Saturday, February 18, 2017

Portugal Then and Now

Portugal today is perhaps known for being out of the news rather than in it, but that wasn't always so. In the 1970s particularly between 1974-'75 the country was marked by political upheaval consequent to the end of the Salazar dictatorship and the end of its colonial empire in Africa and the consequent return of the erstwhile colonial settlers, also known as the 'retornados.' Perhaps unsurprisingly it's because of this that the country has adopted a more liberal outlook than other European states to the contemporary influx of refugees from the Middle East.

Political Change and Decolonization

For a time it appeared Portugal would replace a rightist dictatorship with a leftist one, but that didn't happen, probably because of the Cold War and the country's NATO membership. Whether the birth of democracy in this Western country was a 'natural' process as some observers like Robert Harvey have opined or engineered from abroad is possibly only of academic interest now, but what seems undeniable is that like its better known Iberian cousin, Spain, Portugal seems to have turned its back on a dictatorial and imperial past.

A Liberal Approach

In the present what is of interest is that Portugal better known for its emigrants has adopted a welcoming approach to refugees from a region that once colonized the Iberian peninsula. It has shown itself different from the rest of Europe in that respect as it did in the 1970s when it seemed to be a pale imitation of Nasserite Egypt in terms of the military's hold over the political system. Fortunately the country has genuinely turned its back on such tendencies. Of course the refugees have trickled into Portugal only in small quantities, preferring richer members of the E.U. Nevertheless despite being a small country and not as rich as some other European countries, Portugal's welcome of foreigners in its midst is quite path breaking even if the primary possibilities for them in that small nation are principally centered on rural areas such as farm labor. Be that as it may we can learn many things from Portugal, namely that we are all part of a common humanity and that the barriers that separate nations are not impenetrable neither by circumstances nor indeed of history.

Portugal Today

Portugal of course has some advantages over more complex and diverse countries in being relatively homogenous with a single language. Even the shedding of its erstwhile colonial possessions in Africa has complemented this tendency and has enabled the country to shepherd its modest resources while shedding the trammels of empire. It clearly shows us that in the modern world it's not necessary to engage in great power politics or have large armed forces to make a difference as Portugal has shown in its attitude to immigration. Moreover the abiding hold Portugal has in distant outposts of its former empire like Goa in India is shown by the record numbers in that state taking up Portuguese citizenship and emigrating.

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