The Future of the Falkland Islands and Its People/Comments On Lyubo Ivanov Falklands Proposal
Comments On Lyubo Ivanov Falklands Proposal
Nora Femenia, Ph.D.
The Falklands-Malvinas Forum
The Falklands situation is a very challenging international political dilemma, taking on different meanings according with different perspectives weighing in. As in a mirror image, we have imagined, politically constructed elements and real ones.
I greatly appreciate Ivanov’s work in his emphasis on describing real possibilities for the Falklands future. His work is concise, realistic and well positioned within a context of similar political situations that can make comparison a viable option. In this rich context, devolved integration or free association seems the most sensible option, from the scholar’s point of view. Ivanov’s work is precise and hints at the technical heart of the matter: if self-determination is pursued, which way is best? Under what conditions? What are the determinants of the future UK-Falkland Islands relationship? Asking these questions, Ivanov has prepared an excellent chart of the choices possible now for the Falkland Islanders, that can double as a realistic map of the future, as it has been validated and shared by most groups in the Islands.
1. Self-determination in a conflict environment
Populations have a way of expressing political desires in way that interlope and manifest different wishes for their own future. The voice of the people, constructed through polls, surveys and elections, tries to channel many expressed opinions into pre-determined choices, so to make selection of the majority one possible. If only the Falklands could proceed designing their own future in a conflict free environment, following a natural development path, predictions would be easy. However, there is no way a domestic election in the Falklands could solve a long international sovereignty dispute. The old sovereignty claim by Argentina is still there, prompting the need to include the impact of this pressure on calculations of future Falklands developments.
Missing a formal conflict resolution process and some international agreement between Argentina and the UK, it is somewhat tempting to move forward ignoring this pressure, hoping for time to ease the weight of this demand and finally make of it a mere symbolic side to a strong development in the Islands. But the thread of Islands progress is dependent upon a peaceful context, and a hostile Argentina environment is too big a threat for the islands to be ignored. It poses a defense heavy burden and weighs in the UK-FI relation by constraining possibilities that would be otherwise open. Even when present conditions in Argentina are taken into account, (economic crises, diminished military expenditure, official renouncement to a policy of military recovery of the Islands, etc.) there are still social conditions present that make of a forceful recovery a credible threat for the Islanders.
In short, planning for the Falklands future asks that duly consideration should be given to the dispute context and to the future management of the Argentine claim. In this short paper, I offer my reflections about argentine social conditions linked to the ‘Malvinas recovery myth’ that could impinge on peaceful developments in the Falklands.
2. The recovery of the Islas Malvinas and its role in public imagination
In Argentina, this sovereignty dispute now going on for a long time, has taken its own national life. Discussions able to shape public perceptions of ‘what is doable, possible and desirable’ for the political future of the Falklands in the context of the UK-Argentina dispute are prevented because replaced with shared mythologies and domestic power manipulations.
The highly politicized nature of the dispute makes whatever possible future UK-Argentina settlement arrived at very difficult or impossible to be accepted by the general public. Some give and take necessarily will have to happen, thus diminishing in any case the public expectations of ‘Recovery of the whole Malvinas,’ predicated by national myths.
In my own work, I have charted the symbolic constructions that made war an acceptable choice for the UK and Argentina in 1982, by watching reciprocal perceptions of the two war opponents, the UK and Argentina. The underlying motivations for the furious and fast enemy image construction process between the two nations, developing in the first week of April 1982, were too powerful to ignore. In Argentina, the construction of the ‘Malvinas’ recovery’ as the object of desire for more than 30 millions of argentines could not fail to inspire a social scientist the question about the reasons for its deployment. Among those discovered, the push for a more positive and heroic national self-image prompted acceptance of the military junta’s brinkmanship invasion decision by the majority of the population. Very few dissident voices dared to challenge the Malvinas military recovery and even less remembered that the Islanders did not share any interest in being reintegrated as argentine citizens.
