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04/04/2006 | Indigenism and Freedom

Carlos Alberto Montaner

At the initiative of the newspaper Hoy, the Inter-American Press Association honors me by asking me to bring to a close this convention, held in Ecuador.

 

Because the meeting took place in Quito, and because I arrived amid street disorders provoked by the Federation of Indigenous Associations of Ecuador, or CONAIE, I think it may be useful to look at the challenge posed by indigenism throughout the Andean region, until we can establish, at the end of these reflections, the severe consequences this phenomenon can have on the practice of free journalism.

I begin, however, elsewhere on the globe, in Europe, where in early March 2006, former President Slobodan Milosevic, the Serb leader who in the 1990s unleashed terrible massacres in the former Yugoslavia, died in prison.

To a great many of his compatriots, he was an idol. To the Bosnians, Croats and Kosovars, victims of his "ethnic cleansings," he was a kind of awful demon. It should also be said, if truth be told, that Bosnians, Croats and Kosovars, on another scale, when they were able to find revenge, liquidated numerous Serbs, moved by the most intense hatred.

In general, these were ethnic groups that had coexisted peaceably for centuries, mingling in classrooms, work places, recreation sites and conjugal beds, and nobody could predict the tragic outcome that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia. Suddenly, hatred spread and the worst in human beings came to the surface. Suddenly, people who the night before were relatives and friends became merciless murderers, torturers and rapists.

Obviously, I cite this recent historical reference as a reminder. What happened in Yugoslavia can happen anywhere else. In the Andean region, an ethnic vision of the relationships of power unfolds with growing intensity. It is not just a question of Evo Morales' overwhelming triumph in Bolivia -- impeccable from an electoral point of view -- but also of some proposals being made in that country, such as the one formulated by Román Loayza, Aymará leader of the Peasant Federation, a man very close to President Morales, who speaks about the creation of the Republic of Tawantisuyo, a state founded on the territory that once was held by the Inca Empire. From this, it can be deduced that the final objective is to reshape the current political map of South America, creating a supranation that also would encompass substantial parts of Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.

That Republic of Tawantisuyo might seem -- and is -- a harebrained project, but excess is an element not altogether foreign to historical processes. In Spain, where I live, there are Galician nationalists who claim as their country of origin the hazy kingdom of the Swabians, a Germanic tribe that in the 5th Century settled in the areas now occupied by Galicia and Portugal. Just as those Galician nationalists claim to belong to a different nation, so do some Basques and Catalonians, and among them there is no shortage of people who plan to create an independent state that someday will bring into its borders the portion of the territory usurped in the past by the French "imperialists."

What I wish to caution you about is that nationalist, ethnic or religious struggles tend to be tenacious phenomena that occasionally achieve the most unbelievable and difficult successes, or provoke terrible catastrophes in the process of reaching for their objectives. It is all too evident that empires appear and disappear. It is obvious that borders expand or shrink, as the Mongols, Austrians, Turks and Russians know.

And in the same way that there is no guarantee that Québec will always be Canadian, Scotland British, Catalonia Spanish or Corsica French, there is no assurance that the borders that today demarcate the Andean nations and the states established within that perimeter will remain unaltered. Furthermore, the geography of Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia today is not the same that existed when those countries gained their independence, and it is very probable that in the future other forceful changes will shake the continent from one end to the other.

Historical affronts

The indigenists who in Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru wish to refound their countries usually protest against a type of affront that they find intolerable: they reject the European cultural predominance that imposed upon them a language, a religion and, in sum, a totally foreign civilization that they find despicable. It is possible, for example, that this is the case of the current Bolivian leaders.

I remember a television program moderated by Andrés Oppenheimer in which, along with other panelists, I had a chance to debate Evo Morales, at the time the opposition leader, and heard him state with great pride what he considered the fundamental difference between his people and the culture in which the Bolivians live. According to Morales, the West represents the "culture of death," while the people with indigenous roots are part of what he called the "culture of life."

Mr. Morales did not make clear to what he referred with that dramatic classification, but it may be useful to remember that the Spaniards who seized half of the Americas beginning in 1492 were at one time the victims of other invaders, the Romans, who practically erased all vestiges of the Celtiberian civilization, destroying in the process dozens of languages, gods, and ways to organize society.

That was not very different from what later happened to powerful England, whose oldest populations were overrun by the Romans and later by the Danes and Normans, who ended up molding an imperial and prosperous Great Britain from the shambles of its forgotten aborigenes.

In sum, the same argument used by the Andean indigenists to try to regain their lost civilization could be wielded by an Andalucian who today wished to vindicate the fabulous kingdom of Tartessos, with its mythical walls of silver, wiped off the map by implacable invaders who imposed other gods, customs, languages and alphabets. But if that struggle to reconquer the past were to spread throughout the planet, we'd enter the mad and aberrant world of a permanent deconstruction of the existing civilizations.

