Page 4, 3rd May 1974

3rd May 1974
Page 4
Page 4, 3rd May 1974 — Portugal's bid for liberty

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Portugal's bid for liberty

Anything written earlier this week about re cent events in Portugal could be out of date by the weekend. The reason for this is not only the usual one of swiftly moving developments in the wake of constitutional upheaval. Rather does it relate to the previous state of censored news be ing replaced by the first attempt in memory to allow & free flow of news.

The secrets of the Nazi-trained special police, for example, may remain at least partially hidden for ever. Even some of the atrocities committed against Jews by the Nazis remain hidden to this day. And the current Portuguese euphoria will inevitably produce many ex aggerated statements in different directions.

And the possible effects of May Day are unknown at the time of writing.

How justified is this euphoria and on what is it primarily based? It is a euphoria far removed from the hysteria that often accompanies similar coups; for it is primarily a grateful recognition that Portugal has been rescued from nearly half a century of Fascism — for once the word is by no means misused — by a non-extremist junta. But the ultimate justification for current optimism must take into account the dangers of just such a type of junta.

A genuinely liberal and fair-minded group such as that headed by General Spinola is inevitably prone to attack from both Right and Left. This is where the well-known equanimity and serenity of the Portuguese people may well come into vital play. Anyone travelling in Portugal cannot have been unaware of these characteristics.

There is, generalising unwisely, less bitterness and fatalism in Portugal than in Spain; less venality than in France; and less instability than in Italy. Portugal, "Britain's oldest ally," may thus well be able within a year to take its place among Europe's most respected democracies.

The next year, however, will be supremely testing. But so many commentators have concentrated only on the materialistic considerations of the "revolution" as it affects Britain, Europe. Africa and the rest of the world. Thus Peregrine Worsthorne, in last Sunday's Sunday Telegraph, could see only what he thought to be the dangers for Western capitalism in Portugal's bid for political liberty and adult nationhood.

He called it "self-indulgent" for us to think or the advantages in terms of liberalisation of Portugal's hitherto iron grip on vast African territories. What we have "enjoyed" in the past, however, because of Portugal's remorselessly repressive policy in those areas, was far more, and more reprehensively, self-indulgent.

From the Christian and Catholic point of view moreover the materialistic and crypto-Fascist analysis seems particularly inappropriate. The famous Portuguese paternalism that was used as the excuse for a Catholic country to pursue a particularly harsh colonial policy in Africa — in return for vast material gain to herself— ran clean contrary to the social pronouncements of the last two Popes.

It is little wonder that Papal pronouncements, &swell as everything else, came under official censorship in the old days. And even if Portugal's colonial policy can, at a generous stretch of the imagination, be graced with the description of a charitable exercise, it was Pope John XXIII who said, bluntly and emphatically, that "justice comes before charity."

As for recognition of the new Portuguese regime, and even active encouragement of its supposed aims, reactions have differed widely from country to country. With regard to Britain, while, there is obviously a case for caution in the light of initial uncertainties, there is a formidable slice of history to be taken into consideration.

In the Salazar days, when "national-capitalismand colonial exploitation turned Portugal from a poor country into one which came to contain many very rich people, British sentiment never wavered in its adherence to the 1703 Methuen Treaty. Now, when the difficult task of redistributing vast wealth more equitably will inevitably be undertaken in Portugal, British loyalty should not be undermined by wild talk of Socialist plots.

It seems, in fact. that some or the reactionary voices have been the ones to make premature judgments on Portugal's new government-in-the-making. The progressive majority has been more circumspect. A little more of such realistic circumspection would seem to be the quality most needed at this historic parting of the ways.

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