Camila Pernochea has a PhD in History and a Master's in Political Science.  (Photo: TN)
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Camila Perochena, PhD in History and Master’s in Political Science, analyzed the mechanisms used by the politicians when referring to the past, in an exclusive interview with the also historian Levy Yeyati.

The author of the book Cristina and history: Kirchnerism and its battles for the pastexplains the contradictions, the processes and the results that mark the background of the political discourses that allude to Argentine history.

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-In his second book, Mauricio Macri refers to his grandfather’s experiences in Italy and tells that, after the war, he was a member of the Fronte dell’Uomo Qualunque, or Front of the Common Man in Spanish. Macri also questions the Argentine populist parties, so in what sense does this allusion to the past constitute a break in the book?

It’s flashy. Mauricio Macri in his book tries, at first, not to ascribe to any type of leadership in Argentine history. He writes a book on leadership, where leadership is “dehistoricized”, separated from Argentine history. The former president says you have to break and give again, that you have to build something new. Nevertheless he has to find a past for the PRO and he goes to post-war Italy, to the creation of that Party of the Common Man.

That calls my attention, because Macri says that his grandfather founded a party that sought to break with the traditions that came from the past in Italy (Fascism and Communism in the interwar context) and that with the PRO “we wanted to do the same.” Thus, it marks a border with its coalition partners. He is saying that the PRO comes to break with the past and in that past Macri it includes Peronism, but also radicalism. El Qualunque was born to be the counter to what today some call the “caste” or the political class. It arose from a satirical weekly in which politics as a whole was criticized.

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-And to democracy, because the Front was a monarchical party…

Yes. All this places Macri, in terms of identification, a lot closer to Milei than to her own party and not to mention his supporters. That history operation is practically the only one in the book. He makes some references to the crisis of 1989 or to that of 2001, which is the condition of possibility of the PRO, which gives birth to it. But beyond that, the only historical claim has to do with this match in Italy. And there there is a contradiction: Macri wants to break with Argentine populism, but vindicating Italian populism.

Do we have to take these speeches seriously? In your analysis, Camila, you mention -in the case of Cristina Kirchner for example- that politicians use history to talk about themselves…

We are not going to learn history from politicians, because when they talk about history it is to make political use of the past. They are talking much more about themselves than about the past. Now, I would take seriously what the politicians of history say, to understand the political conceptions that those leaders have. If I want to understand how Macri or Cristina conceive of politics, it is interesting to see What do they say about the past?

Camila Pernochea has a PhD in History and a Master’s in Political Science. (Photo: TN)

The views of politicians on the past tell us something about their views on politics in the present. It does not matter so much if the politician is telling the true Argentine history, the facts as they were, because the objective of a politician is not to know the past, he does not have truth aspirations but rather has militant aspirations more associated with the present. There are things that are not so clear in the present and by drawing historical lines you can see them more clearly.

-It is a projection test, they feel that by referring to historical issues and distant in time they can say more things and move away from mere opinion a little.

Exactly, the past gives historical depth to what it is about projecting into the future. Macri’s “dehistoricized” aspiration, in which one must break with Argentine history because “what matters is the future”, loses power when leaving the past behind. One can question what Cristina Kirchner says about the past, but without a doubt Cristina understood the political power of history, she understood that history is used to do politics and it helped her govern and build her identity.

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-I want to deepen the distinction between history and memory. Kirchnerism made use of history when talking about the dictatorship, human rights or the trial of the Juntas. Could it be a device to hide certain things like the role of the Kirchners in the dictatorship?

The dictatorship, the 70s and 80s are part of memory battles that exist since the democratic transition on how to remember things How do we remember the victims of the ’76 dictatorship? Only as victims or also as combatants? Kirchnerism, and various human rights organizations, respond to the Alfonsinista memory that they are not just victims but that they are combatants and that is how they must be remembered. This can be seen when Nunca Más is published again in 2006. The entire operation of reformulating the memory of the 70s and 80s is, for Kirchnerism, a way of inserting themselves into that history as combatants.

-Isn’t it surprising that this is done by political protagonists who had no action at that time? Is there not an intention to cover a conscience with a mysticism?

