The reaction of the Argentine public to Clarin journalist and author Natasha Niebieskikwiat's recently launched book ‘Kelpers’ has been, “less aggressive,” than she expected Natasha told Penguin News.
Sub-titled ‘Neither English nor Argentine’ and ‘A view of the nation that is growing off our coast’ (Kelpers. Ni ingleses ni argentinos: Cómo es la nación que crece frente a nuestras costas) the author spent time interviewing Islanders about their family histories and in telling those stories illustrates a society that she observes has moved and developed from early days of hardship, through to a economically healthy community.
By daring to represent Islanders as something other than the normal Argentine government interpretation of a ‘non-people’, Miss Niebieskikwiat’s book is controversial, even if the stories are not.
However she feels that possibly as a result of the economic crisis in Argentina and the current government’s diminishing popularity: “I think it is a new moment… I found more people that think like me.”
She says the Argentine Government and nationalist sectors have not reacted strongly to her book and this she optimistically believes is because there may be a new strategy coming; that while continuing to claim the Falklands it will no longer involve harassment of Islanders.
The book she describes as: “Nothing more than Islanders’ family stories, because I do recognize you in your wishes, interests and way of life. So this book starts with a context in which I disagree completely with the (presidents Nestor and Cristina) Kirchnerism treatment of the Islands.”
She believes that the Argentine Government has, “been very aggressive and creators of a blindness,” with regard to the topic of the Falklands, “so the book is a collection of stories which I use to narrate part of the history of the Islands and the Islands in global history since 1833.”
She adds: “The Biggs are there with the foundation of Stanley, the military pensioners, the Pitalugas, the Goss’, the Rylanders, Hansens, Andreasens and Berntsens.”
She also examines the stories of Islanders that fought in the World Wars and others that studied in Argentina, UK and Uruguay.
Natasha describes the aim of the book as, “bringing the Islands to the continent as a journey” or as the Buenos Aires Herald’s Andrew Graham-Yooll put it, “Natasha walked the Islands. She went for the historical detail, visiting the tourist destinations the old homes, or what’s left of them, of the early settlers, the museum, archive and library, among other points and went tracing families on the more remote farms.”
He also notes that in terms of Argentines ‘understanding’ Falkland Islanders, Ms. Niebieskikwiat’s book may, for the time being, be “the main contribution.”
She can certainly claim a greater knowledge of the Islands than most visitors. She first arrived in the mid nineties (on her Polish passport) and has since visited many times and written about countless Falklands issues for Argentine national newspaper Clarin.
Those who know her locally likely view the petite reporter as feisty and even a little eccentric but also one who has gained a reputation for, “writing what I see,” (to quote from a FIRS interview with her at the time of the referendum) and as a result, not what the more politically extremist Argentine readers might like to see.
She says: “The book is part of all the trips I have made to the Islands since 1996,” but she was pressured to finish it in five month (having spoken with her publisher) last year shortly after the Falklands referendum. “I wanted this to appear in the year of the referendum and not around April 2, because it has nothing to do with that.”
At the same time, Ms. Niebieskikwiat’s personal politics are in line with that of most other Argentines. She believes Argentina’s historical claim is valid, but adds, “200 years have since passed and we need a different approach...”
Politicians, she believes, “make selfish and populist politics about the topic,” and their approach changes with every government.
She says the Argentine people do not care about their government’s erratic approach because whether it is “hard or soft,” the issue is not part of their everyday life.
Unlike the Kirchner government she believes, “dialogue with the Islanders is very important.”
- Kelpers is available on Amazon.com /Penguin Random House and is published by Sudamericana.