Portugal seeks to recapture spirit of 1974 ‘revolution’ for battle against austerity
The Portuguese government’s strict austerity programme, in accordance with the bailout conditions, is fuelling civic outrage
Beekeepers protesting in front of the parliament in Lisbon. So far Portugal has not had the kind of social unrest seen that by its troubled neighbours such as Spain and Greece have seen . Photograph: Jose Manuel Ribeiro/Reuters
When Portuguese prime minister Pedro Passos Coelho makes his annual tax declaration this year, he could be in for a shock. At least that’s the hope of the Movimento Revolução Branca (or White Revolution Movement), a civic group that peacefully campaigns for an overhaul of the political system. It has encouraged people to put the prime minister’s name and tax number on all receipts they get for purchases from shops.
The move is in response to the government’s threat that punishment awaits those who do not request fully detailed receipts after all transactions, as part of an effort to boost tax collection. “Ordinary citizens can get fined for this, so we thought: let’s protest by getting people to put the prime minister’s name on their receipts,” says the movement’s leader, Paulo Romeira.
Romeira (46) is polite and quietly spoken, but his message is getting through: the prime minister’s tax number has rapidly circulated via social networks and text messages, in theory making him liable for a massive tax bill.
This week Romeira’s movement – and many others – feel they have particular reason to express outrage. April 25th marks the anniversary of the Carnation Revolution, the day in 1974 when the Portuguese rose up and peacefully overthrew an oppressive right-wing dictatorship that had ruled the country for half a century.
The Movimento Revolução Branca , whose logo, in a nod to the 1974 uprising, is a carnation, believes the ideals of that time have been betrayed by Portugal’s leaders in recent years.
“If you look at how democracy has developed here in Portugal, we haven’t achieved the aims set out in the new constitution in 1974. If the constitution had been respected, we wouldn’t be in the situation we’re in,” says Romeira.
He points to the country’s €78 billion bailout as proof of the incompetence of its leaders.
The Carnation Revolution, says political scientist António Costa Pinto of Lisbon University’s Institute of Social Science, “was the dream of democracy but also of a society with more social justice and undoubtedly Portuguese democracy was able to redistribute wealth, to create a much more developed welfare state.
“Portugal is already seeing more inequality and, of course, we are suffering a general process of impoverishment and will continue to do so in the next couple of years,” he says.
The government’s strict austerity programme, in accordance with the bailout conditions, is fuelling civic outrage. Another high-profile protest movement is Que se Lixe a Troika , “Screw the Troika”. With unemployment at nearly 18 per cent and the country in the third year of recession, such groups feel the country should be taking a different economic course.
Portugal has not had the kind of social unrest seen by Spain and Greece.
But there is a feeling that the “spirit of 74” is rising again for a people who are exhausted by austerity and feel let down by their leaders.
Last month hundreds of thousands marched against government policy. But even those leading the chorus of anger are cautious about whether the ideals of April 25th, 1974, which transformed a nation, can be truly recovered and restored.