Letting in the Light: The Emergence of an Information-Based Civil Society in Post-Dictatorship Argentina, 1984-2004

By Worboys, Katherine | History of Education Review, January 2006 | Go to article overview

Letting in the Light: The Emergence of an Information-Based Civil Society in Post-Dictatorship Argentina, 1984-2004


Worboys, Katherine, History of Education Review


In 1983, democratic elections ended a seven-year military dictatorship in Argentina, bringing the end of a regime calling itself the 'Process of National Reorganisation,' and with it, the end of the Dirty War, the state's campaign to eliminate what it labelled 'subversive elements' within Argentine society. Estimates suggest that as many as 30,000 people may have died as a result of the military state's terror tactics, the majority of them kidnapped, tortured, and disappeared. As a result of the traumatic experience of military rule, the spectre of dictatorship has never really left Argentina. As of the early twenty-first century, government officials still referred to Argentina's ongoing 'transitional democracy' in their reports and findings. (1) Argentine anthropologist Sofia Tiscornia underlines the point, asserting that change is only in process in Argentina, that it has not been accomplished. 'The past coexists with us in the present,' she states. 'An ex-torturer is today governor of Tucuman, [former torturers] are candidates for elections, collaborators lead journalistic programmes, and they look like pillars of democracy'. (2) As Argentine writer Griselda Gambaro highlights, it is as hard to imagine Argentina without the dictatorship as it is to imagine Germany without Adolf Hitler. (3)

Argentine novelist Alicia Kozameh addresses the same point. 'In my country, there is [no such thing as] 'post-authoritarianism," she writes. 'The concept does not work... My country does not fit the category'. She acknowledges that she can accept the label of 'post-dictatorship' to describe the state of Argentina in the years since its transition to democracy, but that 'post-authoritarian' is inappropriate. 'There are many things going on in my country,' Kozameh states, 'and they are all related to authoritarianism'. (4) At the time of this article's writing, just over twenty years have passed since Argentina began its transition to democracy, and yet, many agree, most of the issues that made the dictatorship possible have not been dealt with adequately. 'The 'blood' memory and unspeakable horrors of the past reappear as a recurring obsession,' sociologist Laura Kalmanowiecki notes, 'even among those who want to heal society's wounds'.' (5) Kozameh agrees; the democracy, she argues, was founded on the basis of forgetting what she labels the 'genocide' of the military dictatorship of 1976 to 1983. 'We need to remember first,' she states. 'We need justice first'. (6)

Post-dictatorship Argentina, however, poses a unique challenge to the active creation of historical memory. Under the military regime, document raids of social organisations were common and the military junta worked to actively destroy any records it deemed threatening or simply inappropriate. Not even archived copies of cooking and lifestyle television programmes were immune. (7) On its way out of office, the final military junta also destroyed or hid the majority of the regime's records. As a result, 'official' memory of the dictatorship is nearly non-existent. And this lack of evidence has brought about new instincts among many Argentineans in the post-dictatorship period: the need to remember and the duty to inform. In this article, I examine Argentina's process of recovering from the trauma of the military dictatorship in one very small and specific way. I examine information repositories--archives, libraries, and museums--as small organisations and institutions empowered by state initiatives to emerge as prominent players in Argentina's democratic transition. These new political actors, I argue further, represent the emergence of a sector of civil society based upon information and education: demands for it, attempts to procure it; attempts to organise it; and efforts to make it available. I argue that these organisations have turned education and information into a public good, using the historical memory they recover and create as a way to rebuild in the wake of the dictatorship's trauma. …

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