Category Archives: Portugal

Same-sex marriage now legal in Portugal

Today is a day to celebrate, for those of us who support liberal values and believe in equality. Last December the Portuguese parliament approved a law on same-sex civil marriage, making it legal by removing the provision on the law which stated that marriage was restricted to heterosexual unions. This was a great victory, but an important battle still lied ahead: the conservative President of the Republic, Anibal Cavaco Silva was against it, and around him rallied the most reactionary sectors of Portuguese society.

They failed, however, to mobilize the population, who remained either unsympathetic or indifferent to their  ‘sacred cause’ for the defence of the traditional family values. As regards the President, he sent the law to the Constitutional Court, which then stated that it was in accordance with the constitution. A political veto by the President was, however, still possible, as in Portugal the president’s powers are wider than in most of other european republics.

Tonight the President announced on a declaration broadcast live to the country, that he has decided to promulgate the law. In his statement it’s clear that he is a defeated man. He laments the fact that a softer solution has not been chosen such as the one of creating another institution similar to marriage, as exists in states like the United Kingdom, and regretted that Portugal is one now among 7 countries in the world to have a law which gender abolishes discrimination in a legal institution.

Well, for me, I have good reason to be happy  because Portugal has now a law of civil marriage that does not discriminate between men and women, which allows same sex couples to be legally recognized as having the same dignity as different-sex marriages.

In a moment when Portugal is on the world news because of the state of its finances, and increasingly pointed as the next in line after the Greek crisis, it is great to have, for once, happy news about my country.

The approval of this law makes me proud of being a Portuguese citizen. As I have written in another post (about the cancellation of the gay parade in Belgrade last September), the way the gay and lesbian minority is treated, both by the state and by society, reveals not only the level of tolerance, but above all, an important shift in mentalities in which differences no longer bother ‘normal’ people. The evolution of the Portuguse society, in this regard, should be considered spectacular. Of course there is still widespread homophbia, and other forms of prejudice, but those will be more effectively fought now that we have this law. The fact that, unlike in Spain, the Catholic Church decided not to give active support to those opposing this law, and the fact that, unlike in Spain, the population did not respond to calls for the so-called defence of traditional family values, makes me even prouder of being a Portuguese. The difference in the way Spain dealt with a similar law tells a lot about the differences between both Iberian countries, but the way Portugal followed the steps of our Iberian brothers is a good reminder also of how much we have in common. Without the Spanish example, the efforts of those who fought for same-sex marriage in Portugal would probably not bear fruits so soon.

This is also the beauty of liberal ideas, they spread easily, as soon as we are bold enough to nurture them.

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Aristides de Sousa Mendes: small tribute on Holocaust Memorial Day

Today is the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. In 2005, the day was declared Holocaust Memorial Day by the United Nations General Assembly (A/RES/60/7, 1 November 2005, adopted by consensus).

I take this day as an opportunity to pay my tribute to Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the Consul of Portugal in Bordeaux, who, in 1940, saved the lives of more than 10 000 Jews, who were fleeing the Nazi invasion of France.

aristides20i

On 16 July 1940, he decided to disobey the orders coming directly from António Oliveira Salazar, the Portuguese dictator, who had forbidden the issuance of visas to “foreigners of nationality undefined, contested or under litigation; apatridas, and Jews”.

On that day, he said: “From now on, I will grant Visas to everybody, regardless of nationality, race or religion”. After the Consulate was closed, he still kept issuing Visas, until the moment he entered Spain. He justified his stubborness and defyance with these words: “If I have to disobey, I prefer to disobey an order issued by men than an order issued by God”.

He granted more than 30 ooo visas, of which more than 10 000 to Jews.

He was expelled from the diplomatic service and persecuted by the regime, and died as an indigent in 1954.

I take this example of non-conformism as very inspiring, since it happens that it’s simply so much easier to just follow orders and never take risks.

Update, a video:

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Filed under Duty of memory, Non-conformism, Portugal, War

PORTUGAL: Will we hit the bottom? Prospects for 2009.

