Argentina for export

Valentina Iricibar, correspondent in Buenos Aires
30 Juillet 2013

This year, two Argentineans have risen to prominence on the world stage: first, the new Pope Francis (formerly known as Francisco Bergoglio) and Queen Máxima of the Netherlands.

Maxima & Willem-Alexander during their wedding ceremony Crédits : FRED ERNST / ANP / AFP
Maxima & Willem-Alexander during their wedding ceremony Crédits : FRED ERNST / ANP / AFP
This is not the first time the world stage has welcomed Argentineans: emblematic football players such as Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi have long been associated with the South American country. Others live on in global popular imagination as myths, such as Che Guevara, whose face is still plastered on T-shirts worldwide. Evita Perón is also revered: if not for her politics, for the hit songs dedicated to her life in the Broadway show “Evita”.

Do these new famous figures truly represent Argentina? Duality persists: the country seems to be on the edge of a cliff, while producing upstanding citizens that are accepted in different contexts and take international audiences by storm.

Argentina is a multicultural country: with high levels of immigration, it has struggled to find a national identity. Initially, immigrants were welcomed because they “imported civilization”; ironically, it seems that Argentina is now exporting the resulting individuals. In addition, its educational system is not focused on specialization but on many different subjects. Students are instructed in several fields instead of focusing on three or four, and most are taught or encouraged to learn a second language. Queen Máxima is a prime example of this, a woman who received a privileged but not uncommon education. Given the nature of private education in Argentina and the different cultural influences at play, especially in the cosmopolitan capital Buenos Aires, it may be considered that the students are prepared to be international citizens.

Education, religion and politics

Along with the majority of former Spanish colonies, Argentina has a strong need for structure through complex legal systems and rules. The Catholic Church, despite breaks from its conventions such as legalizing gay marriage, is a clear legacy of Spanish influence. However, these objectives of obedience are frustrated by the individualistic values that revel in bending or breaking the rules. Thus, in countries with a functional rule of law, this need for order and upheld values would be satisfied. These cultural factors could explain the full integration of Máxima and Pope Francis into two rigid and conservative systems, monarchy and papacy respectively, despite the historical lack of adhesion to norms in their country of origin.

In Argentina, there is also general distrust towards authority given the continuous failures and disappointments in the political sphere. The latest fatal blow came in 2001, when the trust earned by President Menem’s economic policies was shattered by complete economic collapse. These political failings often lead to activities led by non-state actors in order to fill the gaps left by the state on a plethora of social issues and a generalized high sense of solidarity. Pope Francis’ dedication to social justice reflects this: despite individualistic tendencies and corruption that tends to undermine good intentions, collectivist attitudes still remain.

Stemming from the aforementioned governmental failings and aforementioned distrust towards authority is the notion of order as “every man for himself”. Since its beginnings, Argentina has reveled in disobeying the norms and prospered by doing so, leading to a deep split between the “pays réel” (real country) and the “pays légal” (legal country). This incapacity to trust the law has led to a highly individualistic country in which everything is negotiable and continuous persistence is key to getting things done. In addition, Argentina is largely achievement oriented and greatly competitive on an individual level. Understandably, general consensus and patriotic sentiment is difficult to achieve with these instilled attitudes. They do however explain why Argentineans tend to excel abroad, and why there is an international rise of individuals, not communities.

Despite the cultural traits that Máxima and Pope Francis represent, there is one main difference between their standing on the world stage and that of their country of origin: they are popular. The fact that Argentina produces many talented people that rise to world fame from all walks of life is not compatible with its position in the international sphere, which is not entirely favourable. As Latin America strives to gain credibility and influence on a global scale through means such as peace operations with the UN, these global figures could be a starting point not only to put Argentina on the world map but also to consider the region’s development.

In contrast to their country’s status, then, Argentina’s individuals become role models and objects of fantasy in the international sphere. Given these talented and outstanding people, the question is why Argentina cannot expand those qualities nationwide in order to advance in a cohesive manner and project them on an international level.