Media interest in the 25th anniversary of the Falklands/Malvinas War is currently mounting in both hemispheres and on both sides of the sovereignty dispute between Britain and Argentina.
With some months to go before June, when there will be simultaneous acts of commemoration in both the Falkland Islands and Britain, the streets of the Falkland Islands tiny capital, Stanley, which are normally awash with tourists at this time of year, have been thronged by journalists and film crews. Everyone who has a story to tell is being asked to tell it. At the same time, veterans from both sides of the 1982 conflict have been competing for the services of guides to take them to memorials and distant battlefields. In the face of this focus on the war in1982, for some people in Stanley this week it has been a refreshing change to encounter a group, who appear more interested in the current realities and opinions of Falkland Islanders than in the past. Given the current dismissive attitudes of the Argentine Government towards Falkland Islanders, it is also encouraging to discover that the members of this group, who could be described as "future movers and shakers in their country" are from Argentina. Matías Campodónico, Franco Fugazza, Sonia Jalfin, Jorge Liotti , Eugenia Mitchelstein and Andrés Zenarruza, whose initial idea sparked off the visit, are all former beneficiaries of the British Government's Chevening Scholarship Programme and members of ACHA, the Argentine Chevening Alumni Association. The Association works as a network for Chevening alumni, organising events and projects and helping them stay in touch with the United Kingdom. While the title 'Chevening Scholars' led some residents of Stanley to mistakenly expect the arrival of a group of school children, the group are mainly in their early thirties, with a variety of professional and educational backgrounds. Jorge Liotti, who writes for the DyN News agency and the Sunday edition of La Nación, as well as teaching journalism at the Argentine Catholic University in Buenos Aires told MercoPressthat his personal objective and that of the other members of the group was simply to gain knowledge about the life and thoughts of the people of the Falkland Islands. The visit had the approval of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Buenos Aires, but the group was not here on behalf of the Argentine Government. Admitting that there existed in his country a tremendous information gap about the Islands, despite their historical importance as part of the Argentine national mythology, Jorge said that he wanted simply to "get in touch with Islanders and to gain a better and closer idea of what their life is like." What he had already learned, he said, was that the feelings and thoughts of the Islanders were more complicated than he had expected. Journalist, media person and university lecturer Sonia Jalfin commented that she had begun to realise how important the theme of their identity was to Islanders. A graduate in sociology from the University of Buenos Aires with a Masters degree in Media Science from the London School of Economics, Sonia was particularly interested in the contribution to the language and way of life on the farms of the Falkland Islands made by gauchos in the nineteenth century. In order to give a better insight into the way of life of modern Falkland Islanders, each member of the group, at their own request, has been lodged with a volunteer local host family, covering a wide spectrum of Falkland Islands society, from recent arrivals on short-term contracts to members of families who have been in the Islands for many generations. At a reception for the group members, their hosts and others held at Government House on Tuesday, another former student of the London School of Economics, Eugenia Mitchelstein, now a journalist and television producer, who once worked as an intern at the BBC in London, said that she had been pleasantly surprised at how friendly everyone she had met had been, considering the events of 1982. Apart from a busy programme of visits in Stanley, taking in schools, the hospital and government departments, the Chevening group have also had the opportunity to visit both military cemeteries and to spend some nights out of Stanley, enjoying some of the Falklands' principal tourist destinations. They will leave the Falklands on the LAN flight, on Saturday afternoon. The Chevening Programme, which is aimed at future leaders, opinion formers and decision-makers, is funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and managed by the British Council worldwide, supporting study in the UK annually for around two thousand international post graduate students from some one hundred and sixty countries. In 1994 Douglas Hurd, then Britain's Foreign Secretary, renamed the Foreign & Commonwealth Office's Scholarships and Awards Scheme - 'The British Chevening Scholarships Programme', after Chevening House, his official country residence. John Fowler (MercoPress) Stanley