Burning passions: Why the Falklands is still an issue

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Protesters burn the British flag in Buenos Aires.
Protesters burn the British flag in Buenos Aires. Photo: Reuters

From across three decades, the echoes of a still bizarre war resound.

From the bereaved and the survivors, memories return, still raw with loss and trauma.

And from the leaders of the two nations that nose-dived into a sudden conflict, claims in pale imitation of the deadly threats and bloody resolve of their predecessors thirty years ago.

The Falkland Islands occupy an odd place in the world and in history. The anniversary of the war that was fought over them is no different.

Thirty years after it began, we heard from the two leaders of the countries that fought a war of nearly a thousand lives and still they are unreconciled.

A man sets fire to an effigy depicting Prince William during a demonstration outside the British embassy in Buenos Aires.
A man sets fire to an effigy depicting Prince William during a demonstration outside the British embassy in Buenos Aires. Credit: Reuters

Cristina Kirchner, the President of Argentina, says it is absurd and ridiculous that Britain should still have sovereignty of land off the coast of South America. Britain is taking Argentina’s land and natural resources, she said.

As ever, there was no recognition that the people of the Falklands want nothing whatsoever to do with Argentina. David Cameron says there is no question of discussing sovereignty while the islanders want to remain British. But he won’t acknowledge that the UN has called for talks on the issue, that British companies are finding oil off the Falklands, adding fuel to an already complex issue, or that Argentina has no intention of invading again because it couldn’t.

Argentine soldiers line up to hand in their weapons to Royal Marines near Port Stanley.
Argentine soldiers line up to hand in their weapons to Royal Marines near Port Stanley. Credit: Press Association

It is useful to him - and to President Kirchner - to be seen to be defending their nations’ interests and to bang the patriotic drums. These are faint echoes of 1982, but no more. However, one thing can lead to another and things can get easily out of hand. So after Kirchner spoke, hundreds of rioters tried to break through police lines to attack the British Embassy.

Argentina is carrying out a worldwide campaign aimed at shaming Britain into talking about the islands. So far, it has won the support of many South American countries. Britain’s obstinacy may eventually come at a price.

Argentine President Cristina Kirchner has held patriotic rallies as part of the Falklands anniversary.
Argentine President Cristina Kirchner has held patriotic rallies as part of the Falklands anniversary. Credit: Reuters

Argentina has no intention of invading again. Kirchner made clear the war was waged by a desperate Junta, not supported by the people of Argentina. The country has not ordered a single warplane since a conflict that destroyed the Argentine military’s reputation and budget.

It is clear the Falklanders are with Britain. And they have every right to remain British, just as the people of Hawaii are clear they wish to remain American, and not become, say, Japanese.

Margaret Allen, widow of Able Seaman Iain Boldy, lighting a candle at the National Memorial Arboretum.
Margaret Allen, widow of Able Seaman Iain Boldy, lighting a candle at the National Memorial Arboretum. Credit: Press Association

So the ingredients are there for sensible dialogue and a mutual recognition that, while the wishes of the islanders are fixed for now, there are serious matters to discuss, old resentments to bury and new opportunities to chew over. But this won’t happen.

At a time of great emotion and convenient memorialising by nations scrabbling to get over troubles at home, their leaders prefer to look to the past and to shake weary heads at their difficult adversaries half a world away.

After all, it is an odd issue, an odd place and there are more important things in the world than this.