In the last few months, the international financial crisis has been dominating the news all over the world. The financial crisis, and more recently, the riots in Greece are starting to force the portuguese to open their eyes and face the fact that Portugal’s prospects for the future are not at all bright.

portugal_afunda_seIn December, former President Mario Soares added his voice to those who warn that riots similar to those in Greece can also happen in Portugal:

«Com as desigualdades sociais sempre a crescer, o aumento do desemprego que previsivelmente vai subir imenso, em 2009, a impunidade dos banqueiros delinquentes, o bloqueio na Justiça, e em especial, do Ministério Público e das polícias, estão a criar um clima de desconfiança – e de revolta – que não augura nada de bom»

(…)

«Oiçam-se as pessoas na rua, tome-se o pulso do que se passa nas universidades, nos bairros populares, nos transportes públicos, no pequeno comércio, nas fábricas e empresas que ameaçam falir, por toda a parte do País, e compreender-se-á que estamos perante um ingrediente que tem demasiadas componentes prestes a explodir»

“With rising social inequality, the expected high rise in unemployment in 2009, the impunity of delinquent bankers, the blocade of justice, particularly the public Prosecution and the police, are creating a climate of distrust-and revolt-that does not bode well”

(…)

“Listen to the people in the streets, look at what’s happening in the universities, in the popular neigbourhoods, in the public transports, in the small shops, in the factories and companies threatened with banckrupcy, everywhere in the country, and one will understand that we are upon an ingredient that has too many components ready to explode”

It is not the first time someone says something like this, but, until recently, this kind of statements, that indirectly or directly question the very legitimacy of the political system, were only made by people who are or claim to be outside the system and who have their market niche as anti-system rebels. I am talking about University professors, failed politicians and others who have personal resentments and like to feed their ego and hide their personal flaws by blaming ‘the system’.

I am citing Mario Soares because he is one of the most important, if not the most important founding figure of Portugal’s current political regime. He is one of the founders and the historic leader of the Socialist Party, created in Germany in 1973. In the revolutionary period that followed the military coup of 25th April 1974, the Socialist Party lead the struggle with the Communists, who were trying to impose a communist regime, despite having been outvoted in the elections for the Constitutional Assembly. He was Foreign Minister in the provisional goverments, then Prime-Minister for three times, then President of the Portuguese Republic for ten years (1986-1996). He is a controversial figure whom many deeply respect or even adulate as a national heroe while others absolutely hate and blame all the flaws they identify in the portuguese democracy (not to mention those who hate democracy itself).

There are many differences as well as similarities between the social and political situation in Portugal and Greece.

The biggest difference is that the legitimacy of the current regime in Greece is much more questioned than the legitimacy of the Portuguese democracy. The portuguese revolution is a fantastic example of major changes being introduced and being accepted by the people without provoking major violence. Unfortunately its legacy has been under attack for many years, both by those on the political right that hate its left print, and by those on the left that systematically undermine its achievements by claiming ‘property rights’ over that legacy, and demanding eternal gratitude. There is also the role of the radical left in Greece, which has no counterpart in Portugal, while the regional context of Greece in the Balkans and Portugal in the Iberian peninsula is totally different and this has important implications on the people’s self-image and the behaviour of the political elite.

Then, there are the similarities: nepotism is not so assumed in Portugal, but it is widespread; the level of poverty is the same, around 20 to 25% of the population classified as poor, with the evolving erosion of the Middle class as a serious problem, and the situation of the youth is exactly the same.

To this we add the prevailing pessimism.

Since at least 2001-2002 the country is living in an environment of latent crisis and since then we often hear that our development model has run out and that we need a new one. But there was never a ‘development model’, for the last three decades Portugal has been run on a short-term basis, never with a clear well-defined strategy for development or an idea of future. During the years from 1975 to 1985 the priority was the stabilization of the new regime and the assession to the EEC, now the EU. These were very difficult years, not only because of the internal situation but also due to the international context. By 1986, a phase of stability and a favourable international context allowed for an unprecedented development fueled by EU subsidies and construction.

