support the Kirchnerite administration and hold regular Saturday meetings at the National Library.
Prior to his appointment as secretary, Forster ran as a candidate for the Lower House of Congress under the ruling Victory Front (FpV) ticket in last year’s midterm elections.
In this context, some noted that the Mauricio Macri administration has its own “political intellectuals.” Philosopher and writer Alejandro Rozitchner was named an adviser for the City’s General Secretariat led by Marcos Peña, while theorist Iván Petrella won a seat for the City legislature for the PRO ticket.
But there are other examples. During the 1990s, right-wing intellectual Jorge Castro was appointed Planning Secretary for the neo-conservative administration of Carlos Menem.
In Brazil, philosopher Roberto Mangabeira Unger served as the Minister of Strategic Affairs under the second Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva administration.
Ironies on Twitter
Politicians were not the only ones to use irony to react to Forster’s appointment.
“Government clappers are out of line with applause, Forster will have a hard time coordinating this,” one wrote during the president’s speech yesterday afternoon.
Journalists and opposition politicians followed through in a country where Twitter users have a penchant for irony and self-referential statements.
“You have no sense of humour, no sense of irony. You guys bore me,” PRO lawmaker Laura Alonso wrote on Twitter, before criticizing the vaccination programme announced by the president.
Forster has a PhD in Philosophy from Cordoba National University (UNC) and is a professor at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA). He was the host of the TV programme Grandes Pensadores del Siglo XX (Great Thinkers of the 20th Century) on the state-owned Encuentro channel and is a regular contributor to daily Página/12.
Today, the newly-appointed official will lead a roundtable at the Comahue National University (UNCO) in Neuquén province titled “What is being discussed today in Argentina?”
— Herald staff