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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 June 2007, 08:26 GMT 09:26 UK
The open wound of the Malvinas
By Federico Lorenz
Argentine historian

To Britain, they are the Falkland Islands, a faraway land tied to the UK by their customs. But to the Argentines they are Las Malvinas - part of their national territory stolen from them by Britain.

A cross and dilapidated trench
Evidence of battle long gone - the remains of a trench
I have travelled to the Malvinas many times. When I was at school, I learned about its hills, its coasts, while drawing the map in my notebooks.

I learned that Argentina, a young country, was robbed by an old Empire, Great Britain, in 1833. It was the same nation that we had defeated twice, in 1806 and 1807, when they tried to occupy Buenos Aires, the town where I was born.

Ever since then, we have claimed sovereignty over the usurped islands.

The British named them with a strange word: Falklands. I learned the Las Malvinas march, too, but only realised its meaning in 1982, during the war, when as an 11-year-old child, I sent chocolates, war letters and comics to the young soldiers.

The bloodiest regime in my history had also decided to regain a lost land, to be the leader of a just cause
Defeat came and it was also a revelation about the country in which I had been living. I realised that I was educated under a dictatorship.

I decided to become a historian researching about the past of my country, my own personal past - a past that was stained with blood, silence and murder.

The contradiction was strong: the bloodiest regime in my history had also decided to regain a lost land, to be the leader of a just cause.

Illegal regime

Hundreds of thousands supported the landing on 2 April. Were we also supporting the dictatorship? When I waved my flag as a schoolboy, had I helped the dictatorship to remain in power?

A British soldier guards Argentinean prisoners of war
British troops took 10,000 Argentinean prisoners in the war
There were then different conflicts after the war. To say something about 1982 was to give a definition of our history.

In the outskirts of Buenos Aires, returning soldiers were hidden in their barracks.

They passed unnoticed in the big demonstrations against the dictatorship organised by the human rights movement and political parties. On some occasions, they were associated, because of their military experience with the illegal regime.

I have travelled many times to the south of my enormous country. Some days, I have spent hours on the beaches of Patagonia, gazing towards the Islands.

The war of 1982 was not only the defeat of a dream, but hundreds of lives were lost in a country that has many times been keen to kill its own children
There, in Patagonia, young soldiers were the centre of history. Former prisoners returned in the SS Canberra to the city of Madryn.

Many small towns of the rural inner provinces welcomed their returning boys as heroes of their small communities.

It was also the way in which they mourned their dead - many main avenues in small villages bear the names of the fallen.

Memorial to Argentine soldiers in Buenos Aires
The Malvinas is viewed as part of Argentina's identity
Many hidden towns of Argentina bear the physical marks of the war in the way of monuments, former bunkers, desert airfields, plaques in schoolyards, as a metaphor of the abandoned lives of its combatants.

Another way of travelling to the Malvinas is to listen to people's stories: ex-soldiers, relatives, widows, brothers.

Malvinas then becomes an open wound - another in a very short but strong history of violence and passion.

We learned Las Malvinas son Argentinas (The Malvinas are Argentine) in school.

Old battlefields

The war of 1982 was not only the defeat of a dream, but hundreds of lives were lost in a country that has many times been keen to kill its own children.

Perhaps the war is only a chance of learning that our dead are ours too.

Now I am in the Malvinas, the magical place that steered my work as a researcher.

My personal journey is done. What have I found?

It is Argentina, my own country, but it is a foreign country at the very same time
Has my mind been changed by the contact with the old battlefields, by talking to the islanders?

What's it like to be in a part of your country in which nobody speaks your language; where your dead are buried; where many of the people you have interviewed for your research almost got killed, lost an arm, and have lost friends?

How is it to visit the grave from where every day our national ghost haunts us?

I found an empty space, a beautiful Patagonian landscape, full of memories and images of my personal and national history.

It is Argentina, my own country, but it is a foreign country at the very same time. My own land, in a foreign country.

I have walked the places that my fellow countrymen, some of them my friends, endured during the war.

My research has been about losses: the disappeared, closed factories, rusty railroads, a country which is not more.

Most of these losses are ghosts, not buried. But in Darwin the graves are touchable. What are the life stories of these young dead?

That is another journey.

Federico Lorenz presents Malvinas: The Open Wound on Radio 4 at 1330BST on Sunday 17 June.


SEE ALSO
Love bridges Falklands divide
04 Apr 07 |  Americas
'The Falklands are Argentine'
02 Apr 07 |  UK Politics

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