European Solidarity with Chile – 1970s – 1980s

by Kim Christiaens (Volume editor) Idesbald Goddeeris (Volume editor) Magaly Rodríguez García (Volume editor)
©2014 Edited Collection 358 Pages


The overthrow of the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende and the coming to power of a military regime led by Augusto Pinochet on 11 September 1973 drew worldwide attention towards Chile. The political repression shook the world and ignited one of the largest social movements of the 1970s and 80s. Hundreds of solidarity committees and a gamut of human rights and justice organizations mobilized thousands of people. This volume offers a compelling insight into the exceptional impact that the Chilean crisis made in Western and Eastern Europe. In doing so, it provides a new and broader perspective into the history of the Cold War, transnational activism, and human rights.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of contents
  • A Global Perspective on the European Mobilization for Chile (1970s-1980s)
  • Chilean Political Exile in Western Europe
  • Allende’s Shadow, Leftist Furor, and Human Rights: The Pinochet Dictatorship in International Politics
  • The Difficult Quest for Chilean Allies: International Labor Solidarity Campaigns for Chile in the 1970s and 1980s
  • Switzerland: A Second Wave or the Decline of the ‘68 Movement?
  • The United Kingdom: Competing Conceptions of lnternationalism
  • West Germany: Professions of Political Faith, the Solidarity Movement and New Left Imaginaries
  • France: Welcoming Chilean Exiles, a Mark of the Resonance of the Unidad Popular in French Society?
  • Belgium: The Chilean Factor and the Changing Dimensions of Solidarity Activism
  • Italy: The ‘Chilean Lesson’ between the Legacy of the Struggle against Fascism and the Threat of New Authoritarian Shifts
  • Finland: Popularizing Chile
  • East Germany: Chilean Exile and the Politics of Solidarity in the Cold War
  • Hungary: Connecting the ‘Responsible Roads to Socialism’? The Rise and Fall of a Culture of Chilean Solidarity, 1965-89
  • The Soviet Union: ‘Chile is in Our Hearts.’ Practices of Solidarity between Propaganda, Curiosity, and Subversion
  • Contributors
  • Illustrations
  • Abbreviations
  • Series index

← 6 | 7 → A Global Perspective on the European Mobilization for Chile (1970s-1980s)

Kim Christiaens, Magaly Rodriguez Garcia and Idesbald Goddeeris

Just as many of us vividly remember our whereabouts upon learning of the shocking events of 11 September 2001, so too did the news of general Augusto Pinochet’s military coup, which overthrew democracy in Chile on that same September day twenty-eight years earlier, leave a profound impact on many contemporaries.1 Images of troops attacking the presidential residence, La Moneda, in the capital Santiago, the arrest of thousands of citizens, and the installation of a military regime were broadcasted worldwide and provided seemingly endless ammunition for television and public debate throughout the weeks and months after September 1973.2 The death of the democratically elected president Salvador Allende, the record of his emotional last message, and the torture and execution of dissidents stirred the consciences of global public opinion. Even if the autumn of 1973 witnessed several crises and events with international resonance, such as the Yom Kippur War in October, the crushed student uprising in Greece in November, and Palestinian terrorism in December, it was the plight of Chile that became the most important cause for mobilization by a plethora of European social movements. Not only by dint of their size and resonance, but also by their resilience over the more than sixteen years of dictatorship, campaigns against Pinochet and in support of his opponents became one of the main post-war causes célèbres for activism by innumerable citizens and a broad range of human rights and solidarity organizations across the globe.

The country, stretched along the Pacific coast and the Andes, had already entered the international spotlight three years earlier, when Allende became the first openly avowed Marxist president to access power in Latin America via legal and democratic means. Chile, which was considered among the most democratic countries in Latin America and had been governed by successive democratically elected civilian governments since the 1930s, suddenly turned into a laboratory for change when the presidential sash passed from the Christian democrat Eduardo Frei to the socialist Allende.3 His so-called ‘Chilean way to socialism’ aroused as an experiment for socialist change through the parliamentary system and a coalition of left-leaning forces, and drew much interest abroad.4 The reign of Allende and his Unidad Popular, which took the reins of government in November 1970, ushered in an era of economic and social reforms in Chile that were met by ← 7 | 8 → domestic opposition, economic problems, and social turbulence.5 It also became a flashpoint for international debate, notably against the backdrop of the Cold War and strong opposition from the US government. Washington deemed the new Chilean government a pawn of Soviet communism - a second, possibly even more dangerous version of socialist Cuba - and a hotbed of revolution detrimental to its interests in the Southern Cone.6 However, it was only in September 1973, when the military junta overthrew Allende and his government that Chile truly became a hotspot of international attention. Over the next sixteen years, the dictatorial regime developed into a kind of pariah in the international community. The latter’s usually short-ranged political conscience continued in the following years to be shocked by its record of flagrant violations of the principles of democracy and human rights: murders, disappearances, violent repression of the opposition, and expulsion of thousands of citizens from Chile.7 Although the regime announced a return to democracy from the late 1970s onward, and initiated, under influence of growing opposition, a gradual and strongly controlled transition process, democracy only truly triumphed with the elections of 1989 and the removal of Pinochet from presidential power the following year.

