VIRTUAL MUSEUM VISIT
“The disappeared from Spain and Argentina: Art, Testimony, and Justice”
Virtual Visit at ESMA Memory Museum in Buenos Aires
July 25, 2020
The Museo Sitio de Memoria ESMA (ESMA Museum Memory Site) currently occupies the former Officer’s Casino inside the Navy School of Mechanics’ premises. This haunted building was the largest of the 340 clandestine detention centres that operated in the country during the dictatorship (1976-1983). More than 5,000 men and women – mostly leftist activists – were held captive and tortured there. Every last Saturday of the month, during the Five O’clock Visit, audiences are invited to tour around the building with guest artists. On 25 July 2020, the visit was organised by ‘Staging Difficult Pasts’ project and, due to the current pandemic situation, which keeps the museum closed, it had to take a virtual turn. The transnational meeting was entitled “Los desaparecidos y las desaparecidas en España y Argentina. Arte, testimonio y justicia” [The disappeared from Spain and Argentina. Art, Testimony, and Justice] and gathered specialists from Argentina, Spain, and the UK. More than 500 spectators attended the visit through social media and ESMA networks, participating through comments, greetings, and questions. The event included a video essay inspired by El pan y la sal (Bread and Salt, 2015), a verbatim play by Raúl Quirós Molina that draws on the trial against Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón in 2012, and archival footage from Argentine human rights trials.
The event was co-hosted by Alejandra Naftal, the director of the Museo Sitio de Memoria ESMA, and Cecilia Sosa, postdoctoral researcher on ‘Staging Difficult Pasts’, and included the following speakers from both the cultural industries, memory politics, and the legal profession: Lola Berthet, Raúl Quirós Molina (Spain), Emilio Silva (Spain), Mariana Tello, Ana Mesutti (residing in Spain), Daniel Rafecas and María Delgado (UK).
“Staging Difficult Pasts seeks to provide a transnational look at the ways in which contemporary theatre and memory sites deal with conflictive pasts,” Sosa observed in the opening panel discussion. She explained that the event is a continuation of the work conducted at ESMA in November last year with the Polish artist, Wojtek Ziemilski. “Maria Delgado saw this piece [El pan y la sal] in Barcelona and noted how much the testimonies of the victims of Francoism resonated with the testimonies of the victims of state terrorism in Argentina.”
Although a planned reading of El pan y la sal with an accompanying discussion was scheduled to take place at ESMA in April 2020, the impact of Covid 19 led to a reformulation of the event. The pandemic also gave us new opportunities, and one of these involved Sosa and Delgado collaborating with filmmaker Alejo Moguillansky on a video essay. The 18-minute film includes both excerpts from El pan y la sal and testimonies of survivors of state terrorism provided in the ESMA trial, in which those responsible for the crimes committed in the building during the dictatorship are being judged. Argentinean actors Eugenia Alonso, Ana María Castel and Mauricio Minetti read testimonies from Quirós’ piece under Rubén Szuchmacher’s direction.
Haroldo Conti Cultural Center’s current director, actor Lola Berthet, highlighted the importance of art in the work of memory construction: “Art and memory work challenges us to build upon justice and testimony. Many times, when justice is not present, the role of culture is essential in demanding memory, truth and justice,” she said.
While commenting on the process of creating El pan y la sal, writer Quirós Molina stated that the piece arises from failure. “I was working in London with a small Argentine theatre that stages `Theatre for Identity´ pieces [which stage human rights themes in response to the dictatorship crimes]. After seeing those productions, which were sponsored by the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo organisation, Quirós wondered why this did not exist in Spain. “Spanish people have never been taught about the Franco era. There is no political awareness that what has happened is a process of genocide,” he argued. Thus, Quirós said he wanted to create a theatre for memory “to understand how memory works today, and show what the stories our grandparents told us meant to us.”
Emilio Silva, founder of the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory in Spain, whose grandfather was buried in a mass grave, also referred to the difference between the Argentinian and Spanish processes. “No president in the last forty years, since the dictator's death” has referred to memory issues. “The fight is very difficult. Hopefully we could have a space like this [the museum] to visit and teach what the dictatorship was like here in Spain,” he said.
