Islands in the Eye of the Storm

It’s all become rather silly, hasn’t it? Argentina rattles sabre; Islanders react with predictable fury; Britain sits impassive, her own position determined only by the will of the Islanders. Positions have become so entrenched it seems there’s no hope at all of getting any kind of agreement.

But I’m not so sure. And whilst it’s obvious to all that Argentina’s current stance – and the Islanders’ response – are hardly conducive to a happy future relationship, a deeper, longer-term look at what’s going on might not be such a bad thing.

There are three positions, and, as ever, everyone thinks they’re right. In Britain, we sit remote and above it all, waving a hand towards the South Atlantic and talking loftily of self-determination. That’s about as entrenched as our position gets; even with the oil and the gas and the fish, I think if the Islanders turned around and said, erm, actually, we quite like the idea of becoming a province of Argentina after all, then something could be worked out.

The Islanders are more British than the British. The Queen, warm beer, the novels of Charles Dickens. This is what they’re raised on. This is what is passed on, from generation to generation. And this is how they voted, this week, to remain.

In Argentina, the positions are just as clear. A sensible, practical, thoroughly reasonable journalist from Buenos Aires was interviewed by BBC radio this week and her analysis was that Argentina would never give up its claim. Why? Not because of its validity, but because of its persistence. Argentine children are raised to believe the Islands are theirs. They learn it at school, at home (sometimes), in “Las Malvinas Son Argentinas” billboards all over the country, from the mouths of their leaders (particularly when things aren’t looking so great at home, but that’s politics for you). The claim may be right, it may be wrong, that’s irrelevant. What’s relevant is its position within Argentine national identity. It’s not going away any time soon.

Seems like we’ve got three positions that can never be reconciled, right? The vote has just made those divisions all the clearer, right?

Wrong.

Because one thing about the Argentine claim to the Islands that has been obscured by boycotts and votes and complaints to the UN is that it’s not a short-term thing. Sure, it all comes bubbling to the surface when a politician needs a popularity lift, but if Cristina Kirchner let the whole thing quietly drop, it’s not like the claim would suddenly disappear. With varying degrees of intervention, Argentina has, for the most part, waited patiently for centuries. It’s an eschatological thing, with the dirt of day-to-day politics just a ripple in the smooth, slow-moving current. And it’s possible the same could be said of the Islanders’ own assertion of their British identity.

So both sides: be patient. Forget the rights and the wrongs of the claim. If someone can convince the politicians to stay out of it, Argentina and the Islands can start all over again. There have been rapprochements before, periods of almost friendly relations, but they’ve always been brought to a halt by someone wanting to have their own voice heard, and usually shortly before an election. Silence the shrill, short-term voice of the electorally-driven. Be patient and be friendly. Let the Islanders vote. Let the Argentines visit. Work on persuasion and become closer. Because if everyone cooperates properly with everyone else, you’ll be surprised at how diametrically opposed positions can come together. Even positions that are part of your national identity. Even positions that are your national identity.

In the end, nothing is so entrenched that a couple of generations of exposure to reality won’t adulterate it, weaken it, maybe let it fall gently to the ground and be quietly forgotten. A quirk of history and nothing more.

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