Like the populations of many other Latin American nations, including Argentina, Bolivia, Guatemala, and Uruguay, Chilean society is, to date, still struggling with the memory and legacy of its military regime.8 The dictatorship ruined not only the lives of thousands of citizens at home but also forced many more into exile abroad.9 However, it also formed the careers of politicians still in power today, garnered support from important groups of society, stimulated economic growth and wealth for some Chileans, and controlled the transition process to democracy, for instance by the constitution of 1980 which is still in use today.10 Not surprisingly, then, more than forty years after the coup, the history and memory of the military regime is still entrenched in political, personal, and emotional debates. A striking example of the continuing weight and shadow of the past is the way in which old struggles and feuds played out in the 2013 presidential elections, which brought the daughter of a military general who had been jailed and tortured by the military junta in competition (Michelle Bachelet) with the daughter of a junta member (Evelyn Matthei). Not only inside Chile but also abroad, the legacy of the years of dictatorship has continued to spark emotions even after the dismissal of Pinochet. The widespread commotion concerning his arrest in London in October 1998, and his eventual return to Chile in 2000, showed that, even several years after its collapse, the effects of the dictatorship were still being felt among the international public.11

Other examples of this continued fascination with Chile were the various commemorations of the fortieth anniversary of the coup, in September 2013, which included extensive media attention and dozens of international conferences ← 8 | 9 → and colloquia organized at several European universities.12 This volume originated with the international history conference ‘European solidarity with Chile, 1970s-1980s’, organized by the University of Leuven and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, in Leuven (Flanders) over three days in June 2011. The conference gathered an interdisciplinary and intergenerational group of about twenty scholars hailing from more than fifteen countries. It is significant that when the editors of this book launched in 2010 the idea of organizing an international conference on European protest campaigns against the wave of post-war Latin American dictatorships, virtually all the submitted proposals dealt with Chile (there were only a few dealing with protest against other dictatorial regimes). It must be said, indeed, that scholarly interest in the topic has ever since been slightly expanding. When the conference commenced, many of the participants anticipated a spike in academic interest to arrive with the fortieth anniversary of the coup, but few expected the surge to be as worldwide and ample as it turned out to be.

The intent of this volume is to analyze the reaction the plight of Chile provoked among European citizens. This volume tries to give an answer to the question of why Chile developed into such an iconic issue, that mobilized people much more than other Latin American countries with similar political repression. In doing so, we want to stress the relevance of the mobilization for Chile for the broader history of Europe and the Cold War during the 1970s and 1980s. Furthermore, we wish to highlight the global connections involved in this process, as the European mobilization for Chile meant not only the establishment of bi-lateral contacts but also a construction of networks across geographical and ideological borders. More importantly, the linkages created against Pinochet and in favor of the Chilean opposition were characterized by a dynamic involvement of actors from Europe and Chile, and through them, of activists from other parts of the world.