Mariana Tello, the president of the National Archive of Memory in Argentina, referred to the role of testimony in the process of memory, truth, and justice. “I want to highlight the tenacity of these two countries in insisting on a story that later becomes a testimony. In both cases, testimony has a special power, as resistance, as a political act. In both cases the disappearance has different characteristics. In Spain, it is known where they are, but it is an additional cruelty to know and not be able to bury them properly. The communities are not only deprived of the right to bury them, they are condemned to oblivion, to forced silence.” She concluded: "In a country where the dead do not rest, the living cannot rest either.”
Lawyer Ana Mesutti, who works on the Argentine lawsuit against the crimes committed during Franco’s regime, argued: “The introduction of international law rattles national rights. It is the world that has to solve the Nuremberg trials. Those crimes against humanity, as Hannah Arendt noted, explode the limits of national criminal law. The Argentine lawsuit will continue. Let us hope that the stumbling blocks that dogmatic law places on us can fall, and so the walls of impunity can fall.”
Federal judge in cases against humanity, Daniel Rafecas, spoke about the evolution of the processes of memory, truth, and justice: “We had 17 years of impunity in Argentina. For two decades the establishment built a formidable dam to contain citizen claims […] The slogans were the same that are surely heard in Spain. 'You have to turn the page', 'you have to look forward', 'why are we going to stir the past?'” Rafecas claimed that similar arguments were heard during the 50s and 60s in postwar Germany. “It was part of a state policy of oblivion and impunity.” He also observed the difficulties “in building a democracy seriously if we do not bring justice, truth, and reparation for the most serious crimes that can be conceived, such as mass executions, the kidnappings of children, rapes, acts of torture.” Considering the current activism in Spain in relation to Franco’s regime, he suggested, “perhaps this story is not yet finished.” And he posed a concluding question: “What would happen if another brave judge, based on human rights in Spain, decided to pick up and raise Garzón’s flag?”
In her closing words, Maria Delgado argued that Moguillansky’s film highlighted the importance of the act of listening. “All the persons who appear in the film are either giving or listening to testimony – and in all cases this is an active, creative act: a mode of giving voice, of remembering, of inscribing of engaging. Testimony as something that needs to be uttered, to be witnessed, to passed on. Testimony as recognition…. The Spanish Supreme Court may have sought to close off the dialogue, but the testimony is heard again on the stage of Alejo’s film and demands justice,” she concluded.
The event was also supported by: Francisco Pérez Esteban (Spanish Secretary of Internationals of the United Left) and Enrique Santiago (Secretary General of the Spanish Communist Party); ESMA survivors including Ana Testa, Alfredo Ayala, Adriana Suzal, Silvia Labayrú, Lila Pastoriza, Liliana Pellegrino, Graciela Garcia Romero, Liliana Pontoriero, Maria Eva Bernst, and Lidia Vieyra, who also expressed their support for Baltasar Garzón; the members of the Argentine lawsuit against the crimes of Francoism Inés García Holgado and Adriana Fernández; Emiliano Fessia (ex director of the former clandestine center La Perla in Córdoba); Graciela Lois (member of the Relatives of the Disappeared and Detained for Political Reasons organisation); Marianella Galli (member of the Secretary of Human Rights and daughter of disappeared activists); Pablo Verna, Liliana Furio, and Mariela Milstein (part of the collective Disobedient Stories, sons and daughters of perpetrators); Stella Segado (former Director of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law of the Ministry of Defense), and Taty Almeida (Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, Founding Line), among many others.
5 o’ clock Visit “The Disappeared in Spain and Argentina” documented via Facebook Live. This video includes on-line commentary and discussion in Spanish.
The following film, directed by Alejo Moguillansky, was produced for the 5 o’ clock Visit, 'The Disappeared in Spain and Argentina. Art, Testimony and Justice', and was aired on 25 July 2020.
Grupo la Provincia
Cohete a la luna
About Alejo Moguillansky’s film
STAGING DIFFICULT PASTS is an AHRC funded project: Grant reference: AH/R006849/1