This period lasted until 2000, when it became obvious that it was reaching its limits. In my opinion, the roots of the current situation of latent crisis has its origins in the lack of strategic vision of those previous 15 years, the best example being the field of education. However, the situation prior to this period was so bad, that most people prefer to simply dismiss the idea of missed oportunities by pointing to the heavy legacy of the past.

During the last ten years, the only ‘development model’ to emerge was based on construction, the acceptance of de-industrialization as an inevitable consequence of globalization and the naive faith on Portugal’s touristic potential. Instead of looking for the missed opportunities provided during the period of economic expansion, people started identifying the Carnation revolution as the cause for the dead end in which the country then found itself. Since then, its legacy started being attacked much more openly, and last November Manuela Ferreira Leite, the leader of the main opposition party (PSD-social democratic party, actually a right wing party composed of an amalgam of conservatives and liberals) declared:

«Eu não acredito em reformas quando se está em democracia, quando não se está em democracia, é outra conversa, eu digo como é que é e faz-se; e até não sei, se a certa altura, não é bom haver seis meses sem democracia, mete-se tudo na ordem e depois então, venha a democracia»

“I don’t believe in reforms when we are in a democracy; when there is no democracy, it’s different, I say how to do it and it’s done, and I don’t really know, whether, at a certain point, it may not be a bad idea to have six months without democracy to put everything in order and then, bring democracy back”

This statement, which the whole country had the opportunity to hear on the news was not followed by her resignation, but merely by a statement of her spokesman saying that she was being ironic (irony and sarcasm is a national sport, but I don’t see any irony in her words)…this is the attachment that the party that traditionally represents the alternative to the ruling socialist party reveals towards the very idea of democracy…

At the social level, a mentality hostile to the concepts of solidarity and social cohesion emerged that contributes to keep divided and compartmented a country that has an otherwise very homogeneous national identity. This compartmentalization of the portuguese society has its roots on the fascist regime, where there was no social mobility, where the classes didn’t mix, and where poverty was portrayed as something of which people should be proud. As I remember my teacher saying in scholl ‘its better to be poor and happy than to be rich and unhappy’ (this ws the early 1980′, but the teacher was old and I was in a conservative school, which functioned as a ‘refrigerator’ where the social order of the previous regime was preserved-I thank my parents for the miserable years I spent there, it was a very useful ‘lab’). Meanwhile many of the poor stopped being poor, and their politicaly induced ‘modesty’ was replaced by an awful arrogance against those who remained poor, something which reflects their fear of having their statues reversed. An individualistic mentality emerged in which individuals who have failed to get rid of poverty are blamed as ‘loosers’. As a result, most people are ashamed of assuming its difficuties, ashamed of the situation of precarity or poverty in which they live, and fight each day to hide their situation.

These statements by Mário Soares do correspond to a widespread feeling among the people who live in Portugal. Pessimism and self-defeatism is part of our national identity, we tend to  be bitter and we love to complain, but we also tend to be conformists and to resign ourselves with what we are given and carry on. Still, even the most conformist people eventually become fed up and then the urge to change becomes irresistible.The problem is that change doesn’t happen spontaneously . If we take a look at Greece, what do we see? The government hasn’t resign and is patiently waiting for the protesters to get tired, while the problems all remain there.

I don’t believe something like Greece is likely to happen in Portugal very soon:

  • Unlike the greek government, the current government, which rules with an absolute majority, is not widely contested and the ruling party sistematically appears first on the pools.
  • The fact that in 2009 there will be european and parliamentary elections will provide a public space for the expression of discontentment that will deter the discontents from expressing themselves in other ways.
  • To this I add our comformist mentality and the social divisions that i have exposed above. The comformist mentality is so widespread among the youth that it becomes despairing to deal with people under 25, most of those I know seem to have no goals in life and have no problem in behaving as a burden on the shoulders of their parents, while the ones who show some dynamism are mostly dominated either by greed and cynism or by discouragement.
  • The fact that emigration is working as an escape valvule to decrease social tensions. Thanks to the fact that we belong to the Schengen Zone (how I love to belong to the Schengen zone), hundreds of thousands of people, both portuguese citizens and immigrants have been leaving  the countries (this is a double edge sourd, as it is mostly the youth that is leaving, with severe implications on our already fragile demografic structure).