Historiography and book’s purpose

The global significance of the domestic situation in Chile in the 1970s and 1980s has been noted from various academic quarters. Traditionally, the overthrow of Allende, the crisis of September 1973, and the installation of the Pinochet regime have been fixed themes in historical overviews of post-war international relations and the Cold War.13 Cold War historians have been particularly interested in the ways in which the relatively small Latin American nation became a hotspot in the game between the US and the Soviet Union since the ascension of Allende to power, although paradoxically, the Unidad Popular government wished to overcome the old Cold War bipolarity and claimed to follow a policy of non-alignment. Indeed, after assuming the presidential role, Allende started defying the boundaries and ← 9 | 10 → traditional alliances of the Cold War constellation, which had for many years and up to 1970 ascribed the Andean country to the American sphere of influence.14 The Allende government was quick to recognize the Cuban government, expand diplomatic relations with the Eastern Bloc and countries like China and North Korea, and reduce the power of American based multinational corporations over the Chilean economy.15 Yet scholars have extensively given attention to the role both superpowers played in Chile’s domestic affairs. The Nixon administration’s opposition to the Allende regime, and CIA involvement in the growth of domestic opposition and turbulence, which more or less contributed to the former’s downfall and the arrival of the military junta, have been amply analyzed and debated.16 For its part, the Soviet Union supported the Unidad Popular coalition, although more in-depth research has revealed that its position towards Allende was more ambivalent than previously thought. In December 1972, for instance, Allende personally solicited from the USSR a loan of 80 million US dollars but only obtained a pledge of 45 million.17 Strikingly, Soviet leaders even appear to have preferred the progressive Christian democratic candidate Radomiro Tomic to win the 1970 elections, as if they feared another hotbed of international tension in the case of Allende’s victory.18

Whereas debates about the Cold War connections in the Chilean crisis are still moving many historians’ pens, the global significance of the topic has also been discovered by an increasing number of human rights scholars. Observing how the repression and human rights violations of the military junta in Chile resonated among the international public and an emerging ‘global civil society’, various scholars have celebrated the issue of Pinochet’s Chile as a landmark moment in the development of an international human rights regime in the 1970s, in which governments and a fast expanding number of NGOs brought the issue of human rights to prominence in international relations.19 Several accounts agree that Chile was one of the first cases in which domestic violence and violations of human rights could not be stopped or isolated by national borders, but were put, in the words of Jan Eckel, ‘under a magnifying glass’ before the eye of a worldwide public opinion through a web of global connections.20 It has been argued that the abundance of violations by the Pinochet regime and the symbolic position of Chile provoked a unique response that defined strategies and developed a language of human rights to be applied to other cases of repression perpetrated by undemocratic governments.21 The ‘worldwide disgust at the brutality of the overthrow of the Allende government’ turned Chile into a milestone of the development of relatively young NGOs like Amnesty International, and spurred new rules and strategies at the level of the United Nations. For instance, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted a first resolution on torture in the wake of the coup by Pinochet.22 As Thomas Wright boldly stated in his history of human ← 10 | 11 → rights violations in Latin America, no single issue apart from the Holocaust had such an impact on human rights activism worldwide as the violence in Chile.23

Accounts by human rights scholars have done a good job in making explicit the ways in which transnational networks emerged and interlinked NGOs inside Chile with their counterparts abroad and at the international level, but there still remain many gaps.24 The historiography of human rights activism for Chile has, for instance, paid relatively little attention to the specific role of European voices. The contributions by Western and notably Eastern European actors have mostly been only brushed upon by human rights scholars, who remain mostly focused on NGOs and campaigns in the United States and Latin America.25 This ties in with interpretations, notably advocated by Samuel Moyn and his adherents, who see human rights above all as an American-made artifact gaining momentum in the 1970s and adopted as a Cold War weapon by the Carter administration.26 Furthermore, many human rights scholars find it difficult to link all the campaigns carried out at the level of international bodies and in the offices of governmental and non-governmental organizations to the more grassroots-oriented mobilization for Chile at the local and national level in European societies. This is due in part to the traditional gulf drawn between human rights activism on the one hand, and political solidarity movements on the other. It also hinges on a lack of empirically informed analyses of the solidarity movements that developed for Chile in Western and Eastern Europe. Indeed, scholarly knowledge of the mobilization for Chile in Europe has hitherto been fragmented, limited to a number of accounts by former activists turned historians, or some case-studies dealing with particular countries such as France, Italy, Sweden, and the Netherlands.27 Contrary to other famous international issues that developed into mass movements in Europe during the Cold War, such as the Vietnam War, apartheid and Solidarnosc, there has hitherto been little comparative research on the European mobilization for Chile.28 This volume aims to fill this lacuna by offering a history of the reaction that the Chilean crisis provoked in the 1970s and 1980s in various European countries, in both West and East.

