Friday, April 25, 2008

Lost in Carnation

Today, it's officially "the day we celebrate freedom", in Portugal. Also called "the carnation revolution", because instead of bullets there were red carnations coming out of the soldiers rifles on that day, 25.05.1974, when democracy and full civil rights were restored in Portugal.
Actually, this holiday is much like Christmas, only without the presents and the comforting food.

On yet another anniversary, grown-ups speak drearly about fraternity and liberty and listen to the traditional carols of the date.
Then, all is put away until next year, for another feel-good get together of the "fighters for democracy and freedom".

That is all very nice, and we are thankful, but the truth is, this velvety carnation revolution was only necessary because the tender first steps of baby democracy and freedom were smothered in the cradle, with the 1908 assassination of the king and royal prince, and then the deposition of the monarchy in 1910.

Since then and until 1974, Portugal hasn’t been Portugal and to this day, although more in tune with the rest of the western world, is still trying to find itself.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Bad Case of Identity Crisis

One of our most singular traits is our appreciation for foreigners. All Portuguese love foreigners (and not just in a sexual way) and will spare no efforts to serve them.

This is tightly connected to one other trait, which is the fact that most Portuguese have very low self-esteem, so in general they tend to self-depreciate the country they have, and to sublimate what is foreign.

Much of this "embarrassment" has roots in the 19th century, when Portugal arrived late to the Industrial Revolution age, much because after the Napoleonic invasions the country never had time to recover, because a civil war and the loss of Brazil followed suit.

Political stability was hard to come and economical growth was difficult in a country that had a long tradition of living off the colonial trade, which paid for the import of nearly all of the goods the country needed - "why produce them when we could buy them already made? (at highly inflated prices)", seemed to be the motto for too long, but the empire tap was not flowing anymore; if anything, it was costing more money to keep than the revenue it was providing ...

Culturally and scientifically, the country had been legging behind as well.
Religious control by the Inquisition was responsible for the stagnation of the arts, learning and thinking.
The downfall of an empire is always a hard blow to its people, but how to explain that a once vigorous people is so demoralized, it's not itself anymore?
Other nations of the world went through the same rise and fall, but many seemed to recover more easily than us.

For instance, the Spanish went trough similar convulsions as we did, however they got over it much better than us.
They have flare, we have nostalgia.
They have Flamenco, we have "fado" (fate).
They are cocky, we are apologetic.

For instance, they have bullfights, because that's who they are, and they don't care what others think or say about it. That's also why they have such thick accents when they speak other languages, as they don't care if you understand them or not, they believe everybody should speak their language. On the other hand, the Portuguese are renowned for being able to speak proficiently foreign languages, sometimes 3 or 4 different idioms with prestine accents.

Don't get me wrong, the Spanish are not better than us, just currently more successful, thus more proud. But they still suck when they try to compare their stuff to ours. That's why they try to take all the good things we have.
They can't cook as good as we do; they come furtively to fish in our waters; our wine, olive oil, and even Algarve are "cloned" on the other side of the border, etc - but all their attempts amount only to 2nd best...

The heaviest blow, in my opinion, has been the loss of identity that happened in the beginning of the 20th century in Portugal.
The transition from a 7 century old Monarchy to a incipient and hasty republic was bloody and criminal. The people who represented the nation, the stability, the centre, the tradition and the national values, the royals, were murdered or forced to exhile. Not for nothing, the last king of Portugal was called "The Patriot"...
Even the national colors, blue and white, were dropped for the red and green of a meer party, a faction, that has been as one sided as one can be... thus, how can a people that has lost memory of itself, of what it used to be, be proud again?

The only thing that makes a common Portuguese proud nowadays is success in Sport.
And that means Football, basically.
Mourinho, Figo and C. Ronaldo are the role models that the "new" Portuguese want to follow, in the hope we may achieve the greatness of yore.
These figures have done a good job, no doubt, making the Portuguese more proud (although Ronaldo and Mourinho sometimes have their peculiar moments and can be a bit uncool). But, a nation who has been great before, shouldn't need "pop" stars to be reminded of all its qualities.
The glorious past should be more than enough. If we can't respect ourselves, no one will.