Human rights in times of pandemic: testimony …

“They took the girl out of his arms and he didn’t see her again.” “They took him alive and he was claimed alive.” “We have been searching for 33 years.” How do the voices of the victims of the most silenced experience of European forced disappearance resonate in the mouth of Argentine actors, where the memory of State terrorism is still alive? How to think about these performances where the testimonies are emancipated from their owners? What form does human rights activism take during the forced virtuality of the pandemic? Some of these questions are explored in a video-essay as experimental as it is minimalist that the Museo Sitio de Memoria ESMA has just made public through its social networks.

The film, directed by the filmmaker Alejo Moguillansky, was made especially for the virtual visit of the Five “The disappeared and the disappeared in Spain and Argentina. Art, Testimony and Justice ”that took place on the last Saturday in July. The activity was part of a collaboration between the ESMA Memory Site Museum and the research project “Staging Difficult Pasts” based at the University of London. The visit, conducted on social networks by Alejandra Naftal, director of the Museum, brought together an international panel of judges, artists, lawyers, academics and human rights activists who analyze here how experimental art can suggest forms of repair that cross borders.

The video essay lasts just 18 minutes and was made by the collective Pampero Cinema, an independent production company responsible for films that toured festivals of Cannes, Locarno, Venice and Berlin. Edited with vertigo and expertise by the filmmaker Mariano Llinás and Moguillansky himself, the film invites you to visit the facilities of the ESMA Museum, closed by the pandemic, allowing yourself to be guided by the voices of the victims of forced disappearances during the Spanish Civil War and the Franco dictatorship that followed it and the survivors of State terrorism Argentinian. “Facilitated by virtuality, this transnational meeting allowed exploring new channels of interpellation and transmission for new audiences. From various perspectives the place of the testimony of the victims as judicial evidence, symbolic reparation and material of artistic inspiration “Naftal noted.

The Spanish testimonies were compiled by the writer Raúl Quirós Molina in his documentary play Bread and salt (2015) where he transcribed the allegations of the relatives of the victims of the Franco regime that were heard during the trial of Baltasar Garzón. The episode, known as the Historical Memory Trial (2012), ended with the magistrate, accused of prevarication, bitterly dismissed. Read for the first time by Argentine actors and actresses, the testimonies reverberate, awakening echoes with those coming from Argentine State terrorism. When being put in dialogue with testimonies of the megacause ESMA, selected by the Museum itself, the cinematographic essay discovers the surprising transfer process that took place between Argentina and Spain. In particular, the way in which the term “disappeared”, emerged in the light of the struggle of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, was imported into the Spanish debate. It is estimated that up to 150,000 Republicans disappeared in clandestine mass graves during and after the Civil War. Only a very small number have been exhumed since 2000. “The introduction of Argentine terminology and symbols served as an external trigger for Spanish memoirs to resurface in social debates”, noted German academic Aleida Assmann.

For the writer Quirós Molina, it was a surprise that his work inspired an action at the ESMA Museum. “It was a great honor that interest arose in a work that talks about the disappeared and the historical memory that have been so forgotten in Spain,” said the Spanish author, who also collaborated with Theater for Identity. In 2018, British academic Maria Delgado, granddaughter of a Spanish exile, attended a sunset Bread and salt at the Teatro Lliure in Barcelona. Since then he has been excited about taking her to Argentina. Although the original proposal involved a public reading in the Museum space, the pandemic forced a change in plans. And the intervention became a lasting work. “The event at ESMA and the film allowed us to provide another forum for justice that prolongs the circulation of these crimes in public space. Garzón’s trial was repeated in a context where the results of the trials have been different, ”Delgado said.

From exceptionalism to the brotherhood of struggle

Even when the differences between the cases are great, the dramaturgy of juxtapositions that governs the film makes the testimonies resonate in a new tune. “I am the grandson of a disappeared person who for 64 years was in a ditch,” says Mauricio Minetti in the foreground, embodying the words of Emilio Silva Barrera, one of the founders of the Association for Historical Memory of Spain. “When they took my father, I was very little. They took the bread and salt from our houses, because my mother got sick and was looking for my father and never found him ”, he reads Ana María Castel making the story of María del Pino Sosa Sosa her own. “It is always very intense to braid different realities united by common suffering. The testimonies can be rethought at the moment when they leave the instance of the real to enter another plane, that of art ”, said director Rubén Szuchmacher, who directed the reading via Zoom.