Similarly to the attention paid to the military junta and its consequences from a Cold War and human rights perspective, Chilean exile has been studied thoroughly by many other historians.29 Strikingly, however, the impact of Chilean exiles on the European solidarity movements has to date been a rather under- researched topic. This may cause surprise, as Chilean exiles have always been keen to celebrate their active role in solidarity campaigns abroad and the involvement of their organizations in the global resistance aimed at isolating and resisting Pinochet.30 Yet, to date, Chileans have not been the mainstream historiographers writing their own history and shaping the memory of the mobilization for Chile in Europe; their (autobiographical) accounts have above all remained focused on ← 11 | 12 → the internal relations within the exile organizations and the opposition inside of Chile.31 Hence the larger part of the historiography of the European solidarity movements has remained resolutely centered on the inspiration and campaigns of the suppliers or donors of this solidarity - whether they were political parties, solidarity committees or human rights organizations. Indeed, most of them have ignored or equivocated the role of Chilean agency and dodged the question of how connections between activists and exiles impacted local activism in Western and Eastern Europe. Many studies on solidarity activism tend to depict Chileans living in Europe merely as passive recipients of the support provided by devoted activists who offered them concrete financial and material aid, rather than as active vectors of mobilization.32 Even if accounts of solidarity movements do address the role of Chileans, this Chilean involvement is rather seen as a liability, as their polarization and internal dissent is deemed to have formed a serious constraint on solidarity campaigns.33

The limited focus on the role of Chilean agency in European campaigns is emblematic of the dominant broad historical narrative of post-war solidarity movements identifying with political struggles and crises in the Third World. Accounts have remained focused on the agency of locally and nationally organized activists and networks in Europe, while paying little or no attention to their collaboration with and input of exiles and opposition movements from the Third World countries.34 Partly, this is due to divisions of research fields. Most social historians who have written about the European mobilization for Chile have little affinity for the more political history of the diplomacy and foreign policy pursued by exiles, governments, and diplomats from the Third World.35 The history of Chilean exiles is furthermore extremely complicated, characterized by internal feuds, fragmentation, and ideological and geographical dispersions, which many historians prefer to neglect in their national readings of solidarity activism. Hurdles are not only conceptual or methodological, however. Also important is an old but still potent Cold War taboo regarding ‘foreign involvement’ in European and American solidarity movements in support of political and notably Marxist movements in the Third World. Indeed, in typical Cold War style, contemporary observers critical of the sympathy between leftist quarters and Marxist opposition movements abroad were (and still are) keen to describe the solidarity committees for Third World countries as breeding grounds for international communism, infiltrated by Soviet secret services, and with the sole aim of strengthening ‘fellow travelers.’36 In reaction to these insinuations and in parallel with the historians of the European communist parties who have done their utmost to prove the European communists’ independence from Moscow, former activists-turned- historians have dismissed accusations of Soviet dominance, eluded the linkages ← 12 | 13 → with the communist camp, and resolutely focused on the commitment of Western activists.37

This volume wishes to make room for Chilean agency, and argues that such agency is clearly evident when a transnational perspective is adopted and the scope of analysis is expanded beyond a strict local or national framework. The transnational revision pursued in this volume calls attention to the purposive role the Chilean opposition played in shaping and fuelling foreign activism. The boomerang pattern coined in the 1990s by international-relations scholars Margaret Keck and Kathryn Sikkink theorized how domestic opposition movements under repressive regimes reached out through cross-border networks to foreign audiences in order to launch their activism by spreading information, creating common symbols, and establishing common forums.38 These theories of transnational relations have spawned an impressive amount of empirical accounts of human rights organizations in Chile and other Latin American countries creating liaisons with counterparts abroad.39 The problem, however, is that these accounts - focused above all on moral principles and values such as peace and justice - have to date widely neglected the impact of political organizations, notably those of Marxist stock. The analysis of the Chilean political exiles’ input is one of the main innovations of this volume. Indeed, several authors have identified this gap in the existing literature and wish to rectify it by paying due attention to the mutual exchange and relationships between European solidarity campaigns and Chilean exiles. By so doing, they critically treat what Kim Christiaens in his contribution on Belgium has called the ‘Chilean factor’ in the groundswell of European activism for Chile developed in the 1970s and 1980s.

The present work does not claim to offer an exhaustive or complete picture. Even forty years after the toppling of Allende and more than twenty years after the end of the Pinochet regime, there remain important gaps in our knowledge. This book covers the mobilization in ten Western and Eastern European countries, but could not include some other interesting case-studies. In countries such as Greece, Portugal, and Spain, historians have not yet, or only recently, started to discover the mobilization for Chile as a theme relevant to their recent history.

