By the time this page reaches the breakfast table of readers, the Thursday night attack on Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner will have been condemned across the political spectrum and beyond, aside from other reactions, but that in no way relieves us of our obligation to add our voice to the universal condemnation in the strongest terms. To this we will add an appeal for unity and calm.
Such unity goes without saying for now but it must be sustained to prevent political polarisation from again rearing its ugly head in some other shocking form, possibly with a more tragic outcome. While it might be something of a stretch to detect a linear connection between an apparently deranged Brazilian and the “discourses of hatred” of the opposition, this attack must prompt the latter to place their escalating critiques under serious review – and if this review ends up replacing a purely negative stress on what an admittedly struggling government is doing wrong with proposals of what they intend to do right in the form of constructive alternatives, then this happily unsuccessful attack might be another vindication of that ancient saying: “It is an ill wind which blows no good.”
The theme of unity, however, also needs to prevail in government ranks, which face a huge temptation for electoral opportunism in the form of converting moral indignation into political advantage. A divisive approach here with a confident expectation of the sympathies of a broad majority (shades of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s own landslide 2011 presidential win with 54 percent in the wake of her husband’s sudden death) would perhaps be the smarter political move but moments like this call for statesmanship. Fostering contempt for the other side, after all, has helped take Argentina to where it arrived on Thursday night.
The appeal for calm needs to be as persistent as the call for unity. It would be natural enough to accompany the condemnations and the expression of solidarity with a huge sigh of relief that there is no death to mourn and the idea of moving on after yesterday’s public holiday but it is not so simple. Thursday night’s shock cannot be consigned to oblivion so easily. Great oaks from little acorns grow or even dwarfs started small, as the Germans say – the spiral of political violence can arise from almost nothing, as Argentine historical experience also teaches us. Historians may dispute whether the seeds of the bloodshed of the 1970s are to be found in the execution of Peronist rebel general Juan José Valle in 1956 or the Montonero slaying of kidnapped former military president Pedro Eugenio Aramburu in 1970 but the sparks setting off the proverbial tinderbox need have no greater dimensions than Thursday night’s shock attack. There will always be sparks – the challenge facing society as a whole is to ensure that there is no tinderbox.
What happened on Thursday night remains unimaginable but somehow it must be imagined and faced. A country whose capacity for shock has seemingly been tested to the limits is now tested yet further. The general atmosphere of repudiation of this attempted magnicide should not stop us from demanding a more detailed explanation of this attack on a heavily-guarded vice-president but nor do we really need those details to face up to our civic obligations. Thursday night cannot be compared with the 9/11 terrorist attacks whose anniversary falls next weekend but it might yet be a milestone taking Argentine history into a new watershed. One thing’s for sure, wherever we end up: violence is never the solution.