Argentinian Diary – Malvinas Monument El Calafate

Malvinas Heroes Square - El Calafate

Malvinas Heroes Square – El Calafate

Argentinian Diary – Malvinas Monument El Calafate

El Calafate also has a Malvinas Monument, the one here being situated on the western end of the town’s main street, Avenida del Libertador, just before reaching the town limit. This is in the middle of a large square dedicated to the Heroes of the Malvinas War.

But as with the monument in Rio Gallegos I find it difficult to interpret the image and haven’t been able to get any closer to the intended meaning by speaking with local people.

Malvinas Heroes Square - El Calafate

Malvinas Heroes Square – El Calafate

It’s a simple monument consisting of three black, panel vertical panels (with a small space between them) – with the outline of the Islas Malvinas spreading across the top of all three. The panels are of metal and hollow and the design of the islands has been cut into the front side and with the interior of the panels being painted white the outline is clear under all conditions.

Standing in front of the panel – at about one and half life size – is a statue of a woman made from plaster on a metal frame. Her back is to the panel and she stands with her legs apart facing the main street. When I first saw this statue I thought it was one of the many attempts of Argentina to make some recognition that the country was actually stolen from the indigenous population and although nothing will be given back such statues are considered to be a form of saying sorry – a very cheap way and fundamentally meaningless.

Malvinas Heroes Square - El Calafate

Malvinas Heroes Square – El Calafate

However, I realised my mistake when I actually got to the square. Or then perhaps not. I just can’t understand what this woman has to do with the Malvinas and even less to do with the war of 1982. One explanation I was given was that she is supposed to represent an indigenous woman and there is a conflation of the pain and suffering of the indigenous people and the desire of Argentina to regain sovereignty of the islands.

That would make sense if not for a number of inconsistencies. She’s dressed in a mini-dress (unlike any female clothing I’ve seen of the people who lived in Patagonia before the colonisation of the southern cone in the late 19th century) and for some other inexplicable reason the strap over her right shoulder has been broken or released and this means that her right breast is exposed.

Malvinas Heroes Square - El Calafate

Malvinas Heroes Square – El Calafatel

This might be trying to say that she is some type of Amazon prepared to fight for what should, by rights, belong to Argentina. But that doesn’t make sense from all the historical information I’ve so far been able to pick up. The indigenous weren’t fighters. They were nomadic hunter gatherers. Yet she is depicted with a spear that is about one and half times her own height.

To me she looks more like a young woman who has had a wild Friday night out in the centre of a major British town than anything else.

Malvinas Heroes Square - El Calafate

Malvinas Heroes Square – El Calafate

The other inconsistency is that she is holding, in her left hand – whilst at the same time holding her spear – a very large book. What this book represents I can only surmise. If a book of remembrance this takes us even further away from the indigenous idea. In fact, any book of any kind is totally inconsistent with the period before colonisation as the local people didn’t have a written language (and one of the reasons the indigenous languages are disappearing – or have already disappeared).

As for her stance she has her head thrown back and is looking up to the heavens. That stance, together with her right hand being held high above her head in supplication, seems to indicate that she is begging from an unseen and non-existent God that help is given to obtain the liberation of the Malvinas from foreign, imperialist control.

Malvinas Heroes Square - El Calafate

Malvinas Heroes Square – El Calafate

So there’s a conflict between the images and the message I assume it is trying to convey

Both the woman and the panels are placed on top of a square, brick plinth painted yellow. I think the yellow is to reflect the Sun of May that sits in the centre of the Argentina flag, adding a third national colour to the blue and white. On the face of this plinth, under the feet of the woman and facing the street, are a number of plaques and the photo of an individual soldier. As in the monument in Rio Gallegos these consist of different entities making their support known to the cause being represented by the statue.

Malvinas Heroes Square - El Calafate

Malvinas Heroes Square – El Calafate

The statue of the woman is starting to show signs of lack of maintenance and some of the plaster is starting to separate from the metal framework. The general area is also showing signs of lack of care. This might just be a case that cuts in public expenditure mean that public spaces are being neglected – as in many countries where neo-liberal policies are being enforced in a radical manner and the public infrastructure is being neglected. The state of many public spaces in Argentina would seem to support that point of view.