In what follows, we will provide an overall assessment of the book by means of what can be called the ‘evolutionary pattern of solidarity action’,40 which is discernible in all the articles collected here. Future systematic comparative research could be useful to find out whether or to what extent the evolutionary pattern of solidarity action applies to other cases of solidarity. Regarding Chile, the evolutionary pattern consisted of four intertwined stages. During the first stage, in the period prior to September 1973, there was a relative indifference among the European population towards the political and socio-economic situation in Chile. Important exceptions were leftist thinkers and activists worldwide, as ← 13 | 14 → well as Catholic groups, who closely followed the reform attempts of Chilean Christian democrats under president Eduardo Frei (1964-70) and of socialists under Allende (1970-73). Sporadically, these ‘Chile-watchers’ created friendship associations, solidarity committees, or foundations for Chile. In the second stage, immediately after the coup on 11 September 1973, a global awareness of the crisis and the repression emerged. Just as during the revolutions a decade later in the Soviet Bloc, mass media played a crucial role in disseminating the news and in stimulating people into action. During the third stage, a representation of ‘forces of good and evil’ occurred parallel to the building of imagined solidarities. These forces were translated into an identifiable language: Allende and the victims of military repression were elevated to the status of ‘martyrs of socialism’ and came to be seen as the representatives of change, while Pinochet and his allies at home and abroad were represented as the enemy, and labeled as synonymous with fascism and capitalist imperialism. Identification with the victims’ faith and/or with the opponents’ cause (ideological proximity) was essential for the establishment and strengthening of solidarity action. During the fourth stage, concrete support took place through the organization of local, national, and supranational campaigns. These campaigns took various forms and involved a myriad of actors. Solidarity with a political focus targeted resistance to the enemy and developed aid along ideological lines. Solidarity with a humanitarian focus aimed at assistance and protection of victims regardless of their political affiliation. Chilean diplomats and exiles played a crucial role in all these stages, in a process that strove for the organization of worldwide protests and aid, as well as an unceasing dissemination of information on the situation in Chile prior, during, and after September 1973. The following pages provide a more detailed account of these stages, and conclude with an assessment of the global connections in the European mobilization for Chile.

Pre-coup interest in Chile

In public memory as well as the larger part of the relevant literature, the constituency and orientation of the solidarity movements that developed in reaction to Allende’s downfall in 1973 have mainly been marked by and associated with a leftist stamp. The association with socialism rests on various factors. Obviously, it reflects the sheer nature and composition of the Unidad Popular in Chile, which had been since its ascendance to power in 1970 a coalition of leftist parties, among which included Allende’s Socialist Party, the Communist Party and the social democratic Radical Party (PR). The overthrow of this leftist political alliance by a right-wing and US backed junta contributed to an ideological association with the left. More broadly, the reaction provoked by the 1970 election of Allende and notably his ← 14 | 15 → overthrow three years later has mainly been seen and remembered as a cause célèbre for a generation of European left-wingers who had for several years been discovering and constructing in the former colonies and notably in Latin America a ‘Third World’ as a projection screen for their ambitions of change. Indeed, the groundswell that developed for Chile has mostly been considered as a part of a tide of a new kind of ‘radical internationalism’, which started to grow from the late 1950s in quarters that called themselves the New Left.41 Indeed, as averred by Tony Judt in his masterful history of post-war Europe, from the late 1950s, growing numbers ofleftist thinkers and activists turned their regard to the South, towards the former colonies and decolonizing countries where they found versions of Marxism whose dynamics and novelty contrasted with the ennui and dullness of what has been dubbed the Old Left, found at both sides of the Iron Curtain (that is, Western European social democracy and Soviet communism).42 This New Left has been celebrated as the ideological ‘discoverer’ of the former colonies and decolonizing countries of the Third World, distinct from the Western First World and the communist-dominated Second World. From the beginning, the concept of the Third World was charged with revolutionary ideals of change and the potential to transform the world through a new kind of socialism, something that resonated especially within the burgeoning left protest cultures sweeping the world in the sixties.43 Just as the Algerian independence struggle, the Cuban Revolution, and the struggle of Vietnamese communists against American intervention developed into symbols of change for the European New Left by strikingly defying and eventually overcoming Western involvement,44 so too did the Chilean way to socialism, embodied by Allende and the Unidad Popular government.

