Since 1968, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay have celebrated “Friend’s Day” today. This informal festivity that promotes the value of friendship had its origins in a particular time and it would be interesting- perhaps, to a certain extent, necessary- to try to adapt those objectives to our current context.
Friend’s Day in Argentina was born from the initiative of a Dr. Enrique E. Febbraro, who from his home conceived a movement to celebrate human virtue, specifically friendship and teamwork. Dr. Febbraro was inspired by the space race that defined the 60s: to him, getting to outer space implied a universal goal towards which everyone worked at the time, and to reach it there was a recognised need for cooperation. The movement began in 1968, in the midst of the Cold War, a collaboration of friends that would work on this idea of union for a common cause, with the motto “A population of friends makes an invincible nation”. The project culminated in the sending of a thousand letters to spread the idea, which coincided with the first landing on the moon in 1969.
Dr. Febbraro with Neil Armstrong in the background. Source: blog.creditoargentino.com.ar/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/fotos-para-tips1.jpg
In the context of the Cold War, Dr. Febbraro’s notion of friendship between all mankind to work towards a common goal was novel and for some, crazy. The space race was seen by the majority as attempts by the USSR and the US to establish their primacy, not a universal objective that united humanity. It would be like considering a joint project between the Iran and the U.S possible nowadays to actively limit Iran’s nuclear power. Even so, we still celebrate Friend’s Day and such a deal has been struck between the two countries (although it hasn’t been ratified yet). It may be time to consider adapting Febbraro’s idea to our times.
First and foremost, the evolution of the concept of “friendship” since 1968 should be taken into account. Dr. Febbraro said that one did not see their friends, but felt them, and wondered at how one could make friends anywhere, from a bar to a supermarket. At that time it was about friends and acquaintances, whilst now we also have virtual friends and acquaintances or followers and influencers without having to know our next door neighbour. In addition, we can now make enemies just as easily, with online persecutions and viral witch-hunts. What virtues would be be celebrating in this century, then? With the ever more blurred definition of friendship and the proliferation of new ways of connecting, it may be time to define a new category as we try to define what we could celebrate today.
This image clearly demonstrates the idea of a non-enemy: they aren’t friends, but in the spirit of rapprochement the U.S has become a “small Satan” while Iran will now be part of the “axis of not-so-evil”. Source: Democratic Geography
Now, if we consider the unusual example of the US-Iran nuclear deal, various differences with the Cold War would have to be distinguished. First, that the nuclear paradigm is fundamentally different because it is centered around something necessarily destructive, not constructive as in the case of reaching space. Second, this doesn’t imply a worldwide concerted effort, but an accord between states: even though the issue of nuclear power involves us all in that we could all be affected, it does not necessarily have the same protagonism in civil society as it had in earlier years. Finally, unlike what the Republicans may believe, this deal is not about bonding with a new friend at all. As Obama mentioned last week, “you don’t make deals like this with your friends“: it’s more about two classic enemies trying to outline new norms to not kill each other. It’s not the Cold War but it isn’t exactly a warm rapprochement (which has caused many an adverse reaction).
Taking into account the blurred notion of friendship, the current polarization that we are witnessing on the global stage and this particular “rapprochement” between the US and Iran, I’d like to propose a Non Enemy Day. Since it’s hard to know who is actually our friend, let’s just endeavour to not have enemies, virtual or physical. In the virtual word it is especially easy to fall into victimization and persecution, making it better to abstain from comments or unfounded accusations. At the same time, extrapolating to a global level, with conflicts that are far more complex, polarized and deep rotted, it may be more productive for states to focus on having non enemies instead of “carnal relations”* or axes of evil.
In life we already have non-enemies: people with whom we share an objective or context, but aren’t “friends”. Your dentist, that classmate that you don’t really talk to but it’s all good, you get the idea. If we can’t celebrate friendship in these cases, we can focus on maintaining a certain connection in peace. At a global level, disarmament will not happen until states trust each other enough: the idea is to reach a point in which one can trust that nuclear weapons won’t be used for evil. However, such unilateral disarmament is unthinkable for now: there is not way such a level trust can be reached for many years to come. In fact, the idea for now is “verification, not trust”. The first step, then, would be to have non-enemies. When countries start to see themselves as allies and non-enemies, with non-conflicts and non-dilemmas, then we can have a happy day worthy of celebration.
* “Carnal relations” was a term used by Argentina’s former foreign minister Guido Di Tella to describe his automatic alignment policy with the U.S during the Menem administration in the 90s. Historically, relations between the two countries have often swung from hostile to “carnal”, or very close, between presidencies, making for some interesting cases of foreign policy.