So, my guess is, nothing will change, but since the structural problems will remain and, thanks to the financial crisis, will become undeniable and impossible to hide for much longer, instead of a political crisis we will have a sense of decay, with everybody expecting a miracle.

However, there is a potential time bomb ticking. As the economic situation gets worse in the rest of Europe and emigration stops being an option, the escape valve will stop working, while conformism has its limits.

But even if the degradation of the economical situation leads to widespread contestation, the fact is that change will not happen spontaneously, but neither there is a foresseable alternative within the political elite. This is dramatic, because it reveals the ultimate failure of the democratization process in Portugal, the existence of alternatives being at the core of the concept of democracy.

A moment of crisis is always an opportunity for a positive change, but the prospects of positive change are grim. Some weeks ago, in another blog, a friend asked the crucial question. Are we prepared to seize the opportunity?

How should we prepare ourselves to shape this change that most of us agree to be necessary, if not unavoidable.

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Verão de São Martinho

Verão de São Martinho is the short period around St. Martin Day (11 November), when the weather gets warmer and sunnier before Autumn definitively comes. I live in a small town by the Portuguese western coast, so I’m obviously taking the opportunity for some sun tanning.dsc_0202

I’ve lived all my life in Portugal, but now I’m preparing myself to leave. The sea and the sun will be among the things I shall miss more, so I’m taking now as much as I can. Much as the sun warms and comforts me, the feeling of loss that I get is stronger. Portugal is currently facing a huge brain drain. Young people are leaving, because the salaries are low and prospects of development grim. Among those who leave, the feeling that this is the country of the lost of opportunities. There is this feeling that the train has departed and there was no place for us, the fact is that in Portugal you can succeed only if you have the right connections, otherwise all doors will be closed, no matter how good you are. It’s probably not too different from other places (well, where I’m going I didn’t need connections, so not everybody is like that), but in a country with the size and economic structure that Portugal, this is dramatic. There is an insidious environment that incites us to quit, where only cynicism seems to pay, while being honest is considered a weakness of character, a lack of ability to survive. It could be worse, of course. It is worse in Serbia, for instance (and there isn’t even the sea as a way of mental escape), but, having friends there, that is no consolation.dsc_0218

(it looks like a desert, and it is a desert, metaphorically speaking, a desert of hope, but the colours are beautiful)

I tend to be fatalist, that’s a culturally induced characteristic that I share with most of my co-nationals…but I don’t like that feeling. So, I celebrate my patriotism by taking as much sun as I can, the beaches are public domain and sun tanning is free. In a few months, I’ll be missing all of this… in fact I’ll be missing it in a few days, after Verão de São Martinho is over. For now, I’ll just enjoy this short break in Autumn, I think I deserve it, and even if I don’t, o sol quando nasce é para todos, e há que aproveitar.dsc_0207

(The beach is not big, but it’s not small either, and it was empty. Yet this nice couple couldn’t find a better place to sit than there in front of me… that is soooo portuguese…)

I’m pessimistic, but if you though this text is depressing, here’s a very crude yet lucid assessment of the current situation, (in portuguese only).

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The Atlantic

dsc_0152I have been a bit lazy latelly and when bloggers are lazy they either post poems or photos, so, here’s a photo, taken by me yesterday around 16h. Anyway, with all this fuzz with the US elections, I didn’t feel much motivated to write, but I hope to be back soon…

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Portugal recognizes the independence of Kosovo

I am happy and proud!

Better late than never, although we can’t say that q recognition 8 mounths after independence was declared is really a late recognition.

Interestingly, the minister of Foreign Affairs declared that it was the changes in the international system following Russia’s recognition of Ossetia and Abkazia that made the government take such decision. Few countries could have a higher interest in the enhancement of euro-atlantic integration, so it is a very good sign to see portugal returning to the political consensus over integration that has been the key to our democratization process since the 1970s.