In the following years, and appraised of the need to challenge domestic perceptions both in UK and in Argentina, the Falklands-Malvinas Forum was created. Voices from the three parties of the dispute have expressed their own needs and views of the conflict on this forum. Open to participants from all sides of the dispute, this virtual space has provided the possibility of revising perceptions supported by either side by contrasting them with differing perceptions from the other sides. In general, it has served to expose the artificial nature of political perceptions, how they are created and manipulated, and how they need a serious work of verification with realities provided from counterparts’ perceptions. In this way, there is a hope that a shared reality will appear, containing both sides’ main interests.
Through hosting and managing the Falklands-Malvinas Forum since the year 1996, my work has been mainly dealing with the murky constructed reality of political situations, be them evolving either in the Falklands’ implausible neighbors, Argentina and the UK, or in the Islands themselves.
It is clear now that all side’s participants’ declarations of rights, either based on historic rights or on other principles, could and would be challenged by the other side(s). There is not consensual history of the Falklands sovereignty rights. And there is not the smallest possibility of constructing one at the present time using consensus.
What is left is to examine what are the most important perceptions conducive to either maintain a sovereignty claim, grant it or allow the Islands to develop in their own, through devolved integration, on each side of the dispute. What are the necessary conditions on each to grant a peaceful development of devolved integration, as Ivanov suggests?
3. The Argentine construction of the Malvinas-Falklands recovery
If Ivanov can say that the Falklands, before 1982 were almost ignored in the rest of the world, in Argentina the reality of them, as Falkland Islands, was also deeply ignored. Since almost the beginning of the XX Century, people have been schooled in a peculiar narrative of the Islands as national territory stolen by the UK. It is not the Falkland Islands, but the Islas Malvinas construction what is at stake. And if the geography in dispute is the same, everything on them constitutes a different reality if seen from Buenos Aires or Stanley.
Along the 1982 war political and social discourse, official definitions and the media itself described this imaginary object of public attention as the ‘Islas Malvinas,’ nationally perceived as lost national territory populated by ‘people born argentine.’
When the transient recovery was briefly accomplished from April to June 1982, the public had the opportunity to symbolize in its image all what was previously lost and now recovered: a national project of development, pride in national characteristics of bravery and honor, and a proud self-image.
What it had not was the opportunity to challenge perceptions as deeply held as they were imaginary. Some war veterans told, when returned, of their surprise and shock to find in the Islands not ‘Malvineros,’ or argentine inhabitants waiting to be liberated from the UK rule, but islanders stubborn in their British identity. Where they expected gratitude, there was rejection; where it was supposed to be identification with the argentine endeavor and support, they found resistance and contempt. Imagined Malvinas was very different from the briefly recovered Falklands.
Still, political imagination is stronger than stubborn Islands realities, and as part of the persistent sovereignty claim maintenance, Argentina keeps a curious policy about them, backing up the claim with its own mythology. They do exist as Islas Malvinas in official documents, maps, school texts and passports. Their inhabitants have automatic argentine citizenship. Newspapers can tell the weather report in Stanley as easily as in Cordoba or Buenos Aires, while they don’t care about Punta Arenas or Grytviken weather conditions. Even recently, it was impossible to mention the name Falklands in newspapers or publications, and Stanley needed to be referred to as ‘Puerto Argentino.’
4. The Forum as a mirror of Argentine mythological constructs on ‘Malvinas’
Such a persistent view is reflected in postings by Argentine members, who share the same proposition, repeated over and over again: ‘The Islas Malvinas son argentinas,’ and they belong to Argentina because … and here comes a long historic narrative of XVIII and XIX centuries acts of possession and loss.
What is surprising is the degree in which participants use this argument, almost as the only one offered, because it is the root dispute argument taught in Argentine schools. Such a degree of indoctrination is very worrisome, because even in the case of successful negotiations with the UK about the Islands future, there is no way that the national myth will become real as expected: ‘complete devolution of the Islas Malvinas to Argentina.’ Whatever could be negotiated between the two parties, it is impossible to accept that Argentina could obtain this impossible dream realized. But any diminution or restriction on the wholeness of the dream would then become treason vis a vis the public imagination wishes.
