Saturday, July 25th, was the date agreed for a new virtual meeting through the now traditional Five O’clock Tour the ESMA Memory Site Museum organizes on the last Saturday of every month. This edition had the characteristic of being a transnational meeting facilitated by the virtual element that is so typical of this new pandemic era, and made it possible to turn borders invisible and unite Argentina, Spain and the United Kingdom in the smaller home screens of the more than 500 spectators who followed the tour online and participated through comments, greetings and questions. Once again, the distance and the quarantine did not prevent emotions and affections to attend the meeting.
ESMA Museum and Site of Memory director Alejandra Naftal was the first one to take the floor and welcome the guests: Lola Berthet, Raúl Quirós Molina (Spain), Emilio Silva (Spain), Mariana Tello, Ana Mesutti (who resides in Spain), Daniel Rafecas and María Delgado (United Kingdom); as well as the event’s co-host Cecilia Sosa a researcher from the Staging Difficult Pasts project in the UK.
“The ESMA Museum and Site of Memory is an institution that works under the Secretary of Human Rights and the Ministry of Justice, which implies and proves that the Argentine government and the State believe public policies of human rights and memory are a constant issue in the quest for memory, truth and justice,” said Alejandra Naftal, who also referred to the process of creating and opening the ESMA Museum and Site of Memory.
Cecilia Sosa, in turn, also welcomed the guests and made a brief description of the Staging Difficult Pasts project she works on together with other professionals such as María Delgado, who was also a guest of the Tour’s panel discussion.
“This project aims to provide a transnational perspective to the different ways in which contemporary theater and sites of memory present conflictive pasts. This Five O’clock Tour is the continuation of a Tour we organized last November with a Polish artist, Wojtek Ziemilski, which triggered a small strategic alliance. And in connection with that particular Tour, it was originated in Raúl Quirós Molina’s documentary The Bread and the Salt. María Delgado and I talked a while ago, back when she saw this play for this time, about how much the testimonies of Franco’s victims resonated with the testimonies of State terrorism victims in Argentina. This project was supposed to take place in April this year, in the facilities, but since we couldn’t, we talked with other colleagues to see how we could do it virtually. The pandemic situation changed everything, but it also provided new opportunities.”
After this Cecilia presented a film essay by Alejo Moguillansky that includes fragments of the play The Bread and the Salt (Raúl Quirós, 2015), based on the transcripts of the 2012 trial against Baltasar Garzón; set in a dialogue with the testimonies State terrorism survivors gave at the ESMA case trial. The reading was performed by Argentine actors and actresses: Eugenia Alonso, Ana María Castel and Mauricio Minetti, under the direction of playwright Rubén Szuchmacher.
Before giving the floor to actress and head of the Haroldo Conti Cultural Center Lola Berthet, Alejandra Naftal added: “We are here, moved by these testimonies. The testimonies inspire us to seek justice.”
Lola Berthet said she was grateful for the opportunity to participate in the event, and spoke about the importance of art in the construction of memory: “We just saw this play, which creates out of a judicial document, a testimony. They have managed to craft a message to keep building up the identity of our countries. This play questions us, because art and memory work from that place, they must work from that place and we are eternally committed to make that happen. Many times, when justice is not present, the role of culture becomes essential to demand memory, truth and justice, to join the human rights organisms, to ask, reflect, and question people. Art’s ability to always be one step ahead is very important in order to give a voice to lots of social issues that don’t have one elsewhere.”
Then it was the turn of Raúl Quirós Molina, author of “The Bread and the Salt”, who said to be grateful for the reference made to its work and described the writing process: “It’s an honor to be here talking about ‘The Bread and the Salt’. Truth is all those words you dedicate to the play make me feel very humble”. He added: “The Bread and the Salt was born out of failure. I was working in London in a small Argentine theater that staged plays from ‘Teatro por la identidad’ (Theater for Identity), and after seeing those productions I wondered why that didn’t exist in Spain. I did some research and learned that the history I believed in wasn’t what really happened, we in Spain have been living in a lie because the history that is taught in school never describes the Franco years. There is no political awareness that what happened was a genocidal process. People still believe that it was a war, a battle between brothers. I wanted to organize a theater for memory and started to write plays related to everything I was reading about: the disappearance of babies, the political torture and killings, but the sinergies in Spain are not like the ones in Argentina when trying to set up a Theater for Identity. In my research I found the videos of the trial, and in the trial a thing that happens is that the victims on the stand were the accused ones, and that attack aimed to deflect attention from genocide to the notion of a war between brothers. I didn’t want to elude that debate, I didn’t want to make fiction. I wanted to understand the way memory works today, and show what the stories our grandparents told us actually meant to us. That is what this play was somewhat trying to do. But I still think it is a failure, because my intention with this play was that anyone could write or direct their versions, making it for everyone. But I am happy to know memory is still alive, because through memory we are still staging plays like Antigone, which is still being produced and speaking out about the right to bury the dead”.