I am sending a kiss to my dear friends from Pristina whom I will try to visit soon (now that I don’t feel obliged to return the dicount I got in February for belonging to a country that supports Kosova);

(thanks, Sebanau, for the first hand information, I hadn’t yet have the time to read the news)

Update: here are the links: the news; the rection of support of the main opposition party.

I am travelling so I really don’t have time to go into this, and anyway there is not much to say than to rejoice that those who were oposing recognition, namely the portuguese president, no longer think that way. I am particularly happy that Serbia will no longer use the fact that Portugal opted to be careful in this matter to claim that Portugal was supporting Serbia because of principles (even going to the point where serbian polititians claimed that, unlike Spain that has a direct interest in this; Portugal was obstructing the viability of Kosovo for the sqke of generousity towards Serbia).

For the portuguese reading readers, I strongly recomend Max Spencer Dohner’s post where he deconstructs the ridiculous and qnti-democratic arguments of the parties on the far left, Bloco de Esquerda and Partido Comunista Português (both well represented on parliament). Most of the portuguese lqnguqge readers already read Devaneios Desintericos, Max’s blog but still here’s the link.

Update 2: I am not using my computer but I remembered that I had these photos on a USB drive, so I thought it was a good moment to share them. Kosova is the country in Europe with the youngest population. Thqt gives the country q very nice environment, especially in Prishtina. It is q greqt chqllenge to create jobs for all the young people there, and this is a crutial issue for the develpoment of Kosova. These beautiful children and young adults deserve a bright future, so now the biggest challenge is economical develpoment. This also applies to the Kosovo serbs and other minorities. For them to stay jobs and prospects of a better life are needed.

The first two photos were taken during the Independence party this year;

the one with the kids was taken in April 2007.

Both were taken by me;

( I hope to write q decent post latter because this one is a big mess, but one that reflects my eagerness o share this happy moment with my readers and friends… I hope the phtos may compensate the bad quality of the post)

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Filed under EU, Kosovo, Portugal, Serbia

LEONARD COHEN IN LISBON: thank you for such a wounderful concert!

Yesterday was one of those days that make me thank my parents for not having stopped at their ninth child.

20 years ago, Leonard Cohen gave a concert in Cascais. I didn’t go, but my brother did. After that, he couldn’t stop himself from listening to Leonard Cohen. I listened too. I had no choice. I am not deaf, and unlike our eyes that we can shut, there is no way not to ear, when your older brother (actually my 6th older brother) is the one who owns the tape recorder. Being the 10th of 12 children has its advantages. Of course I am not expecting those who have small families to understand that. It doesn’t matter, thanks to my brothers and sisters and my mother and father, I grew up listening to lots of music that my own generation didn’t have the chance to appreciate.

Yesterday I had the chance to listen to Leonard Cohen live in Lisbon. It was a wonderful evening. The night fell smoothly as Leonard Cohen and his band gifted the audience with almost 3 hours of the best of his best music. I hope that one day, when I get old and my brain starts deteriorating, and that I loose my memory and my reason, my heart may still remember the joy I felt for being there and how light I was feeling afterwords.

I am posting a You tube with one of the musics from last night. This you tube video was recorded in May 2008, in one of the concerts of his current tour. I admire Leonard Cohen above all as a poet. For me he is above all a poet, a poet that also composes and sings. Leonard Cohen is one of the reasons why I love the English language. His lyrics inspire me, and those readers that happen to know me personally know that I frequently quote him.

However, I chose a song whose lyrics are not his. Take this Waltz is a tribute to Federico Garcia Lorca, a poet that left too many poems unwritten. He was assassinated by spanish fascists for the simple reason that they didn’t like him. He was too independent, too non-conformist and too cosmopolitan. They just couldn’t stand him so they took him, he lost his life and we lost the chance to admire his poems yet to be written. Thanks to Leonard Cohen many people who would otherwise never come across into Lorca’s poetry had the chance to get to know him. A beautiful way to honour his memory.

Federico Garcia Lorca’s body was never recovered. An olive tree was planted in the place where he was shot.

Update: Here you can find some you tubes from the Lisbon Concert (and a link to my own blog).

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Filed under Art, Joie de vivre, Lisbon, Non-conformism, Portugal, Spain