Nevertheless, the relation of the New Left with Chile (before and after the coup) is also problematized in this volume. For one thing, radical political groups like Maoists and Trotskysts, which had played a prominent mobilizing role in the campaigns against the Vietnam War in the late 1960s, were far less prominent and sometimes even conspicuously absent in the mobilization against Pinochet’s coup some years later. Many revolutionary groups, as argued for instance in the contributions on Italy and Switzerland, looked with a skeptical eye towards the Unidad Popular government. Maoists who had played a major role in 1968 activism but lost much of their appeal and striking power by the early 1970s, opposed what they called the bourgeois revolution of Allende and deemed it unworthy of the name ‘revolution’. Moreover, the continuing relations between the Pinochet regime and Mao’s China, which refused to cut off diplomatic relations by contrast with most communist countries, had also a refraining impact on Maoist involvement. Trotskyst groups shared the former’s aversion of the so-called bourgeois revolution, and turned their solidarity towards the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR), a radical Chilean party that advocated armed struggle and was not part ← 15 | 16 → of the Unidad Popular government. In comparison with the engagement of these radical left groups, that of the Old Left was far more prominent and influential in the mobilization. Indeed, another important point to make concerning the constituency of the solidarity campaigns for Chile is the stamina and prominence of the Old Left, embodied by the traditional formations of social democracy and communism, in Western and Eastern Europe. These actors have for a long time been neglected in accounts of the emergence of solidarity movements with the Third World, but played nevertheless a crucial role in campaigns for Chile.

In recent years, several scholars have revised and softened the sharp distinction between the New and Old Left, which was so enthusiastically drawn by contemporaries and older historians.45 Studies by younger historians like Maud Anne Bracke, Günter Wernicke and Kim Christiaens, and other historians of the communist parties at both sides of the Iron Curtain and Western European social democracy have, for instance, documented how these traditional leftist formations played a key role in the mobilization against the Vietnam War.46 The involvement of the Old Left is even clearer in the mobilization and resurgence of internationalism provoked by the Chilean events in the 1970s. Notably after the ascension of Allende, the Andean country attracted many delegations from social democratic and communist parties and trade unions. Upon his coming to power, Allende, who had as a senator visited the German Democratic Republic as early as 1966, stimulated cultural and diplomatic ties with the socialist country, as both nations were in need of international recognition and economic partnerships.47 Chilean music groups like Quilapayun and singer-songwriters such as Victor Jara performed concerts across East Germany, and contributed to a strengthened relationship between the two countries.48 Likewise, in places like Finland, Sweden, and the Netherlands, Old Left groups established the first friendship associations with Chile already before the 1973 coup.49 This interest was stimulated by the existence of political loyalties and piggybacked on institutional political networks that linked European supporters with their Chilean counterparts: the Chilean Radical Party was, for instance, a member of the Socialist International, and the Chilean Socialist and Communist Parties could also rely on older international networks from which they drew European support. The interest was reciprocal: in countries like France and Italy, as made explicit in the contributions by Nicolas Prognon, and Monica Quirico and Valentine Lomellini, the Chilean way to socialism was considered by socialist and communist leaders like François Mitterrand and Enrico Berlinguer, a source of renewal for their own parties and a model for strategies of unity among the left.50 All this was the more so because these Old Left formations saw themselves confronted with an identity crisis in the late 1960s and early 1970s, due to factors such as East-West détente, dwindling electorates, and internal and external ← 16 | 17 → opposition from more radical groups. While social democracy was criticized by radical political groups on the left for its involvement in the Atlanticist alliance, the communist parties in Western Europe suffered from the shadow and the blame of the crushing of the Hungarian Uprising and the Prague Spring by Soviet tanks. Against this backdrop, the Unidad Popular in Chile, aiming to combine the ambition of socialist revolution with peace and democracy, offered inspiration to the established political formations of the Old Left.

Yet not only the left looked with interest at Chile in the years before the coup. A traditionally conservative country as Chile called the attention of several Catholic groupings, too. Traditionalist Catholic groups in Western Europe fiercely criticized the Allende government for being a puppet in the hands of the Soviet Union. In the years following the coming to power of Allende, reporters of the French Catholic journal Itinéraires, for instance, devoted much attention to Chile as a cause of global significance, and called for a counter-revolution against the tide of communism.51 Conversely, progressive Christian groups inspired by liberation theology and Marxism became - even before the start of the Unidad Popular - genuinely interested in the alliance between Chilean Christian groups and the political left. Chapters of Christians for Socialism, an initiative inspired by liberation theology and originating in the Chilean capital, spread across various Latin American and European countries after its foundation in 1971.52