After all, no point in history is free from victims and victimizers, as the Latin American indigenists today should know. The Inca and Aztec empires rose over the ruins of other peoples defeated in combat. Why stop the clock at the affronts committed in the Quechua-speaking perimeter of the early 16th Century in order to forge the borders of the Republic of Tawantisuyo? Why not try to revitalize the cultures crushed by the implacable military machine of the Incas?

If this absurd excavation into the past continues, we could go back farther and farther in time until we attempted to reconstruct the supposedly idyllic life of our coarse troglodytical ancestors, who devoted their lives to picking fruit and to the sweet task of decorating the walls of the caves they inhabited.

In any case, if we are shoved by force into that time machine the indigenists want to start, it might be convenient to know what features of our present civilization must be erased from the habitual customs. Should we extirpate the Spanish language? Should we eliminate the Christian religion? Should we renounce to the Hellenic rationality that was bequeathed to us by Greeks and Romans? Should we burn the codes of law and proscribe the Roman juridical tradition?

Should we condemn Spanish bull-fighting, the game of soccer brought to us by the Britons, the game of basketball invented by the Americans? Should we eradicate from the table bread, wine, beef, chicken, rice, coffee, beer, and all the other foods brought to us by the Europeans? Why not renounce the computer, penicillin, aviation, radio and television?

What institutions must disappear in a world reconstructed in accordance with the indigenist Utopia? It is a flagrant contradiction tospeak of the "Republic of Tawantisuyo." A modern republic is a model of the organization of society birthed by the European Enlightenment on both shores of the Atlantic. The first modern republic, the United States, was built with the thoughts of John Locke and Charles de Secondat, Baron of Montesquieu, mixed with the imagination of James Harrington, as displayed in The Commonwealth of Oceana. The interior structure of the republics was forged by the development of human rights, the separation of powers, the limited authority of the state, the constitutional pact that protects individual rights and prevents the abuses against the public sector.

A republic is the result of the rule of law and the triumph of laicity over the authority of the Church. The idea of a republic and constitutional democracies -- including the monarchies subject to parliamentary control -- includes tolerance, the search for a consensus, the belief that power must be legitimized by institutions that are managed rationally, and the conviction that the voice of the minority must be heard and respected.

What does this have to do with indigenism? No one doubts that the pre-Columbian civilizations made some stupendous achievements and attained a certain degree of complexity and refinement, but the world to which the indigenists wish to return -- a world unfortunately shelved by history -- is unrelated to the world established by blood and fire in America beginning in 1492.

Indigenism and journalism

It might seem that these reflections are closer to politics or history than to journalism, but that is not totally true. Our profession, and the values we hold, are not phenomena isolated from the development of republican institutions and parliamentary majorities. The printing press was invented a few decades before the discovery of America and its expansion proceeded apace with the creation of Latin American countries.

When the printing press was invented in Germany, the first adverse reaction came from the monks who copied religious books and saw their way of life vanish gradually. But other enemies emerged very soon, enemies who were not as concerned with the way matter was printed as with the contents of printed matter. Along with the printing press came systematic censorship in the religious and political spheres, and with censorship came the commissars of thought, vigilantes and protectors of all orthodoxies.

Journalism -- like the republics and the democratic monarchies ruled by law -- is also a child of the Enlightenment. Therefrom come our values and the way we judge reality. The periodicals first came into existence in the 17th Century, and it was not by chance that the first republic was born in Philadelphia one century later. Philadelphia was the American city with the largest number of printing presses and periodicals. And the fact that an amazing group of liberal thinkers congregated in that city was not at all random. They fed from periodicals, almanacs, books. The printed world brought freedom. It was the sap that fueled the drive for freedom.

I bring up this relationship between the republic, freedom and journalism because I am convinced that the attacks against the republican tradition -- as gleaned from the analyses and documents being brewed by the indigenists -- are also broadsides against free journalism. For obvious reasons, the pre-Columbian peoples did not include freedom of expression or respect for other people's opinions among their fundamental values. Those were moral conquests that became intertwined with technological development and were obtained in the West only after a long period of conflict and violence. It is perilously naive to think that the hypothetical triumph of indigenism, a movement that seeks to rescue the past, will not have any harmful consequences for the exercise of free journalism.

We journalists are supposed to restrict ourselves to recounting, like notaries, what happens before our eyes. Very well. Before our eyes now looms a huge danger for the survival of freedom, and it is our duty to describe this to society without fear and without concessions to "political correctness." To many people in America, especially in the Andean region, this may be a matter of life or death. That is why, at the beginning, I recalled the horrendous slaughter that ripped Yugoslavia apart. To defend the ideas of freedom, which are also the ideas of good journalism, may be a way to conjure that danger.

* Speech delivered at the closing session of the convention of the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA-SIP), held in Quito, Ecuador, on March 20, 2006.

Source: Firmas Press

Gentileza: http://www.hacer.org

Hacer - Washington DC (Estados Unidos)

 



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