Roaming Existenz

Estado Novo and Oral Histories

Earlier today, as I was looking a little bit more into history and Portugal, I noticed how we (portuguese) might have been unconsciously shaped our positions on dictatorships and oppression. I was trying to find a first post and so this made it.

Note: Might be applicable to Spain as well due to similar circumstances.

Portuguese presidents timeline

In this image from the President of Portugal article on Wikipedia, we can see the chronology of most/all of the XX century portuguese presidents. And of course it's noticeable the large chunk between before WW2 (1933) and up until a year before end of the thing they called the Vietnam war (1974), which was called “estado-novo” in Portugal: a corporatist and catholic conservative dictatorship, fascist in all but perhaps official title and irrelevant details. This was also in fact the civilian continuation of the "Ditadura Nacional", a military dictatorship that started in a coup in 1926.

A little bit of background

Yes, it was not interested in making itself look big and scary to the outside, and it might have been less visibly violent compared to the likes of Germany, Italy, or Spain.

Most of it was António de Oliveira Salazar which created the whole ideology, out of his very catholic conservative morals, and his distaste for anarchism, socialism, communism, classical liberalism, and various other -isms of the time. He was the “Salvador da Pátria” – the nation's saviour – that was going to protect the country against the modern menaces, and put it back on the trails of glorious tradition. So yes, the whole regime was basically the operational apparatus required for a daddy-knows-best state – which included the former colonies – based on Salazar's ideas.

This lack of visible extremism was also not a mistake but how things were intended to be: daddy (the state/salazar) knows best, the little kids (people/opposition) don't and get spanked quietly. This apparent stability and “moderation” helped kepping us out of war, by allowing us to easily engage in neutrality and backstabbing deals with all sides. But especially it also kept the people tamed, which is one of the many reasons it lasted that damned long (41 years), and without the chaos of the colonial wars I think it might never have ended. It even survived Salazar's death.

And this is the part where we sometimes assume that people know more of our history, it's similar in other places too. But in our case, we also assume they share a similar oral/lived history from family, friends, etc. And for that to happen with people from outside Portugal it's usually rare, rarer still if we restrain ourselves to the western world.

The point

Getting back to the image to make you understand a little better. The interesting part of the image, is when you realize that most of the presidents from the Revolution (1974) to today, were hardly more than children before estado novo began (if even that), and in all cases a substantial part of their adult life was lived in that regime, as our current president is just 75 years as of 2024.

Yeah, that's just it: Anyone, that I (born on 1985) would consider a proper adult when I was a kid lived a substantial part of their lives during an oppressive regime. And yes we talk about how my mother had to run off to home when she was at the University because of possible student riots, how her cousin was tailed by the PIDE (state secret police), how a bar exploded because the secret opposition had met there, how they needed to get perfume from smugglers, etc. But this also repeats in the stories she recounts of her own mother and father, which were both still very young when it all started.

And this happened while the rest of the world went by and mostly ignored them even while visiting the country. Right there in the most western part of the whole Europe for 41 years, or 48 years: if you consider that it was preceded by the "Ditadura Nacional", a military dictatorship started in 1926.

Half the people couldn't leave the country without their husbands/fathers permit, neither could they vote – not that it would have made any difference if you think that's a huge privilege. You would also need a license to have a cigarette lighter, and anyone deemed male could be sent to fight people in colonial jungles. Almost everyone I know of was, and were also mostly irrelevant: as they were neither Soviet nor American backed, like the well armed guerillas fighting the cold-war proxy wars along Angola, Mozambique, Guinea, etc. But hey at least they got access to free education, a house, and some healthcare, right?

Finishing thoughts

It is hard to find any place in Western Europe where you can have this kind of shared lived history, yes many places had dictatorships, but multi-generational ones? Portugal and Spain basically, which might explain a lot of our external politics on plenty of themes.

Mine and the next generation might be the last ones to have a more direct connection to people that actually lived there, and the saddest part is that this is probably part of the reason the new-right/alt-right/far-right kind are coming back. The sentence about the healthcare et al. above is not always said jokingly by many.

And that's one hell of a first post for the blog thingy if you ask me. I also hope you now understand a little better where the UN Secretary General Guterres got his learnings.

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