September 03, 2018

The way in which a country strengthens and develops its culture is by opening its doors and windows, widely, to all intellectual, scientific, and artistic currents.

© Farrar Straus and Giroux
Sabers and Utopias: Visions of Latin America
By Mario Vargas Llosa

wild how inevitably history repeats itself.

"Fujimori's trial lasted almost seventeen months, was televised, was attended by journalists and international observers, and the accused enjoyed all the guarantees to a defense. The three-member court, presided over by a prestigious criminal attorney, magistrate, and university professor, Doctor César San Martín, whose conduct throughout the proceedings was of a calmness and uprightness recognized by all sides, issued a sentence that should be published and read in schools across Latin America—abridged, because it is almost 700 pages long—so that new generations learn, through concrete events and identified people, about the tragedy of human suffering, public insecurity, criminality, distortion of values, lies, and contempt for the most basic civil rights in modern society in a country, and within the corruption and degradation of institutions of a dictatorship like the one Peru experienced between 1992 and the year 2000, when Fujimori, failing in his attempts to be reelected in rigged elections, fled to Japan and quit the presidency via fax."
(p. 38 from "Warning to Dictators"; Madrid, April 15, 2009)

"But it is vain to attempt to reason thus with those who have made the logic of terror theirs. It is rigorous, coherent, and impervious to dialogue. The greatest danger to a democracy is not terrorist attacks, no matter how painful or onerous they end up being; it is accepting the rules of the game that the terrorist tries to impose. There are two risks to a democratic government in the face of terror: to become intimidated or to go too far. Passivity in the face of attacks is suicide. To allow instability, psychosis, and collective terror to spread is to contribute to creating a climate that favors a military coup d'etat. A democratic government has the duty to defend itself, firmly and without any inferiority complexes, with the assurance that by defending itself, it is defending all of society from a greater misfortune than what ails it. At the same time, it cannot forget for a second that all of its power depends on its legitimacy, that in no case should it go beyond what laws and "ways"—which are also the essence of a democracy—allow. If it goes too far and commits abuses, jumps over laws like a bullfighter in pursuit of efficiency, relies on misdeeds, it could be that it defeats the terrorist. But the latter will have won, revealing a monstrosity: that injustice can lead to justice, that the path to freedom is dictatorship."
(p. 55 from "The Logic of Terror"; Lima, December 1980)

"Let's briefly summarize what nationalism consists of in the realm of culture. Basically, it asks one to consider what is one's own absolute and unquestionable value and to devalue all that is foreign as something that threatens, undermines, impoverishes, or degenerates the spiritual personality of a country. Although such a thesis withstands the most shallow analysis with difficulty and it is easy to demonstrate how prejudiced and naive its reasoning is, as well as how unrealistic its aims—cultural autocracy—are, history shows us that it takes root with ease and that even countries with an ancient and solid civilization are not immune to it. Without going too far afield, Hitler's Germany, Mussolini's Italy, Stalin's Soviet Union, Franco's Spain, Mao's China all practiced cultural nationalism, trying to create a culture that was pure, cut off from and protected from the hated corrupting agents—foreignism, cosmopolitanism—through dogma and censorship. But in our days, it is in the third world especially, in underdeveloped countries, where cultural nationalism is preached more stridently and has more followers. Its defenders start from a false assumption: that a country's culture is, like natural resources and the raw materials held by its soil, something that must be defended against the voracious greed of imperialism, and kept stable, intact, and unpolluted, since its contamination with anything from the outside would adulterate it and make it vile. To fight for "cultural independence" and to become emancipated from "foreign cultural dependence" with the goal of "developing our own culture" are habitual formulas in the mouths of so-called progressives in the third world. That such catchphrases are as hollow as they are cacophonous, true conceptual gibberish, is not an obstacle to the many people finding them seductive, due to the air of patriotism enveloping them. (And in the realm of patriotism, Borges has written, the people only tolerate affirmations.) They allow themselves to be persuaded by them, even the media who believes themselves to be invulnerable to the authoritarian ideologies promoting them. People who say they believe in political pluralism and in economic freedom and that they are hostile to the idea of only one truth and omnipotent, omniscient states subscribe nonetheless to the theses of cultural nationalism without examining what they mean. The reason is very simple: nationalism is the culture of the uneducated, and of these, there are legions."

"The way in which a country strengthens and develops its culture is by opening its doors and windows, widely, to all intellectual, scientific, and artistic currents, stimulating the free circulation of ideas wherever they come from, in such a way that its own tradition and experience is constantly put to the test, and corrected, completed, and enriched by those who, in other territories and with other languages and in different circumstances, share with us the misery and greatness of the human adventure. Only thus, subject to this continuous challenge and encouragement, will our authentic, contemporary, and creative culture be the best tool of our own economic and social progress."
(pp. 92-3, 96 from "Elephant and Culture"; Lima, November 1981)

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