The Portuguese Right Unites Against Lula’s Visit

By Miguel Nunes Silva

In The European Conservative


Last week, on April 25th, Portugal celebrated the 49th anniversary of the 1974 Carnation Revolution, a significant event for the Portuguese Left which usually involves a host of politically symbolic ceremonies marking the overthrow of the Salazar regime. This year, the ruling Partido Socialista (Socialist Party or PS), along with centrist President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, decided to take the unprecedented step of inviting a foreign head of state to speak in parliament during the celebration: the recently inaugurated Brazilian President Lula da Silva, from Brazil’s Workers’ Party.

Given its fundamentally ideological character, April 25 is preferred as a holiday by the Portuguese Left, rather than Portugal’s more appropriate National Day—June 10—which commemorates the death in 1580 of Luís de Camões, Portugal’s literary hero. April 25 this year was to be the perfect holiday—not only marking Lula’s first foreign trip but also fostering camaraderie between two fraternal nations and their left-wing political parties.

Instead, this year’s anniversary holiday left a bitter taste in the mouths of Portugal’s left-wing media and intelligentsia, with the PS suffering a public humiliation. This was the result of a large, successful demonstration against Lula’s presence, organised by Chega, Portugal’s growing right-wing party—on what has become one of the most important days for the Portuguese Left.

The original events of the Carnation Revolution of April 25, 1973, and its wake are worth recalling briefly. António de Oliveira Salazar, who had ruled from 1933 to 1968, had died in 1970, and the military regime known as the ‘Estado Novo’ had chosen regime insider Professor Marcelo Caetano as his replacement. While some changes had been made under him, Caetano’s appointment had primarily maintained the status quo. So, at dawn on April 25, 1974, Marxist-influenced army groups staged a coup and occupied Lisbon, arresting most of the Estado Novo’s officials.

With the only formal political organisation at the time being the Partido Comunista Português (Portuguese Communist Party or PCP), numerous abuses of power followed: arbitrary and illegal land grabs, nationalisations, expropriations, and persecutions. This period became known as the ‘Processo Revolucionário Em Curso’ (‘Ongoing Revolutionary Process’ or PREC). Much of this resulted in armed clashes across the country. And at one point, loyalist military officers and activists—mostly exiled in Madrid—even planned a countercoup to restore the Estado Novo.

In 1975, a year after the Carnation Revolution, Portugal’s ruling revolutionary regime awarded independence to the country’s former colonies of Angola and Mozambique, abandoning them and their white European populations to a disastrous fate. The result was violent persecution of whites by revolutionary guerrillas, leading to the ethnic cleansing of a million Portuguese people from Africa. Half a million refugees poured back into Portugal, exacerbating existing economic difficulties and social tensions.

All this came to a head in the ‘hot summer’ of 1975, when everyone thought a civil war was imminent. The Portuguese Constituent Assembly election earlier that year had not resulted in a resounding communist victory as had been expected, with the PCP obtaining a mere 16% of votes. A few months later in November, a showdown between moderates and PCP-aligned troops resulted in the complete removal of communist elements from the government. Decades later, profound divisiveness and sensitivities continue to surround April 25 and its aftermath.

Fast forward to today: it should be clear that the Left’s idea of having a foreign leader speak at a national ceremony as sensitive as April 25 was a bad one to begin with; but to then welcome such a divisive figure as Brazil’s Lula—who was once imprisoned on corruption charges and then made several attempts to evade legal sanctions—was absolute folly.

Given their low popularity, it is unclear why the PS chose to proceed with this idea—but Chega and the Portuguese Right certainly made the most of it. And this is something that can and should be celebrated. The Portuguese Left is starting to learn that with the emergence of an outspoken political Right and a well-organized party like Chega, even their absolute hold on the media is insufficient to maintain the left-wing narrative they seek to perpetuate.

It’s worth noting that the protest that Chega was able to organize on April 25 this year was remarkable on several levels. First of all, Portugal’s right-wing parties usually take a back seat during the April 25 celebrations, partly because they have been shamed over the years for not having been at the forefront of the Carnation Revolution—and partly because some of them resent the post-revolutionary abuses (many of which have never been resolved). This year was different.

The leadership of the right-wing Chega party had rightly calculated that the shame of bringing such a controversial figure as Lula would be simply too much for the Portuguese Right to bear, sullying what some see as a brief annual moment of national unity. So the party assembled more than a thousand people—the largest demonstration ever against a foreign head of state—who gathered outside the National Assembly and shouted anti-Lula slogans, just as the Brazilian president arrived. Inside the parliament, Chega deputies hung posters with anti-corruption messages such as “thieves belong in prison,” much to the ire of the president of the assembly, Augusto Santos Silva, a socialist.

(It’s worth mentioning that Santos Silva has since been attempting to enact sanctions against Chega in reprisal for the protest. In addition to Chega and the Iniciativa Liberal parties—parliament’s third and fourth largest political groups—being unconstitutionally prevented from electing their own parliamentary vice-presidents, in accordance with tradition, Santos Silva now seeks to also exclude Chega deputies from parliamentary trips abroad.)

On another level, the protests also managed to create a sense of unity among the disparate factions of the Portuguese Right, most of whom usually compete with each other rather than cooperate. It’s true that two other centre-Right parties—the Partido Social Democrata (PSD) and the Iniciativa Liberal (IL)—chose not to participate officially in the protests. Nevertheless, the presence of anti-Russia Ukrainians, Brazilian Bolsonaro supporters, as well as traditional conservatives, nationalists, monarchists, and libertarians from across Portugal, demonstrated the power of collaboration.

If the PSD and IL learn anything from this episode, it could very well open the way for Portugal to follow the example of Austria, Italy, or Sweden: places which have demonstrated that building coalitions is the only way that the European Right can move forward.

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