July 8, 2012
I recently spent a month in Argentina volunteering at a local radio station. As a Briton, I was a bit anxious about going into a country where tensions over Las Malvinas are running high, particularly after seeing the warnings on the Foreign Office website. The legacy of the war and the sovereignty of islands about 1,500 km from Buenos Aires still ignite passions.
On arrival in Argentina, the most obvious sign is from the graffiti. In Argentina, street art is incredibly political. This extends to foreign affairs, i.e., about how Las Malvinas are Argentinean (I can’t envisage seeing ‘EU referendum now!’ scrawled on the side of a wall in the Home Counties). After a bit more time in Argentina you notice the government propaganda, for example a sign at the entrance to a town saying the islands are Argentinean, and the infamous London 2012 advert on television. When you tell someone you are English, you are likely to get asked about football (Argentineans like the Premiership and in particular Manchester City) and maybe afterwards about the Falklands. Most Argentineans unsurprisingly think the islands do not belong to us. I think I should say at this point that I never felt threatened or scared because of my nationality. Most awkward questions are not asked in total seriousness and can be deflected with a bit of humour. Clearly there is less interest in the issue in Britain. This YouGov poll measured opinions between residents of both countries. When asked How important an issue, if at all, do you think the Falkland Islands are to the UK? 25% of British people answered that the islands are very important to the UK. When Argentines were asked the corresponding question about Argentina, 56% answered very important.
However, the issue is easily exploited for political gains on both sides of the Atlantic. Christine Kirchner knows that when she talks about the islands she can unite the nation behind her. Kirchner won convincingly in the last elections, but her relationship with the unions is cracking, whilst there are protests about the government’s attempts to reduce the use of US dollars. In this context especially, it is useful to paint a foreign country as the enemy. The same applies to some extent to our politicians. David Cameron looks strong when he appears to be standing up for Britain, even though the prospect of a direct war in the 21st century between two democratically elected governments which are both members of the UN is very small. However, scaremongering helps both the government and the military. When military people claim our army would no longer be able to defend the Falklands, it sounds to me like a plea for more funding. Read more of this post