Salazar: The Dictator Who Refused to Die

Tom Gallagher’s portrait of Portugal’s totalitarian leader illuminates 20th-century Europe

Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar (1889-1970) reviews troops about to embark for the African colonies of the Portuguese Republic, circa 1950. Photograph: Evans/Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty

Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar (1889-1970) reviews troops about to embark for the African colonies of the Portuguese Republic, circa 1950. Photograph: Evans/Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty

In 1938, delegates at the Catholic Social Conference in Belfast heard that there were “only two states in Europe that furnish us with striking examples of what God demands. One is the Portugal of Dr Salazar and the other is Éire.” António de Oliveira Salazar’s 36-year dictatorship was often the object of admiration in Ireland; in 1940 the Irish Independent declared that it showed the world “what a small state can do when it is well-governed”.

The Scottish political scientist Tom Gallagher’s new biography of the dictator does not make direct comparisons with Ireland, but Irish readers may naturally draw them. When Salazar was born in the small town of Vimieiro in the Dão valley in 1889, Portugal and Ireland had roughly the same population, both mostly rural countries on the Atlantic fringe of Europe’s industrial age, beset by poverty and emigration.

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