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Civilisation and Barbarism: The impact of Europe on Argentina

The European images of Argentina are complex, and mirror profound debates about nationalism and universalism, popular and elite culture.

In August 1925, the Prince of Wales visited Buenos Aires to help promote trade between Britain and Argentina. A local newspaper described a typical day during his brief stay:

10a.m. St Andrew's College. 11a.m. British Hospital. 12.30p.m. Lunch with the British Chamber of Commerce. 2.30p.m. Polo at the Hurlingham Club. (La Razon, August 28th).

The Prince was not only entertained by the sizeable British community; he could also be found relaxing with the Argentine elite, playing his Hawaiian guitar at the home of the society hostess, Victoria Ocampo. At this time, the economic and cultural ties between the two countries were very strong. The British Ambassador, Sir Malcolm Robertson, could remark in 1929:

Without saying so in so many words, which would be tactless, what I really mean is that Argentina must be regarded as an essential part of the British Empire.

In April 1982, by contrast, a royal prince went to war with Argentina, and British politicians and the press rediscovered Argentina as a nation of barbarians, imbued with a strong sense of nationalism and xenophobia and led by fascist dictators. Obviously all cultures 'correct' reality, receiving other cultures not as they are but as, for the benefit of the receiver, they ought to be. Thus the Sun newspaper could talk of 'Galtieri's gauchos', exhort the Argentines to 'Stick it up your Junta' and gloat with the headline 'Gotcha' as the Argentine ship, the General Belgrano, was sunk. Yet how can we explain the developments that lead from the polo fields of Hurlingham for the battlefield at Goose Green? An analysis of Argentine cultural development in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries provides one focus on this complex problem.

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