Thursday, June 23, 2011

Misunderstanding Peronismo

Please note the absence of punctuation in the title of this post. This post is not a pun, hence it's not "Mis/understanding Peronismo," or "(Mis)Understanding Peronismo," or some such. This is so not only because I think such constructions are tired, but also because they would also be inaccurate as applied to the content that will follow. This is not a post about my misguided understanding of Peronismo, but about my full-bore, unmitigated misunderstanding of Peronismo. I have never understood Peronismo since coming to Argentina, and I understand it even more poorly (and yes such a thing is possible, in the sense that negative numbers have values less than zero) after attempting to have various smart locals explain it to me.

The only way to explain how I misunderstand Peronismo is to note the various things about it that confuse me.

First, Peronism doesn't really exist, and yet it does. I was surprised to see the idea of Peronismo batted around as much as it has been in my time here in Bs As (though it's an election year so perhaps this explains it to an extent). I was aware of the historical figure of Peron and his wives, but did not know that whatever -ism he gave birth to persisted so much in present-day Argentina. (It would be like going to the US and seeing people debate whether Obama was more of a "Kennedyist" than McCain.)

And yet, technically, no one is a Peronist. For example, the current Argentine head of state and stone fox (when age- and job-adjusted) Cristina Kirchner is not a Peronist. She is a Judicialist. That is the name of her political party. But she is, for all intents and purposes, a Peronist, and receives massive support from, e.g., the militant wing of Peronists called, for obvious reasons, Peronismo Militante. The reason there's this linguistic distinction, I'm told, is that Peron no longer exists, so there must be a different name for the party (parties?) that carry on his tradition. But this makes no sense, since parties that carry on his tradition would be very well-served to keep his name in their name as a way of making clear that they are carrying on his tradition.

Confused yet? Me too. But wait, there's more!

Second, while Peronism does not officially exist, so that no one is really a Peronist, everyone is basically a Peronist. Peronism is not (or at least no longer) a political party, but rather a movement that is for a variety of things including social justice, national self-determination, etc. The Peronist tent is so big that it strains the imagination to find people who are not Peronists.

There are some, I'm told. Social elites, and especially those in Bs As, are often not that into Peronism (or Cristina, who is/not a Peronist). Nor are human rights adovcates, though this too is changing as the present Kirchnerist regime (which is Peronist not only in its orientation but also in that Nestor Kirchner was followed in office by his wife, the stone fox Cristina Kirchner, creating a husband/wife power dyad much like Juan/Eva Peron (and to a lesser extent, Isabel Martinez de Peron, who also was the head of state briefly here following Juan's death and whose utter incompetence in office was largely responsible for the rise of the awful dictatorship of 1977-83 or so)) is a big supporter of human rights, at least in form if debatably in substance. I've also seen some posters for the radical left around town, about half of which are defaced with the word "puto", suggesting that they're not exactly winning hearts and minds.

Third, and perhaps most confusingly, and certainly relatedly, Peronism includes groups that we think of in the US as inimicably opposed to one another. Right and left often claim that they are Peronist. Ditto for military and the common man. The idea of Peronism is so malleable and/or capacious that it seems any political group can fit into some corner of it. And they want to do this because Peronism appears to be really, really popular and compelling on an instinctive level, in the sense that many political self-definitions are adopted by people more instinctively than analytically. Argentine hearts and minds--the Peronists have them.

So Peronism may be more a force or a feeling than a coherent political philosophy. I say "may" because as should be clear from this post so far, I don't really understand Peronism after talking to many politically savvy Argentines about it and if anything, am more confused about it than I was before. My term for it is intellectual quicksand--the harder you struggle to get it, the deeper you sink.

And you know what? I think they prefer it that way, the good old Argies. There's something distinctively Argentinian about Peronismo--it's a nationalist movement named after their most important 20th century political figure(s), after all--so there's something satisfying about having it seem inaccessible to foreigners. It reminds me a bit of the old T-shirt that said, "It's a black thing, you wouldn't understand," which also carries the implication that it's somehow group-definitional to have internally understood ideas that are obscure to the rest of society or the world.

So you win, Argentinians. This estadounidense doesn't get Peronismo. It's yours, all yours. Just the way you like it.

Pic #1: Graffiti from around the corner on Azcuenaga touting militant Peronism, located next to exhortations for Cristina to be re-elected this year.

Pic #2: "Thanks for giving us back the motherland," says the sign featuring Argentine hottie-of-state Cristina and Nestor Kirchner, posted at the site of ESMA. Pretty decent example of nationalism and national identity in nexus with contemporary politics. Or it's totally not. Like I said, I've got no idea.