By: CHRIS GRAEME
THE PRESIDENT of the Republic, Cavaco Silva, caused a storm of controversy on Portugal Day last week when he referred to it being a ‘Race Day.’
Politicians from both left-wing parties criticised him for his comments to journalists in Viana do Castelo on June 10.
In other comments the President also caused raised eyebrows when he referred to the need to create “elites” in areas such as science and technology and other specialist areas of excellence.
However, despite his unfortunate choice of words, with their clearly Salazarist Estado Novo overtones, the President was better received by the people than the Prime Minister José Socrates, who was greeted with a mixture of applause and boos.
Several ordinary people shouted words of encouragement and praise to the President including a fisherman who called out “Thank-you Mr President, listen to the people, you have to listen to the people!”
“I know that You, Mr President pay attention to us,” cried another woman after personally having greeted Cavaco Silva.
During his Presidential Speech, Cavaco Silva skipped over Portugal’s growing social divide and inequality, the country’s sluggish economic development and backwardness compared to other European Member states.
Instead, Cavaco Silva preferred to talk about Portugal’s “roots”, highlighting what he termed “Portuguese Universalism”.
He said that historic Viana do Castelo was where the Galego-Portuguese mother tongue was “forged” where we “feel that we have returned to our roots.”
In a Lord of Rings/ Harry Potter style of speech, he talked of “destiny”, “the survival of the nation”, “the races” and the “material and spiritual vestiges” left in Portuguese speaking countries around the world.
The President preferred to draw attention to the “roots created outside” Portugal, how the people had created “bases for new nations and bridges of international dialogue.”
Cavaco Silva focused on Portugal’s five million emigrants abroad and their successes rather than the inability of people at home to recreate those same conditions.
Portugal had “actively contributed to consolidating the European project” and had acted “as mediators in conflict zones.”
He preferred to mention “problems that all countries today (were) facing” rather than highlight why things weren’t working at home.
However, he did call directly on the Portuguese to be “demanding and strict with themselves,” for its institutions to “grow and be innovative and create wealth and opportunities for all.”
Both the left-wing PCP and BE parties called on Cavaco Silva to explain to the Portuguese why he had used the words Dia da Raça (Race Day) which was a “serious statement” and one that was “racist and segregationist” smacking of the Dictatorship.
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