The position of the Western European Christian democratic parties and trade unions reflected the divisions and ambivalence that marked the Chilean Christian democracy towards Allende. Foundations and support of influential Christian democratic parties in countries like Belgium, Italy, and West Germany had since the mid-1960s drawn interest to the reforms initiated by the government of the Christian democratic president Frei, and Catholic NGOs had launched various development projects in Chile during his 1964-70 presidency. When the Christian democratic candidate Radomiro Tomic lost the 1970 elections to the Marxist Allende, the internal polarization of Chilean Christian democrats on the Unidad Popular reflected in mixed opinions in the party headquarters of their European counterparts. To a great extent, however, divisions on Chile within the Christian democratic camp eventually became blurred after the violent end of the Unidad Populargovernmenton 11 September 1973.

The military coup and its victims

Worldwide awareness of the upheavals in Chile occurred as fast as the military coup itself. As Georg Dufner points out in his contribution to this volume, the overthrow of Allende and the rise of the Chilean military to power were broadly ← 17 | 18 → documented. Radio, television, and the written press captured virtually minute by minute the events of those September days; words, TV images and photographs depicted in horrific detail the bombing of La Moneda, the burning of books on the streets, and the military takeover of the Estadio Nacional, the stadion-turned- detention center in which thousands of the junta’s opponents were imprisoned and tortured.53 Moreover, the presumed assassination of the democratically- elected Allende provoked a great shock among the public in Chile and abroad. To European audiences, all this brought back familiar memories of the atrocities and the crushing of democracy by brutal dictators in earlier decades. For their part, the militaries led by Pinochet took great care to figure prominently in the mass media coverage of the regime change. James Reynolds, former BBC South America correspondent, sees Pinochet and the members of the junta as the pioneers of what he calls ‘protocol of coups d’état’, as they introduced the language, the clothing, and the staging that formed the modus operandi for future putsches.54 But instead of acquiring respect from an increasingly critical and well-informed world opinion, the Chilean militaries aroused feelings of fear and outrage. Simultaneously, the number of exiles went in crescendo as well as the support from foreign actors for opposition against Pinochet.

Indeed, the post-coup repression by the new military regime against dissident voices in Chile provoked a massive stream of asylum seekers. According to estimates by Amnesty International, there were already by June 1974, only nine months after the coup, about 150,000 Chileans living in exile.55 And Europe seems to have been the main destination for Chileans fleeing repression or expelled from their country.56 Admittedly, Chilean exile spanned the globe and its exact size is difficult to determine. Yet, it is estimated that about a half of the total number of political exiles - mostly assessed at 200,000 - placed roots in Western and Eastern Europe.57 After the reinstatement of democracy in 1990, the National Office of Return estimated that more than 900,000 Chileans, among which included approximately 700,000 economic émigrés, lived abroad. The total number of citizens who left Chile for a longer or shorter period during the Pinochet years for political, economic, and other reasons, is estimated at 1,000,000 and even 1,800,000.58 Whatever the exact size and despite the problems in assessing the magnitude of Chilean migration, the numbers of emigrants during the Pinochet era stand out if we take into account that the Andean country had a population of roughly ten million in the 1970s.

There were many paths to becoming an exile, as extensively analyzed in Thomas Wright’s contribution to this book. Chilean diplomats or officials working abroad in service of the Unidad Popular government at the time of the coup, heard the news about the takeover of power and felt forced to continue their lives outside their native country. In Chile, many more fled into embassies in the capital Santiago, ← 18 | 19 → where thousands of Chilean dissidents and also foreigners living in Chile tried to save their lives and that of their families by the shelter of diplomatic immunity. Embassies of Latin American countries like Mexico, Argentina, and Venezuela aided the flight of many refugees. These included both Chileans and foreigners living in Chile.59 The Mexican government evacuated numerous asylum seekers sheltered in its embassy, including members of Allende’s family. His widow Hortensia settled in Mexico, while his daughter Beatriz exiled to Cuba.