Raúl Quirós Molina was in charge of presenting Emilio Silva, whom he described as “A very important person for Spain’s historical memory, founder of the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory. One of the people who worked the most in favor of recovering the dignity of the victims and all those people who had to suffer the consequences of this genocide”
“Thank you for the invitation and for giving me the chance to speak. Many things are much closer, in a sort of time loop of exiles and migrations throughout time, which I believe are very connected to what happened here in Spain. I met Carlos Slepoy and Carlos Castresana, who worked in the trials held here (Spain) about there (Argentina) in 1997. That is why when I find my grandfather’s mass grave, I already have a mental architecture of what those trials had done. It’s a somewhat “tricked” experience, because ever since the 1970s the Spanish state has pretended abroad that there was no problem with memory in the country. It never conducted any internal process with the victims in Spanish soil. No president in the last forty years, after the death of the dictator, has done so. In a way, it has been a marketing strategy. That is why we started to think about what would happen if the metropoli that told other countries what they had to do would admit that an order to investigate its crimes came from a different country. The fight here is very hard. We are constantly struggling with obstacles laid upon us by every power. I hope that at some point we get to have a similar place (like this museum) to visit and teach what the dictatorship here in Spain was like.
Emilio gave way to Mariana Tello, current head of the National Memory Archives, who said to be grateful for the invitation and added: “And I’m also grateful to life, which always gets me into this loop where I constantly reunite with people I care about in the same places, always in the fight. I’m pleased to be able to participate even amidst this pandemic, apart from each other, but together”, and later gave her presentation, in which she talked about the role of testimonies in the process of memory, truth and justice.
“Sometimes the testimony goes unnoticed, and behind those testimonies there are the people who give them. And I want to stress the tenacity with which these two countries insist in this story that later becomes a testimony. In both cases, the testimony has a special power, as a resistance, a political act, i.e., a relentless expression by the victims. In both cases, the disappearing has different characteristics, because in Spain they know where they are, but there’s an added cruelty in knowing and not being able to give these people a proper burial. Not only communities are stripped away of the right to bury them, but they are also sentenced to oblivion, to a mandatory silence. More than anything, in these places and during those periods of time where victims were forgotten and silenced, the testimony has a very important value. The testimony is such a transforming act that it becomes an act of justice by itself”.
She added: “In a country where the dead don’t rest, the living cannot either. And that is the way to keep having a wound that won’t let people live in their community. After all these years, all those testimonies that were like grains of sand stored in archives like the one I am now managing as part of a state policy. I feel very proud and very responsible to guard those words, because those are the traces that in the future will become the words that will bring these processes alive.”
Mariana was also in charge of introducing Ana Mesutti, a lawyer with the Argentine prosecution against the Franco regime, who began by reading a phrase: “‘The future will be contagious, and Your Honors know that. Tomorrow, other courts around the world will execute these principles. Let the genocides feel cornered, and let humanity be free of this scourge, let the world breathe better.’ These are the words spoken by Carlos Slepoy before the Madrid National Court’s criminal division in 1988.”
She continued saying: “The problem we are faced with is that we saw Spanish justice as a beacon when they tried international crimes, like Guatemala, like Argentina, where there was no problem in applying a broad interpretation of universal jurisdiction. When we see what happened the moment judge Garzón tried to deal with the victims of Franco, that motivated the group of attorneys who initially decided to file the complaint before the Argentine courts.”
“The change brought by the introduction of international law makes local courts tremble. It was the world who solved the Nuremberg trials. Those crimes against humanity, Hannah Arendt said, burst the boundaries of national criminal law. These are not common, isolated crimes. We are dealing with a new phenomenon. We cannot allow for the rule of law to sit idly by.”
To conclude, he added: “The Argentine complaint will keep on going forward. Let’s hope the obstacles thrown on us by dogmatic law can be brought down, together with the walls of impunity”.
Daniel Rafecas, the federal judge who handles cases of crimes against humanity, spoke about the evolution of the processes of memory, truth and justice in our country: “In Argentina there was a closure after the trial of the military juntas, brought by the passing of two laws: due obedience and end point. From that moment on, oblivion and impunity became a strong sphere, in which practically every elite in my country participated. We had 17 years of impunity in Argentina. For two decades, the establishment chose and built a formidable dam against the citizens’ demands.”
“The slogans were the same you probably hear in Spain. ‘We need to turn over the page’, ‘start looking ahead’, ‘why stir up the past’, which you could also hear back in the 50s and 60s in post-war Germany. Because it was part of a state policy of oblivion and impunity. It’s hard to build a serious democracy if we don’t bring justice, truth and reparation to the most serious crimes you can think of, such as mass shootings, children kidnapping, rape, and torture. In Argentina we have had a state policy for the past 15 years in which we are consolidating the values of memory, truth, justice and reparation.
“In the case of Argentina, the decision by the human rights community of prioritizing the value of Justice also provided us with high doses of truth. Thanks to the activism I see in Spain is more active through artistic inputs, the involvement of younger generations, of grandchildren who have no commitment to the events up until 1975, maybe this story is not over yet.”
And in the end, he left an open question: “What would happen if another brave human rights judge in Spain decided to pick up where Garzón left off? Maybe he will be joined by a social mobilization, both local and international, that could be able to crack that dam.”
Finally, it was the turn of chronicler María Delgado, a Staging Difficult Pasts researcher, who read some fragments of her chronicle, which will later be shared on social media: “While watching the film that was made for today’s tour, I take with me the importance of the act of listening. Everyone in the film is either giving or hearing testimonies. Testimonies as something that needs to be spoken, heard, transmitted. Testimony as acknowledgment. The memory of the fight must be transmitted. Remembering is m y responsibility because my father and my aunt are no longer here. The act of remembering becomes then an act of resistance. An act of commitment, sustained on one’s own body. The Bread and the Salt speaks to us about a past that for years couldn’t be named. It provides an area, a stage where judicial shortcomings can be corrected. The Supreme Court may have tried to close the dialogue, but we hear the testimony again on the stage featured in the film, and it demands justice.”