Argentina’s return to democracy 40 years on: the Herald’s 1983 interview with Borges

By Cristina Bonasegna, originally published in the Herald’s “Inauguration supplement” on December 10, 1983

By Cristina Bonasegna
Originally published in the Herald’s “Inauguration supplement” on December 10, 1983

Jorge Luis Borges is hopeful Argentina will start its first really democratic period today. He is very happy he was wrong, too. 

“I had never believed in democracy until the last general elections, when democracy itself proved to me it is possible,” says the writer in his calm voice.

He was born in the last year of the 19th century. Until he gradually lost faith in democracy, he supported a great number of political parties but never became a member of them. The last party he favored was the Conservatives but his sympathies had earlier been with the Radicals.

Sitting in the dim-lit living room of his Plaza San Martin apartment, Borges talks only about hope, bliss and a great feature for the country, shaped with the help of all Argentines despite their political differences. 

“If I look back into the past, I wonder whether there has been a democratic government in Argentina. Conservative democracy was a fictitious democracy,” he says, wearing a cream-coloured suit, his hands resting on his willow cane from Misiones. 

“But real democracy may start with the inauguration of Raúl Alfonsin,” he smiles. 

However, he warns, nobody should expect the new government to work miracles. “The country cannot recover from the plight it is in overnight. It will take many years, but they will be years of hope, of justified hope. To be optimistic in the past was simply being insincere. 

“Fortunately, I was wrong. It would be really sad if I were to prefer seeing the country fall apart into pieces to prove I was right. I am very happy I was mistaken,” he adds. 

“However, the power of a government to solve the country’s problems is sometimes exaggerated. Now, the future depends on every one of us. If every Argentine behaves in an ethical way, the country will be saved; but we must be hard on ourselves. 

“Our hope must also be patient because we have very intricate problems to solve.

“This country has passed from agony to resurrection,” he goes on to say. 

Borges regrets not having been in Buenos Aires for the elections. When Argentines were voting in the first elections after eight years of military rule and, later, taking to the streets to celebrate Alfonsin’s victory, Borges was in the University of Madison, Wisconsin.

The morning of October 31, when he learnt of the Radical triumph, Borges was celebrating Halloween with a group of students and teachers at the university campus. Although he is afraid of masks, he admits, he decided to dress up to avoid giving a severe image and walked into the monster-crowded hall wearing a wolf mask that reached down to his shoulders. 

“Then a friend came nearer and told me: ‘It’s a miracle you dressed up, but we have a bigger miracle to tell you about: Alfonsin has won a landslide victory.’

“Everybody congratulated me and I was afraid I was going to wake up at any moment”. 

Everybody I know is experiencing an intimate bliss that is beyond party differences. It is absurd to talk about the “Alfonsinazo” or a Radical party victory. It goes deeper than that. It’s not a coup but a whole country that has voted for soundness. 

“The return of Maria Estela de Peron is not a bad sign, either. It means the Peronists have accepted their defeat.” 

He grants censorship during the last years did not really affect his work, since he writes fantasies and poems. “It is also easy for me to speak up because I am regarded as a relic of the past, but I’m a relic who wants to live,” he smiles. 

With only a few exceptions, he says, the press has been really weak during this year. “Now it is going to feel guilty for all the things it turned a blind eye on. 

“I don’t think there is censorship now. Some people tell me quite a lot of pornographic books have come out and there are some obscene programmes on television, but a bit of libertinism may be better than the lack of freedom.” 

Borges, who is at the moment working on five different books and learning Icelandic, says he is very grateful to Alfonsín for what he has achieved. 

Asked about the meaning of freedom, Borges paused for a second and said: “I am not very sure of its existence because I don’t believe in free will. In any case, it is a necessary fiction. But, again, I am so happy now I am ever ready to believe in freedom too. I hope everybody will share my hope. 

“Although I am blind, I am sensitive, and I can feel happiness in the streets. It’s important to Argentina as 1810, 1816 and 1852.”


All Right Reserved.  Buenos Aires Herald