Malvinas Heroes Square - El Calafate

Malvinas Heroes Square – El Calafate

I saw nothing that indicated the artist or the date of inauguration.

So another Argentinian statue that asks more questions that it provides answers.

Malvinas Heroes Square - El Calafate

Malvinas Heroes Square – El Calafate

The problem the Argentinian state – and people – face is that although there is an overwhelming feeling that ‘Las Malvinas son Argentinas’ they also know that there is no military solution (especially after Galtieri cocked it up in 1982) and although the occupation of the Malvinas on the part of the British costs a fortune (and one of the reasons the British were slowly abandoning the islanders to their own fate in the months leading up to the 1982 war) the British are also hoist by their own petard.

Any British government that were to hand the islands back to Argentina would be condemned as treasonous by a sizeable proportion of the British population and media. So it won’t happen peacefully either.

Such are the games that capitalist nation states play.

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Argentinian Diary – Las Malvinas and Rio Gallegos

Las Islas Malvinas - Rio Gallegos
Las Islas Malvinas – Rio Gallegos

Argentinian Diary –Las Malvinas and Rio Gallegos

The Background

It would be impossible for a Britisher to make a visit to Argentina and not make reference to the war between the United Kingdom and Argentina over the Islas Malvinas, from April 2nd to June 14th 1982. That tacky,wasteful and unnecessary war was a God-given opportunity for a weak and pathetic government to try to divert the attention of the population from its failed economy and worsening social conditions.If true justice existed in the world that neo-fascist would be charged in the international court for war crimes. Margaret Thatcher was lucky. ‘Her’ side won – and so she was able to hide behind the ‘joy and enthusiasm’ of victory. After all, it’s the victors who write the history of any conflict.

The ‘other side’ was led by an equally weak and pathetic leader, Leopoldo Galtieri, a fascist army general who was the last President during the period of military dictatorship from 1976-83. H hoped to use nationalist feelings over the Islas Malvinas to divert attention away from the growing opposition to military rule. He gambled – and lost.

I won’t go into my thoughts too deeply about that shameful war. Suffice it to say that if Galtieri had held back for a couple of months the outcome could have been very different – for the history of the Malvinas as well as for the subsequent history of the two countries concerned.

At least the Argentinians knew where the Malvinas were. Most Britishers, waking up to the news on Friday 3rd April 1982 thought the Argentinians were off the north west coast of Scotland.

The British success –which was as close to a near thing as the Battle of Waterloo –meant that the military dictatorship in Argentina had just over a year before it was replaced by a ‘democratic’ government.

The war and the eventual re-raising of the Union Flag in Port Stanley released a flood of patriotism, jingoism and racism in Britain unknown since the  Relief of Mafeking in 1900. In return for their stupidity the British people had the pleasure of Thatcher as their leader for another eight years, the entrenchment of the ‘neo-liberal’ economic theories(adopted, more or less, by all political parties in the UK since),the weakening of the economy and the power of workers to determine their own futures and the worsening conditions for society in general under the banner of ‘austerity’ .

The Rio Gallegos ‘Monument to the Fallen in the Malvinas War’

Being one of the closest points on the Argentinian mainland to the islands Rio Gallegos was obviously to play a major role in the land, sea and air war. For that reason there’s a large monument to the fallen on the outskirts of the town. Not the best of locations, to my mind, but then perhaps there’s always a different mindset when a monument commemorates a victory or a defeat.

(The monument in Puerto Madryn is on the edge of town and the one in Buenos Aires,although central, is still in a peripheral location. The ‘eternal flame’ at that monument wasn’t so eternal during the lock-down of the G-20 2018 as it was surrounded by metal crash barriers.)

Monument to the Fallen in the Malvinas War
Monument to the Fallen in the Malvinas War

I also don’t think it’s a particularly impressive monument – taking into account the feelings that all Argentinians I’ve met have towards the Malvinas. Not only is it unimpressive as a piece of architecture it doesn’t help that it’s starting to look a little bit neglected. If I read the situation correctly it was originally planned to have an almost permanent flow of water, uniting the tower to the geometric representation of the islands a few metres away. When everything is dry and rubbish is starting to collect then the original idea is not only lost it becomes an indication of lack of care.

