CULTURE

Vargas Llosa: The globalization of democracy is the basic priority

” Writing a novel is in itself an act of catharsis. It’s as if the writer is relieved of a burden,» says renowned Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, who visited Athens in early June to present the Greek edition of his latest novel, «The Feast of the Goat» (translated by Angeliki Alexopoulou, pub. Kastaniotis). The book deals with authoritarianism, «the curse which has destroyed lives and which has kept the countries of Latin America underdeveloped.» Llosa, 66, cosmopolitan and a prolific writer, divides his time among Madrid, Lima and London. He writes «about everything» in his articles for El Pais newspaper, with the experience of an author who once was a candidate for the presidency of his country. It was his second visit to Athens; the first was in 1967 as an interpreter for a cotton producers’ congress. Why is there no tradition of democracy in Latin America? It’s something new for us. The pre-Hispanic civilizations were very advanced but they were not democratic. Europe, which came later, was not democratic either. It was the time of the Counter Reformation and the Spanish Inquisition. It was difficult for democratic institutions to develop in all the Latin American countries. Democracy is something you choose, you value, you cultivate and you improve. What makes Peru different? In all Latin American countries there is a common denominator. They have things in common, but each country is different. Peru, for instance, is not one country but many in one state. There is the pre-Hispanic culture which is very lively; there is European Peru, which inherited European institutions from the Spanish; and there is also the African Peru of the blacks that the Spanish brought out more than 500 years ago. And if we add to all that the large number of immigrants from Asia, we get a whole little world which may create problems occasionally, but which also possesses tremendous potential as bridges to the entire world. Do you have any political ambitions? No, none. I was just trying out something else. It was a temporary commitment, which certainly enriched my writing with raw material. You have often analyzed the importance and meaning of democracy. Isn’t writing enough? Literature is my field. But the idea of a writer isolated in a room with his memories and dreams, like Proust, is not my model. I need to have at least one foot outside my office, in the real world, to be part of history in the making. Literature can change history. Times change, but I believe that literature can bring about changes in life which are hard to measure. I can say for certain that life without the great writers would be mediocre. Literature contains all human action. That’s why I write, give lectures and participate in public debate. It’s important, not for literary reasons but for ethical ones. You’re one of the few writers who clearly expresses liberal views. Since the mid-1960s I have been supporting democratic values, and I have criticized all the dictators – Castro and Pinochet. Nowadays, that seems easy but in the past it was more difficult due to ideological polarization. If you didn’t support the left-wing model, you were stigmatized as a reactionary. Liberals were treated as caricatures and yet another stereotype was created. I spent a lot of time fighting stereotypes that threaten the longevity of democracy. What do you think is the basic priority? The globalization of democracy. The lack of control and restrictions in the Third World allows certain multinational companies to act unhindered. The antidote is more democracy. Countries like Nigeria, Peru and Malaysia should develop internal institutions to control the action of companies, as is done in the West. The globalization of democracy will ward off national isolationism, which has brought so much suffering to the Third World. Do you think there will be progress? Yes, I’m optimistic, or rather, I keep an open mind about the future. If you look around, there aren’t many things that allow you to be optimistic. But I base my faith on the future, on that fact that nowadays we have the technical, economic and political means to tackle problems. As Karl Popper said, we get many things wrong, but we have never before had so much potential. What is your new book? For the last three years I’ve been writing a book called «Paradise in the Other Corner.» It is about utopias, which were common in the 19th century. I deal with two 19th-century figures: Flora Tristan, a feminist before her time, a French woman with a Peruvian father, who lived a turbulent life and who eventually wrote an exciting novel in Peru; and the artist Paul Gauguin, grandson of Tristan, who also believed in a utopia which he sought far from the West. Yes, this novel is completely different from the others.