Portugal mourns its revolutionaries

news: Portugal mourns its revolutionaries

But their deaths also triggered fresh reflections on the role of communism in the Revolution’s aftermath. Left wing supporters hailed them as heroic opponents of the forces of reaction. But those of a more conservative disposition conclude that they were obstacles on Portugal’s path towards acceptance of capitalism.

General Gonçalves took a leading role in the Carnation Revolution that put an end to 40 years of dictatorship and ushered in the democratic era. In Portugal’s first free elections in April 1975, 91 per cent of the population turned out to vote – the highest recorded turnout at the polls in the country’s history. However, his far left policies, which bordered on communism, brought Portugal, already bankrupt after years of colonial wars in Angola and Mozambique, to the point of financial collapse and political chaos.

During the time he led no less than four provisional governments following the April 25 Revolution. He also spearheaded many radical reforms such as nationalising banks, insurance companies and key industries. General Gonçalves had been a member of a military committee of left-wing officers, Movimento das Forças Armadas (MFA), or Movement of Armed Forces, that seized power ousting the moderate dictator Marcelo Caetano. The General was eventually removed from power after supporting a left-wing coup at the end of 1975, following widespread concerns by moderates about the way he was leading Portugal. Yet, despite his communist sympathies, the General was a believer in the democratic system and organised the country’s first free elections in 40 years. He also presided over the end of years of disastrous colonial wars that had brought Portugal to financial collapse. Prime Minister José Sócrates said that General Gonçalves was a “man of conviction who led Portugal during troubled times”.

Tributes to Cunhal

Álvaro Cunhal has been called one of the most influential figures in Portuguese 20th century politics, along with Salazar and Mário Soares. His death brought tributes from across the political spectrum and led the government to declare last Wednesday a day of national mourning.

Commentators acknowledged his integrity and commitment to the anti-fascist struggle even though he was also criticised for his unbending adherence to a communist ideology that appeared increasingly obsolete.

Cunhal led the Communist Party (PCP) until 1992 when Carlos Carvalhas succeeded him, including a long period when the party was banned under the Salazar regime. His opposition to fascism led to a 12-year jail term, including a period in solitary confinement. In spite of being tortured, he refused to denounce party colleagues and later escaped to spend a long period in exile, first in the Soviet Union and then in France.

He returned to Portugal to a hero’s welcome, five days after the Revolution, and then became Minister without Portfolio in several provisional governments until 1975.

Former President Mário Soares called him a great “anti-fascist” and José Sócrates described him as “one of the great Portuguese political figures of the 20th century”. President Jorge Sampaio called him “a great man whose life is inseparable from the history of the 20th century. He occupies an esteemed place in the struggle against the authoritarian regime, in the Revolution and in the consolidation of Portuguese democracy”.

Cunhal retained a life-long attachment to the Soviet Union and was decorated by Mikhael Gorbachev when he visited the country to undergo a major operation in 1989. He resisted all internal changes in the party, as well as any ‘capitulation’ to the market economy.

As late as 2001, he issued a statement saying the PCP should remain a “Marxist-Leninist” party. In frail health in recent years, Cunhal appeared in public for the last time in March 2002, when he voted in the general election. An official Communist Party tribute said “he devoted his life to the cause of the workers and the Portuguese people, to internationalist solidarity and to Portugal’s sovereignty and independence”.

Current Communist Party leader, Jerónimo de Sousa, cut short a trip to China to return home for Cunhal’s funeral and television channels cancelled normal programming to present tributes and retrospectives.

Poet Andrade dies

Eugénio de Andrade, one of Portugal’s most revered and best-known poets, also died last Monday after a long illness at the age of 82. Andrade, who won numerous awards for his work, including the prestigious Camões Prize, died in Porto at the Eugénio de Andrade Foundation, where he had been living for the last 10 years. His work has been translated into well over 20 languages and has been likened to that of Spanish poet García Lorca.

Andrade, whose real name was José Fontinhas, was born in 1923. He wrote his first poems at the age of 13, and his work was first published at age 16. His 1948 book, As Mãos e os Frutos (The Hands and the Fruits) won plaudits from the Portuguese literary establishment.

He went on to write more than 30 books of poetry and prose, many of them – including the award winning Os Sulcos da Sede (The Streaks of Thirst) – translated into languages ranging from English to Chinese. His accolades included a 1986 International Association of Literary Critics award and a 1989 Portuguese Association of Writers’ award.

Fellow poet, Manuel Alegre, said Andrade was “one of the greatest poets of the Portuguese language” and Spanish critic and poet, Ángel Crespo, has written that “his voice was born to baptise the world”. Andrade was also another key anti-fascist figure known for his communist sympathies.