Looking at the memorial from what would be the principle approach the entrance is flanked by two eternal flames (gas operated) which sit upon truncated pyramids.The central monument is a yellow column sitting upon a pile of rocks(presumably representing the islands themselves). From the eternal flames this column shows three levels which reduce in height and width. I’ve no idea what this implies. A short distance from the top of the column a circular crown of laurel leaves forms vertically to achieve the highest point of the monument.

From the front it looks like a vertical pillar but from the sides it can be seen that it folds back on itself, as in a concave image. Almost exactly in the centre is a small, square hole. I can’t see what this signifies but if my idea is that this monument is also a water feature it is from this hole that the water would fall towards the islands at the back of the column.

From behind the column a chute comes down steeply from the hole. This is painted red, as is the pavement on either side of the channel that leads to the pool in which sits a very rough geometric representation of the islands. I’d forgotten how complex the islands are with its coves and bays.

We get the idea that these are islands in a sea as the land is grassed over to differentiate the concrete from the water. There are no trees represented as we know from 1982 that no trees grow on the islands.

My interpretation here is that the blood of the Argentinians, in some ways, nurture the islands. That the ‘sacrifice’ of the 649 in 1982 are what make the islands part of the country. But as I’ve already said, the fact that no water is running and the area is starting to look neglected, this idea loses a lot of its power.

The Fallen in the Malvinas War
The Fallen in the Malvinas War

On either side of the principal monument are two, L-shaped alcoves. On the external sides there are two bas reliefs in red, of the four only one of them is recognisable and that seems to be faces in some sort of agony. Time and/or vandalism has degraded the other three. On the interior of these alcoves are fixed a number of brass or ceramic plaques that have been fixed there over a period of time by different groups commemorating specific anniversaries – this is a common approach to monuments throughout Argentina and can be seen, for example, on the San Martin monument in the square that bears his name only a few blocks away in the centre of town.

To the left of the two eternal flames is a board contains a poem written for the inauguration of the monument – I didn’t see any date of its inauguration nor any details of the architect/artist.

My translation of that poem is:

I have seen emerge, from the very soul of our land, valiant combatants of the air, sea and land parading their laurels in the infinite heaven

I have seen the sacrifice of their spilt blood bathing our islands in honour

Justice will come then, as hot firebrands engrave the memory of the men to which this symbol in concrete pays homage

Hector Pedraza

The Malvinas remembered in the port of Rio Gallegos

I’ve come across a number of murals in my travels but, due to only catching a glimpse of them from a bus window, I have no actual record of them. However, the general point is that a) Las Malvinas son Argentinas and b) those who died should not be forgotten.

In the port area of Rio Gallegos I came across these murals.

I’ll let these pictures (in the main) – with the relevant translations – make their own point.

The Angel
The Angel

The young soldier,converted into an angel, flying over the graves of his fallen comrades, with the ‘Sun of May’ in the top left – on his way to heaven. Notice the beatific smile on his face, as if he is the modern day version of a Christian martyr. All this image needs is the image of a Gurkha’s khukuri that slit his throat to be floating in the air behind him. This is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most bizarre and, in many ways, most unpleasant call for the dead to be remembered I have seen.

Glory and Honour Forever
Glory and Honour Forever

Glory and Honour Forever

Whilst an Argentinian breathes
Whilst an Argentinian breathes

Whilst an Argentinian draws breath we will never be the invaders

649
649

649 – they will always be our heroes (649 is the number of the Argentinian dead)

Don't mourn Grandma
Don’t mourn Grandma

Malvinas Forever –’Old Lady (Grandma), don’t mourn that I’m with my fallen comrades on the islands. All I need is that my country remembers me.’

No Surrender!
No Surrender!

Here there’s no surrender. Shit! Long Live the Country (Argentina). Our own strength.

Two struggles in one
Two struggles in one

28 Heart – We will build together

This one is a little bit complicated and has to be de-constructed.

I think that the image of the islands and the soldier, with the Argentinian flag in the centre, was the original image – without words.

However, time moves on and other struggles come to the fore. Beside this image of the Malvinas was another which puts the case for the miners of the RioTurbio region (which used to send shipments of coal to the port of Rio Gallegos) who are under threat of closure. It depicts a black miner’s helmet with the torch attached with the words ‘I’m here as well’ and ‘Miner’s Power’. As in Britain in the 1980s the closure of the mines doesn’t just mean the loss of jobs it means the total destruction of a community.