In memory, memories and forgetfulness are always combined. First Néstor and then Cristina read a late 90s zeitgeist where the seventies militancy is recovered in a heroic key. Memory works like this. Unlike history where there are aspirations for truth, in memory the past is like clay, it is molded.

It’s a kind of literature of the self…

And there is not just one individual self. When politicians make use of the past they are thinking in terms of collective memory. Kirchnerism takes up that look of the 70s and 80s.

Think differently, with Levy Yeyati (Photo: TN)
Think differently, with Levy Yeyati (Photo: TN)

-There is an official story, one imagines that in Europe or the United States there is an official story around which there are deviations and approaches. In the United States, George Washington can be discussed because he was a slave owner, but he is not discussed as a hero. In Argentina everything is debatable.

There is a moment in which both liberal and revisionist historians agree, which is 1810 as the moment in which Argentina was born. There Miter places two characters in his official history: San Martín and Belgrano. Both were unquestioned even by revisionists who come to discuss Mitre’s liberal history. It is the vision that that official story had of Rosas, they do not discuss the vision of the May revolution as a key moment and they do not discuss San Martin or Belgrano either.

Belgrano was not so brilliant, he was not in the military and no one disputes it in the political arena. Professional historians are dedicated to reviewing that. Even to say that Argentina was not born in 1810. But it is not the speech that a politician is going to say, it would not be popular either, it is an anti-heroic speech that can be a problem.

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-When do the troubles start? Where does the consensus break?

The most controversial character is Juan Manuel de Rosas, is the disputed stone of historians. He was governor of the province of Buenos Aires between 1829 and 1852 and a debate began after his fall: Was he a tyrant or a popular hero? At first the idea prevailed that Rosas was an authoritarian who did not allow the convocation of a constituent congress, but around 1930 revisionist historians appeared who claimed Rosas as a character closer to the popular sectors. That rift between rosistas and anti-rosistas is being reissued permanently.

Juan Domingo Perón does not get involved in that debate, he has a more liberal connotation of history, more similar to that of Miter than to that of the revisionists. He nationalizes the railways and calls them Mitre, Roca, San Martín, he does not call them “Rosas”. Perón becomes rosista after his fall in 1955 when the military regime associates with Caseros. Perón there begins to listen to the revisionists and vindicate Rosas from the leadership.

Who’s trying to shut this down? Carlos Menem. He says “I am going to repatriate Rosas’s remains, but in that act in which I bring the remains from England I am going to seat Rosas’ enemies next to me; I bring this character to close the story”.

-It is very difficult to close the story with an act…

Of course, and Menem’s idea was to symbolically close many histories (unitary/federal; Peronism/anti-Peronism; etc). That aspiration that he has does not work. Those memories will continue to be in battle. Kirchnerism reopens the dispute over Rosas. Cristina brings Rosas not to reconcile but to polarize, to open a dispute that is not so much from the past but from the present.

-In Argentina we do not have many consensual heroes. What is the hero that we can bring to start a dialogue at this time?

He is not a hero, he is a character who was marginalized and is urquiza. Urquiza was a federal during the entire Rosas era, but he rises above him. He overthrows him. And when he overthrows Rosas he says “neither winners nor losers”, wants to reconcile and try to govern with rosistas and anti-rosistas, with those who won and those who lost. This was not well received, but the logic of understanding that in order to build a nation state, very different political factions have to coexist is something that Urquiza put forward.

Urquiza is generally criticized for abandoning the battle of Pavón and letting Miter be the winner in this dispute between Buenos Aires and the Confederation. The feds treat him as a traitor. Why did you withdraw? She had a federal identity but she knew they needed Buenos Aires. She was in the middle. He is a character that can work.

-One visits the country and talks with politicians from the interior and, although they could go to the national arena, they always do Urquiza’s, except for Menem. Why can’t the provinces influence more in national politics?

This is related to the structure that Argentina has today, because at the end of the 19th century it was not like that. Now we have a country where the province of Buenos Aires has the largest population, the greatest electoral weight and generates an imbalance and that hinders the path to the presidency of politicians from the interior.

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