Thu, Apr 24, 2014 - Page 7 News List

Austerity breeds nostalgia for old regime in Portugal

THE GOOD OLD DAYS:In the crisis-hit country, some long for the stability of the Salazar-led Estado Novo, as others tortured in that era keep reliving their traumas

AFP, SANTA COMBA DAO, Portugal

Inside the Cova Funda restaurant in Portugal, a yellowed portrait hangs over the bar depicting former Portuguese prime minister Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, who gripped the country in his fist for decades.

Forty years after the Carnation Revolution of April 25, 1974, swept away the remainder of his regime, “Salazar salt cod” features on the menu in his home town of Santa Comba Dao.

Although many Portuguese still nurse the wounds of torture carried out by Salazar’s regime, the locals at the bar in Santa Comba Dao — like many others fed up with the country’s economic crisis — remember him fondly.

“We would need 100 Salazars to sort this country out,” said Manuel Campos, 59, a regular at Cova Funda. “He was a dictator, but he was not Hitler or Mussolini.”

Commemorations of the 40th anniversary of the coup that ended Salazar’s Estado Novo regime set for today are tainted by lingering wounds stinging more sharply in the recent economic crisis.

“Since the start of the crisis, we have seen the values of the revolution being simply destroyed,” said Vasco Lourenco, one of the surviving coup leaders.

For the third year in a row, he and other veterans of the coup are boycotting today’s official celebrations in protest.

“The welfare state, healthcare, education, pensions — all these social achievements are threatened today by the austerity policies,” added the former captain, a big man of 71 with graying temples.

The coup on April 25, 1974, was led by soldiers in tanks and joined by a popular resistance movement.

It toppled a dictatorship that began in 1926 with a military coup, continued under Salazar from 1932 to 1968 and ended with the overthrow of his No. 2, former Portuguese prime minister Marcelo Caetano, in the Carnation Revolution.

The bloodless uprising against the Estado Novo was named after the red spring flowers that were placed in the muzzles of the soldiers’ rifles. Portugal flourished after the revolution, joining the EU in 1986, but its massive debt caught up with it.

In 2011, Portugal had to be bailed out by international creditors, who obliged it to make tough spending cuts and other austerity measures.

“In the crisis, the number of people nostalgic for the dictatorship has risen, in Santa Comba Dao and elsewhere in Portugal,” anti-fascist activist Alberto Andrade, 57, said.

A recent study by Lisbon University concluded that 19 percent of Portuguese believe the regime had more good sides than bad — two points higher than a decade ago.

In the southern town of Evora, magistrate Aurora Rodrigues, 62, still has nightmares about being tortured by the secret police for protesting against the regime.

At the age of 21, she was deprived of sleep for two weeks straight and cannot put her head under water to this day, as it brings back memories of the simulated drownings she suffered in 1973.

“No pacification is possible until the torturers are brought to account,” she told reporters.

Rodrigues kept silent about her torture for 36 years until a psychiatrist treating her for recurring nightmares persuaded her to write a book about it.

“The mood after the revolution discouraged political prisoners from speaking out,” resulting in a “whitewash” of the crimes by Salazar’s ideological enforcers, the International and State Defense Police (PIDE), she said.

Historian Irene Pimentel estimates that the PIDE killed nearly 50 political dissidents in Portugal, not including victims who died in the country’s colonies.

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