The affinities don’t stop. María del Pino Sosa Sosa, just turned 75, declared in the 2012 trial that her mother never accepted the death of her father. “As she said, they took him alive, and he was claimed alive,” the ostensibly minor Argentine actress now says. But how can he not associate his stubborn claim with the impossible demand made by the Argentine Mothers: “Appearance alive”? “Seeing Argentine actresses and actors interpreting Quirós Molina’s wonderful piece took on a different meaning. It allowed once again to demonstrate the brotherhood of the struggle between these peoples ”, said Lola Berthet, director of Centro Cultural Conti. “Seeing the superimposed images of the victims of the two tragedies and hearing the chorus of their voices universalizes pain, but also justice. I was able to unite the two tragedies and feel that what we do for some victims we are also doing for the others ”, he agreed. Ana Messuti, Argentine lawyer in the complaint against the Franco regime.

The testimonies of the Spanish and Argentine victims alternate in the film with rough exchanges between the prosecution and the defense extracted from Bread and salt. Thus, the voices of Garzón and the judge – recreated by Laura Paredes and Luciana Acuña, beloved actresses of the Pampero collective – acquire disturbing edges underlined by the constant clatter of a typewriter that seems to record a universal judgment. Cinema and theater, reading and performance, coexist in a minimal piece that in its provocative interweaving of sites and memories manages to offer new life to the power of testimony. “By transforming the testimonies, as documents, into performances embodied by actors other than the witnesses, a new potentiality unfolds. It brought together worlds that seem separated by spatial and temporal distances, ”said Mariana Tello, director of the National Archive of Memory. Thus, the act of remembering becomes an act of resistance, an act of sustained commitment to the body. Removed from the national space, the testimonies go beyond the culture of exceptionalism to form part of a broader history of human rights violations.

Baby theft and a rush for justice

One of the least recognized parallels between Francoism and state terrorism is the theft of babies. “They did not see my grandmother again, they took her from the delivery room. The girl was taken from her arms and she was never seen again. But that way we knew that my father had had a healthy sister ”. Josefina Musulén Jiménez He spent the last 40 years unsuccessfully searching for his father’s sister. His story, read by actress Eugenia Alonso, resonates in flagrant contrast with that of Jorge Castro Rubel, grandson recovered by Abuelas. While the camera goes through the basement of the Officers’ Casino, he is heard recounting his reunion with the women who assisted in the delivery of his mother in the ESMA megacause of 2015: “I am informed that I did not have living grandparents. And that I was born in the basement of ESMA. From there I began to connect with the family of origin and to know who my parents had been and what my family was like ”. The palimpsestic layers of the film underline the different fate of babies stolen during the Franco regime. “In thirty thousand, the associations stopped counting. We do not know the stolen children we are talking about ”, says, abysmal, the voice-over of Musulén Jiménez.

For Judge Daniel Rafecas, specialist in cases against humanity, Justice divides waters. “In the Spanish case, the ‘truth’ continues to be imposed by the victors, the tyrants, the perpetrators,” he says. “Dialogue is not easy in the face of a supposedly democratic state that, more than forty years after the dictatorship, has provided neither Justice, nor Truth, nor Reparation, nor Memory,” he adds, underlining the capital letters. The tangled layers of the film manage to point out how the Argentine judicial process became a crucial reference in Spain. The 2015 argument of the prosecutor Mercedes Soiza Reilly in the ESMA case seems to be reprimanding in the present Spanish. “Gentlemen judges, it is time to repair. It is time to tell the truth. That the most tangible effort be made to remedy the damage that the victims have suffered ”, urges the film.

Thus linked, conflicts and disparate memories, demand a mode of Justice that exceeds national borders. At the closing of the film, Lita Boitano brings an unresolved tremor. “I ask God to give me health to be able to live these years after so much struggle (…) I need to find the remains of my children, I want to see them”, begs the Mother of Plaza de Mayo who last month turned 89 years old . With the credits, the documentary provides one last surprise. The voiceover of Maria Antonia Oliver, granddaughter of a disappeared from the Franco regime, explains why she wears a headscarf. “When I was in Argentina, I spoke with Nora Cortiñas and I told him about the problems that victims in Spain had to be heard. He told me ‘put on a scarf and go out to the squares.’ And it’s a bit what we did, ”he says.

While the ESMA museum is still closed, the film proposes another way to visit it. More than advocating a unique experience, it manages to accentuate rispidity and contrasts by redoubling the request for attention to the missing on either side of the ocean. Vibrant, the testimonies in performance reverberate in the pandemic landscape and recall the ability of art to shake public memory.

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