I'm here as well
I’m here as well

The interpretation I have learnt from speaking to people locally is that the miners (or apolitical faction from that community) have put their slogan over the original Malvinas image to equate the two struggles that people believe in, fervently, in this part of Argentina.

(Anyone aware of the situation in Britain with the neo-fascist Thatcher and her government’s struggle against the miners in the Great Strike of 1984-5 might think that this situation in 2018 is quite ironic. It also indicates that if workers don’t start to think in an international manner and remain parochial then what effects workers in one part of the world will eventually effect all in time.)

There’s also a very small museum in Rio Gallegos dedicated to the War in the Malvinas which I will post separately.

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Monument to the Artillery – Sauk

 

Monument to the Artillery - Sauk

Monument to the Artillery – Sauk

Although the plan is to attempt to record all the monuments from the socialist period in Albania’s history there are, and will be, occasions when I will have arrived too late. Either the ‘democrats’ (a mixture of monarchists and neo-fascists) have got there first and destroyed the works of Socialist Realist art as it represents all that they despise and fear – such as any of the statues of Enver Hoxha – or those lumpen elements who see only scrap value in a piece of metal – that has led to the damage to the statue of the Five Heroes of Vig in the northern city of Shkodër. Destruction and vandalism has been the fate of the Monument to the Artillery in the hills to the south of Tirana, close to the town of Sauk.

Even during the time of socialism in Albania this area was probably not that accessible. Now abandoned, two military barracks and a network of tunnels had been constructed on the ridge that looks down on the artificial lake and the forested area that is Tirana Park.

During the National Liberation War this would have been even more inaccessible, with no drivable roads from the valley to the ridge. However, this inaccessibility didn’t prevent a unit of the 3rd Shock Brigade of the Partisan army from transporting a short-barrelled mountain gun to the top in order to disrupt the plans of the German Nazis from establishing some element of legitimacy to their occupation of the country with the setting up of a ‘Quisling’ government.

The date chosen for this sham was the 18th October 1943 and on that day the Albanian traitors met in the Victor Emmanuel III Palace on the outskirts of the city of Tirana. This building seems to be a magnet for fascists, traitors and despots as this is where the remains of Ahmet Muhtar Bej Zogu (the self-proclaimed ‘King’ Zog) were interred when they were brought back to Albania in 2012.

Firing across the valley the small piece of artillery hit its target and caused the suspension of the meeting. For this reason, following the independence of the country with the defeat of the Nazis and the liberation of the country from all foreign forces at the end of November 1944, the 18th October was declared the Day of the Artillery of the People’s Army.

And for that reason the Monument to the Artillery of the National Liberation Army was established in the hills above Sauk.

The monument involved the work, skill and imagination of three sculptors – Kristaq Rama, Muntas Dhrami, Shaban Hadëri (who also collaborated on a number of other sculptures, including Mother Albania at the National Martyrs’ Cemetery and the Monument to Independence in Vlora) – and the architect R Kote.

(It’s perhaps pertinent here to make a comment about the construction of monumental art in a socialist society. An aspect which makes Socialist Realism not only an art for a specific class of people but also a new way of producing public art is the collaborative manner in which artists are encouraged to work. This is a big issue and I don’t intend to go into any greater detail here but the individuality that most ‘intellectuals’ crave, demand and expect gets challenged in a socialist society. This might explain why some of those Albanian intellectuals and artists now hold the views they do. Examples of this would be the writer Ismail Kadare who no longer lives in his own country; Agim Nebiu, who was an active participant in the vandalism of the Albania Mosaic on the National Historical Museum, of which he was one of the designers; and Hektor Dule, who created the statue of Azim Hajdari, one of the leaders of the counter-revolution in 1990.)

The artillery monument was constructed of concrete with the relief being of bronze. Inauguration was in 1968.

The columns were typical of the style that was adopted throughout the country. This time two rectangular columns, of about 10 metres, are at right angles to each other with the shape of a star cut into a red background almost at the top of the tower. The base on which these columns sit was faced with white and red marble on to which the story of the attack on the Quisling assembly was written. In 2014 there were only small fragments of the marble in existence, most of it being smashed and some of it still littering the site.

Artillery lapidar - Sauk - 1971

Artillery lapidar – Sauk – 1971

(The area around the monument in happier times – published in issue No 5, 1971, of New Albania.)