Embassies of Eastern European countries, including those of the GDR, Hungary and the USSR, also offered relief and paths for exile. As explained in Jadwiga Pieper Mooney’s article, the East German Stasi helped Carlos Altamirano, secretary general of the Socialist Party, to depart clandestinely. Western European embassies were also key. The willingness of these embassies to open their doors varied, however. Exceptional was the role of Sweden and its ambassador Harald Edelstam, whose support has already been amply analyzed in various studies.60 In the months between the coup and the forced expulsion of Edelstam from Chile in December 1973, the Swedish diplomat offered shelter to more than 200 refugees in his embassy and helped organize relief in diplomatic residences of countries such as France. Through the intermediation of the latter, as analyzed in the contribution by Nicolas Prognon, more than 850 refugees found asylum in France, where the government together with a plethora of social movements organized relief. Whereas the Italian embassy hosted several hundreds of refugees, the Italian Christian democratic government proved more restrictive in allowing entry to the country, partly because of an ideologically motivated selection and the severing of diplomatic relations with Chile. Ideology was, however, sometimes trumped by necessity: even if West German and Belgian diplomats representing their governments in Santiago were accused at home of having welcomed the overthrow of Allende with champagne, they hosted and helped considerable numbers of refugees, many of whom were eventually granted asylum.

In the years following the coup, the stream of Chileans clandestinely or via official governmental programs crossing the Atlantic to Western and Eastern Europe continued. This exodus resulted from the continued terror by the regime, forced expulsions, or the change in power in Latin American countries witnessing the arrival of dictatorial regimes, such as Argentina, which had been an important destination land for Chileans fleeing repression. The physical presence and vivid accounts of Chilean exiles were a crucial factor in the promotion of solidarity campaigns, but they were not sufficient to spur European masses into action. Understanding of the situation prior to the coup, and identification with the exiles as well as Pinochet’s opponents at home, was paramount.

← 19 | 20 → Constructing imagined solidarities

Though Chilean actors and input may very well have been crucial to the mobilization against Pinochet, this should not overshadow the complexity of the original inspiration that drove European activists into action for a country thousands of miles away, or of the ways in which Europeans constructed their understandings of the Chilean crisis and solidarity. Obviously, activists stepped into action because Chile meant something concrete to them. As the contributions in this volume reveal, the power of solidarity with Chile was that it could mean different things to different groups. Broadly speaking, the meaning and idea of ‘solidarity’, whatever its object or subject, usually travel between two dimensions. The first is a recognition of closeness and commonalities; the second is a recognition of distance and difference with the ‘other’.61 The dynamics between identification and alienation clearly played out in the solidarity claimed with Chile. Activists constructed mental and ideological connections that bridged the gulf between the Chilean reality and that of European societies. This construction brought Chile closer to Europeans’ homes. What rendered the Chilean crisis so effective in mobilizing overseas groups was that it could be welded to topical issues identifiable to the activists. This process of appropriation and domestication is dealt with in various contributions of this book, which make clear the way in which activists saw the events in Chile through a national and sometimes even very local prism. As tersely summed up by an activist cited in Nuno Pereira’s contribution on the Swiss solidarity movement: ‘Chile was in our kitchen.’

The connections and continuities of the mobilization for Chile from the early 1970s with older international causes of solidarity carried out by the New Left and the broader protest culture of the sixties are also established in several contributions to this volume. For instance, Pereira’s article draws attention to the ways in which 1968ers shifted from issues like the Vietnam War, which lost its salience after the signing of the Paris Peace Agreements in 1973, to solidarity with the Chilean resistance against Pinochet. Likewise, Georg Dufner’s chapter illuminates the way in which the imaginary of the West German New Left transformed the death of Allende into a reminder of the violent fate of the Cuban icon of armed struggle, Ernesto Che Guevara. Chile served as a flashpoint for debate on the content and strategies of socialism. Strikingly, the fate of the Unidad Popular in Chile served not only as inspiration for renovation of the Old Left, but also for its self-confirmation and consolidation vis-à-vis the radicalism of many New Left tendencies. As made explicit in the contributions on solidarity campaigns in Eastern European countries, the crushing of Allende in 1973 was used by the official state parties as a dramatic showpiece for the need of strong party and ← 20 | 21 → state-led socialism, considered to be the only way to defend the revolution against external and internal forces of imperialism and capitalism.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (July)
Augusto Pinochet Europäische Linke Putsch Diktatur Salvador Allende
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 358 pp., 8 b/w fig.

Biographical notes

Kim Christiaens (Volume editor) Idesbald Goddeeris (Volume editor) Magaly Rodríguez García (Volume editor)

Kim Christiaens is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Leuven (Belgium). Idesbald Goddeeris is an associate professor at the University of Leuven (Belgium). Magaly Rodríguez García is a postdoctoral researcher at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium).


Title: European Solidarity with Chile – 1970s – 1980s
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
book preview page numper 37
book preview page numper 38
book preview page numper 39
book preview page numper 40
361 pages