POLITICS | 5/18/2010 12:00:00 AM
A Symbol In Himself
It’s not easy to explain why an eccentric philosopher became a mass phenomenon. Antanas Mockus has achieved it.
According to his advisors, this explanation is quite true. They believe that this time, unlike his other two presidential campaigns in 1998 and 2006, the context favors Mockus. He connects with ordinary citizens and skilled strategists who think that people are tired of the scandals involving politicians with guerrillas, paramilitaries and corruption and that this irreverent professor of mathematics has become an interpreter of decency in politics.
Those who believe in Mockus think that since the ‘professor’ –as his friends call him– became Bogotá’s mayor in 1994, he has represented ethics. At that time, with an austere campaign that only cost eight million pesos (about U$ 4.000), Mockus won by 425,000 votes. He beat Enrique Peñalosa, who along with Lucho Garzón, is today one of the main supporters of the Green Party presidential campaign.
As an expert in symbols, Antanas Mockus knows what he represents and concentrates it on strategic analysis. He is able to incorporate into public performance his training as philosopher and mathematician. A Masters in Philosophy from the University of Dijon, an honorary doctorate in philosophy from the University of Paris XIII and more than 15 years of political experience are his best tools for making projections, statistical analysis, and explanations that now -at national level- show that change in the variables determines the outcome. "Antanas is the same, but now the context makes people comprehend his courage and speech" says Henry Murraín, one of his closest disciples who leads projects in Visionarios, the corporation of civic studies that the former mayor created.
Mockus has always been interested in making knowledge affect reality. When he returned to Colombia after he studied and taught math to teachers, he became obsessed with deciphering the relationship between knowledge, education and social transformation. An issue that reinforced in the late 70’s with his participation in the intellectual group led by his teacher, the Italian mathematician Carlo Federici, and the scientist Carlos Augusto Hernández, his closest friend. Because of his obsession of changing people’s idiosyncrasy, more than 30 years later, Harvard University awarded him with the titles of eminent Latin American and manager of cultural change, in recognition of his work in transforming Bogotá.
A ‘supercitizen’ costume, a giant carrot or a bulletproof vest with a hole in the heart are symbols that always have had political value when Mockus has created them. However, their content is as much emotional as rational. Moreover, they are often laden with religious sense that sometimes makes him look like a prophet.
To promote his legality speech he always carries the Colombian Constitution, like if it was a Bible, and preaches the relation between law, morality and culture. Around these three elements Mockus believes that in successful societies few people violate rules, and when they do it, they feel guilt. These ideological underpinnings have been criticized by some academics who see Mockus as a defender of legality, which can sometimes contradict social realities. "Mockus hates the Colombian culture. The smuggling, the corruption… he implies the laws are made to fight them", sociologist Carlos Uribe wrote in an insightful essay about the Green Party candidate.
Others criticize that Mockus’s speech only focuses on legality and hides specific proposals on economic, political and social issues. The former mayor does not accept this observation, because he believes that any social project begins with the coexistence between people who must act as if they knew each other, even if they do not. That is0 why he insists on emotions and in a symbolic-religious language by which he was drawn during his childhood.
Although his parents instilled in him liberal values, before he decided to read Kant, Habermas, Arendt or Putnam, he was about to become a priest. When he was 13, shortly before becoming the best student of the prestigious Liceo Francés in Bogotá, Mockus was about to go to a seminary in Rome. He did not, but he was marked by the sacred symbolism. And he returns to it every time he says the public resources are sacred and explains his point with a metaphor: “It is more serious stealing consecrated gees than the ones that are not”.
But even if it may not seem, Mockus is earthly. He loves chocolate, he would risk his life over his children and when he’s not reading or writing documents, he listens to Keith Jarrett, Silvio Rodríguez or Gustav Mahler. He loves his women, among which are his wife, Adriana, and his mother, Nijole, whom he professes a nostalgic and infinite love.
Antanas Mockus is a sensitive genius. He learned to read when he was two; besides Spanish, he speaks French and Lithuanian (his parents and ancestors were from Lithuania); he can recite the books of modern philosophers and he is always thinking in an algorithm, a square root or a logic projection. But his personality is not entirely rational. Mockus has an extreme sensitivity and he prefers to avoid conflict. When he faces difficult situations, he cries to communicate, and sometimes only those who have studied philosophy or political science can understand his speech.
Mockus has changed since he was the vice presidential formula of Noemí Sanín in 1998; or when he got only 145,000 votes in the 2006 presidential elections. He’s not the same man that became Bogotá’s mayor in 1995, shortly after he dropped his pants in front of a group of students as university dean. Today Mockus is quiet and calm. His second term as mayor from 2001 to 2004 helped him to mature and also convinced him that in order to govern he does not need to take an ideological side between left and right. In fact, variety is one of his most important characteristics and strategies when it comes to politics. His speech about rule of law allows him to get votes in several groups: young people, old people, liberals or conservatives, president Uribe supporters or people who dislikes him.
Tranquility coupled with less eccentric behaviour, and experience that only comes with the years give Antanas Mockus some conventionality that is more in tune with Lucho Garzón and Enrique Peñalosa, the other two former Bogotá mayors that took over the Green party. Both know that their partner is a celebrity because he understands like few people the new forms of communication and has been able to make progress throughout the ideological spectrum, while captivating young electors and building a political movement with the help of virtual networks.