A wall that held the bronze bas-relief has completely disappeared, as has the metal. Whether this was stolen out of pure theft or political vandalism I don’t, as yet, know for certain. This today is still an isolated site but 20 or 30 years ago would have been more so. That would have made either option relatively easy and unobserved.

The relief depicted six Partisan fighters, five men and one woman. The lead man has a pair of binoculars up to his face and would have been looking in the direction of the Victor Emmanuel III Palace. Behind him is a woman with a rifle on her back.

Next is the gun crew and their short barrelled mountain gun. There’s a commander pointing in the direction of fire and a gun aimer is down on his knees making the necessary adjustments to the angle of the barrel to determine the range and trajectory of the shell. Behind him a Partisan holds the shell that is soon to be dropping on the heads of the Fascist collaborators and traitors. The sixth man of the group holds the reigns of the horse that had contributed to dragging the gun into position in the first place.

In 1979 the artist Petro Kokusta created a depiction of this event in a painting entitled ‘Shelling the traitor’s assembly’ which is presently on display on the first floor of the National Art Gallery in Tirana.

Shelling the traitor's assembly - 1979 - Petro Kokushta

Shelling the traitor’s assembly – 1979 – Petro Kokushta

Not only is the monument in ruins the whole of the area is a rubbish strewn mess. The paths are overgrown and the area emits an atmosphere of neglect and dereliction. That’s a shame as from this vantage point you can get one of the finest views of the city of Tirana, with the Datji Mountain range in the background. The day I visited was the worst day, visibility wise, of my visit in November 2014 and the picture is pretty muggy. Next time I will visit on a better day and, hopefully, be able to provide a more accurate photographic impression of the possibilities.

Because this range isn’t as inaccessible now as it used to be. From the top end of Sauk a newly surfaced tarmac road climbs towards the first ridge where the local cemetery is located. The road continues to a second higher ridge which is where the ruined monument can be found. (Looking up from the centre of Sauk you should be able to make out two man-made structures, the columns of the Artillery Monument and a sharply pointed obelisk which stood over a military barracks.)

This road is Rruga Xhrebahimi and, I assume, was built primarily to serve the old barracks. But now it is a very fine, well made and smooth surfaced road – but it basically goes nowhere and is indicative of the ‘development’ under ‘democracy’.

As I was going along this new road I couldn’t work out why no traffic was passing me in either direction until a single motorbike passed me. As I walked uphill towards the high pass I passed a group of six workmen who were making ‘improvements’ to the road which weren’t necessary. They were merely shovelling spadefuls of gravel on the edge of the tarmac and then using a light steamroller to keep it in place (until the next rainy day). A completely useless and wasteful task – apart from keeping them employed.

When I arrived at the pass I realised why there was no real traffic on such a well made road. At the top there was a section of from 100-150 metres where the road was just a rough and rutted dirt track. The road then continued down the other side of the hill, going for how long and to where I know not. Why this crucial section hadn’t been completed I can only speculate. Corruption? Inefficiency? Bad planning? Probably a mix of all of them.

There would be, however, some people who will benefit from this road. Being built very close to the road, in a location which meant that the patios would look down towards the Tirana Park Lake and the city were a small handful of very expensive looking houses. This road, no doubt paid for by public money, would make it very easy for them to get home. What the people of Sauk thought of this road I wasn’t able to discover. They must have wondered why such a road was being built to nowhere when the roads in the town are just falling apart.

GPS:

N41º.29555302

E19º.80888203

Altitude: 328.9m

Getting there.

There are buses leaving at regular intervals, destination Sauk, from the bus station that is located in the square to the south of the Opera/National Library building (not far from The Partisan statue). Get off at the terminus and head for the hills in the direction that the bus had been travelling before you alighted. Cost 30 lek.

It’s a bit of a hike and must be close to 3 kilometres in distance. Once you get to the pass and the temporary end of the road take the narrow path off to the right, on the Sauk side of the hill and follow this to the monument. If you take the wider path off to the left, going pass some tunnels you will arrive at an abandoned military barracks and the site of the pointed obelisk (with a now sad-looking red star at its apex). Chose a good, clear day and you will be rewarded with a fine view of the city and the mountains (as well as, possibly, a sight of the coast).