EspañolOn Tuesday, President of Argentina Cristina Kirchner appointed the philosopher and ruling-party supporter Ricardo Forster as head of the Secretariat for Strategic Coordination of National Thought, an entity that will fall under the purview of the recently created Ministry of Culture.
The appointment, formalized through presidential decree 837/2014, elicited widespread criticism and baffled intellectuals, politicians, and journalists. Regarding his new position, Foster, a former deputy candidate, said that despite conversations he has held with the president, he did not expect this decision. “I’m surprised that the government chose to appoint someone like me as secretary, because the nomination wasn’t settled. It involves accepting me as I am, and I say what I think,” he assured.
Forster, who holds a PhD in philosophy, is one of the founders of Carta Abierta, a loose group of intellectuals from different disciplines who support the Kirchner administration’s policies. Before being appointed National Thought Secretary, he ran for a national deputy seat as a Front for Victory (FPV) party candidate.
The intellectual said he agreed with the current government’s agenda. “I think the state is key to the development of a society’s cultural life,” he said.
The decree states that, as secretary, Forster’s primary responsibility will be to “design, coordinate, and implement a national thought research center, according to the guidelines established by the secretariat.”
Some of the agency’s objectives include: “To advise the minister of culture and present proposals on issues of national and Latin-American thought. To interact with the various federal research centers throughout the country, aiming to promote them and grant them a larger institutional framework.”
Forster also assured that the secretariat won’t impose thought control or “be reduced to a single vision.” He added, “The aim is to bring a diversity of voices, not to create a dogmatic monolith.”
He also said he believes it is a great achievement that the national government is creating the conditions for discussion and research forums to grow. However, regarding his intellectual background, the public official stressed that his training was not exactly Peronist: “My background is in the European tradition of the Frankfurt School, in particular, the thinking of Walter Benjamin.”
In 2011, Forster had expressed his discontent with the designation of 2010 Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa as Buenos Aires’ book fair commencement speaker. “The Book Fair needs a plural, democratic voice, and Vargas Llosa today represents a huge provocation from the free-market right-wing, having uttered harsh criticisms about Argentina,” Forster said at the time.
“Ministry of Truth” or Diversity of Opinions?
Several dissenting groups and figures voiced their opposition to the creation of the new secretariat and Forster’s new position, comparing it with Joseph Goebbels’ Nazi Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, or with George Orwell’s 1984 “Ministry of Truth.”
Other Argentinians went further and cataloged this new state agency as part of the Maoist Cultural Revolution. “It is a vile, vile thing,” said Forster in his defense about the Nazi comparison. “Today, when we talk about national thought, we are not referring to the nationalism of the 1920s or 1930s. We are engaging in discussion within the context of a modern global society that has homogenized cultures and has progressed in accordance to a corporate logic that puts everything on the same level, making sovereignty a concept devoid of any meaning,” he added.
He argued that nowadays, “nationalism, and especially from Latin America, is a big challenger, a great threat to the neoliberal global power.”
The day of the appointment, journalist Jorge Lanata said during his show on Mitre Radio: “What could national thought be? Maybe the opposite of foreign thought?” He also joked about the borders of national thought: “Where does it begin and where does it end? Maybe it has embassies in foreign-thought land.”
The founder of the newspaper Página 12 continued by questioning, “Why don’t they just say it, that national thought is what they think? Forster will coordinate what we think. Period,” laughed Lanata.
Marcelo Longobardi, another renowned Argentinean journalist, said that from now on the government won’t consider thinking done by the people, but instead what “the nation” thinks. “Individuals that don’t think like them will be labeled conspirators,” he said on his show.
Former National Deputy Eduardo Amadeo, now leader of the opposition party Renewal Front, also strongly criticized this secretariat, comparing it to Nazi book burnings. “The national thought is an excuse to divide people. You are on this side; fine, I congratulate you. Forster was put in that position to impose a single mindset, so that all schools teach the same, so that all media say the same. And if we follow down this path, we’ll end up burning books,” reflected Amadeo.
For his part, Augustine Etchebarne, director of Freedom and Progress Foundation, wrote in Fortuna that this new institution closely resembled the Ministry of Truth from Orwell’s 1984. “The Ministry of Truth, with its omnipresent and vigilant thought police, was devoted to repress all dangerous thought or words.”
Jorge Capitanich, the Kirchner’s chief of staff, said these criticisms “are inappropriate and uncalled for. With Ricardo Forster we are on the right track.” He added, “There is no doubt that he is qualified for the job.”
Argentina’s Peronist Background
Ricardo López Göttig, a PhD historian, says this move is related to Argentinean historical revisionism, which argues that the ideology embodied in the first Constitution of Argentina in 1853 was “a foreign thought that had been imposed from abroad.”
In statements given yesterday to the talk show A Las Ocho, the historian explained that those who wanted to force national thought upon the population during the Peronist era had ideas with roots in “Italian Fascism and the Spanish Falange (a fascist political party ideology).”
López also said that this secretariat is nothing new. “[When] the Peronists voted in Congress to make the Peronist-Justicialist ideology the national doctrine, it was an attempt to create a national thought; a single national mindset. The idea was to create a completely anti-liberal, anti-cosmopolitan vision.”
Meanwhile, journalist José Benegas summarized the issue by saying, “In the case of Argentina, this is very curious, because it’s a country of immigrants, so deep nationalism is absurd. This is about trying to justify arbitrary power from different angles.”