Along the last eight years of functioning, the F-M Forum has worked as a reality check for those Argentine proponents of this myth of recovery, even for participants from political levels as high as the Ministry of International Relations in Argentina. Other participants have challenged the mythological ‘Malvinas argentinas’ dream, over and over again. Painful confrontation has followed inspired discussions, and positions have been argued back and forth.
Hopefully, some small changes in stubborn positions allow us to think that reciprocal education on the limitations of any forcible solution has happened. Having an archive of the discussion serves also the purpose to educate newcomers on the depths of previous interactions.
The main attraction of this discussion is, indeed, the presence of the Islanders in the F-M Forum, who provide a very necessary counterpoint to Argentine propositions. Even taking in consideration the disparity of numbers: only some individuals from the Islands and some expatriates on one side, and hundreds of potential Argentine members repeating the recovery narrative, on the other side, the internet makes possible to balance this disparity somehow and integrate both voices at the same level. There is a strict control of the participants from Argentina allowed to participate, not matter how many requests there can be.
5. Some developments along the Forum interactions
If peace proposals are now somehow possible and doable, it is accepted in the Forum that they have to be checked with the very ones going to live under those propositions. Is in this aspect that the Forum does what was supposed to do from the beginning: confront illusions with the other side’s hard perceptions, and come to terms with the differences.
The response of the Islanders is very educational, because provides Argentines enthusiastically supporting a full recovery for their country, with the painful limitations to their propositions: if we don’t want to be argentines, what are you going to do? Expel us from our homes? Pay for us going away? Do more war and subdue us? And, what would be the price for you if you do that?
Is in this aspect that the dialogue becomes a deep reflection of political decision-making at the individual level. Few brazen attitudes survive, and participants even stubbornly repeating the ‘recovery’ mantra, see themselves confronted with real people answering back with very concrete arguments. Is at this level where policy gets defined in decisions that affect real people and have to be carried on by the same people. The principle of self-determination that is so prevalent in the culture of the Islands, together with the historical acceptance of their Britishness, imbues their replies with the kind of arguments that are not easy to respect from the continent. However, a dialogue between the two contrary sides, with real people with real names has not been possible before, and it opens now real avenues for inclusion of the different perspectives at decision time.
This sustained dialogue across cultures, languages and perceptions is the main lesson from the Falklands-Malvinas Forum. It provides both sides with a first level education on the other side’s needs and wishes. It helps the Islanders calibrate threat perceptions of the continent possible moves. It offers a window of opportunity to both sides for exploring some different avenues for a peaceful coexistence in the future, by offering proposals to the other side and receiving due feedback. And it offers governments a back track information channel to discover popular attitudes and perceptions used multiple times in the past, away from official compromise and positioning.
What some Forum participants would like to see is a modification of the ancestral sovereignty claim by Argentina, taking into account as never before developments in the Islands concerning political independence, devolved integration or whatever choice Islanders develops.
The beginning could be, perhaps the opening up of a dialogue at a national level, not at the individual citizen level as it is now happening only at the Forum, but at the level of groups and government entities on both sides. For example, Argentina could soften its traditional preference for negotiating only with the UK and open up some kind of broad political conversations with the Islands elected officials, beyond the talks about fishing dictated by expediency reasons.
Another indication of peaceful integration in the South Atlantic would be for Argentina giving the Islanders some recognition as a unique people that has an identity, history and culture very different from the culture of the mainland and from the UK itself. But all these Forum suggestions point to political developments that move according with national and international events, way beyond its influence sphere.
What the Forum can simply do is to serve as a model for a cross-cultural and political interaction developed under some rigorous constrains, but accepted by the participants as a safe ground where to develop a difficult but necessary negotiation between deep identity claims from both sides. Let’s hope that the contributions at the Forum, among which we count Dr. Ivanov’s very valuable proposal presented here, can serve the purpose to foster this inevitable negotiation that could bring about a peaceful future for the South Atlantic region.