Neoliberal textbook case

Conference 'Chile in transformation'

Theodor W. Adorno's dictum 'There is no right life in the wrong one' is frequently quoted in contexts where it sounds clever but empty. In the case of Chile, however, it retains its mordant force. While the country has returned to democracy since 1990, it is doubtful that the opponents of the dictatorship have really won.

In September 2013 on the 40th anniversary of the putsch, the annual symposium of the medico international foundation (a joint event with the Catholic Academy Rabanus Maurus) dealt with the Chilean dilemma. This was clearly illustrated by Chilean psychologist Miguel Castello, using the example of the 'No' campaign, which made a decisive contribution in 1988 to the removal of Pinochet in a national plebiscite. He explained that the campaign, under the slogan 'No - joy is on its way', was successful, because it ended the Pinochet dictatorship with its inhumane excesses. However, the way the campaign was run also contributed to stabilisation of the system created under the dictatorship. In 2012 the film 'No' documented the creation and course of the campaign. Castello argues that this shows clearly how the 'No' campaign, with its apolitical language aimed at attracting majorities, was unable to deliver on its actual promise (the arrival of joy), at least in a way that would link to the social project begun under Allende. 'The policy that emerged was no more than public relations.' After 17 years of dictatorship with many dead and 'disappeared' and thousands of victims of torture – an experience that Chilean society as a whole endured in fear – the victory over Pinochet seemed the only way out, even if it left the system in place. The right life, even in the wrong one. The film 'No' first made the tragic dimension of this decision clear. Castello: 'The joy-is-on-its-way policy is a neoliberal practice in that it reduces joy to an operation which satisfies individual or group needs in a way that allows continuing political domination in accordance with neoliberalism.'

The Chilean Marxist Carlos Pérez, a prominent debating partner in the Chilean student movement, put Castello's position even more strongly in his paper. 'The various leftist analyses of the neoliberal model in Chile concentrate primarily on its violent origins. However, the emphasis on explicit violence has served for a very long time to play down the second and much further reaching phase in which the model was expanded and consolidated, in the process being promoted by politicians who themselves were once victims of violence.' Pérez, who likes to talk about the 'izquierda llorona', the 'whiny lefties', criticises the left-liberal governments after the end of the Pinochet dictatorship. 'They systematically use their history of persecution to legitimise their economic principles – which they claim to criticise – as "alternatives" or "modifications within the scope of what is possible".' For Pérez, Chile only started to become a neoliberal model nation in the phase after the dictatorship – a global blueprint for neoliberal strategies. What has been seen as a way out worldwide, most recently following the 2008 financial crisis, was previously tested in Chile – primarily pushing ahead with privatisation of more and more areas of society. Chile can also serve as a warning of the consequences of this policy, as Pérez showed with the example of the national health and educational system. In both these areas, public funds were systematically diverted to the private sector. A right became a service which fewer and fewer people can afford and which has driven countless people into debt. 'All this was pushed through with democratic means and political coalitions which claimed to be centre-left.' The two presidents of the centre-left coalitions, Lagos and Bachelet, became the perfect heirs for Pinochet and his finance ministers.

The idea that political options also have to be considered on the basis of individual fates was illustrated by the Chilean-German sociologist Pavel Eichin, using the example of Chilean music and its role in strengthening identities in exile. His paper went beyond the German Chileans and Chilean Germans in the room. 'The breach between a person's past and their current situation is impossible to bridge, and this produces a permanent sense of being "in the wrong place".' As a means of countering this radical threat to their identity, exiles accordingly often respond by bonding with their fellows.' Music has played a central role for Chilean exiles – something that should surprise no one who is aware of the importance of the 'Nueva Canción Chilena' in Salvador Allende's 1970 victory. One of the many lyrics cited by Pavel Eichin is by Patricio Manns: "When I remember my country, I become that which I must, Though bothersome, I accept it with grace, In the darkness, I ignite my soul, draw back within myself, And launch into action, When I remember my country."

The joy-is-on-its-way policy has also transformed this meshing of politics and the individual and its poetic resonance into joy in consumption. As a result, exile is not the only breach in the exile's identity – many no longer recognise 'their' Chile when they return.

There is a detailed report on the conference in German at

Holding debates, promoting projects

In 2004 the association was joined by the medico international foundation. Both are committed to the same goals. The foundation uses the interest income from its assets to promote projects of the medico international association, working towards more global justice and implementing the universal human right to health. In 2013 the assets of the foundation grew to over €4.6 million, with €120,000 available for project promotion, including a one-time special grant of €40,000. This made possible support to medico partners in Afghanistan, Israel/Palestine, Guatemala, Mali, Mexico, South Africa, southern Africa and the People's Health Movement. The foundation's tasks include initiating and promoting strategic debates. Its annual Frankfurt symposiums tackle current issues of social importance, and sharpen medico's profile.

Published: 19. August 2014

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