Portugal needs a mentality revolution, says author

An international best-selling Portuguese author has criticised nearly 80 years of what he called the ‘nanny state’ mentality in Portugal.

Miguel Sousa Tavares, author, lawyer, journalist and broadcaster, told a select group of businessmen and women at an American Club lunch last week that “Salazar and his 50-year Italian-style dictatorship has been “the worse thing that could ever have happened to Portugal” since it created a “dependency and paternalism” that was still being felt today.

He said that successive regimes since the monarchy had fostered a lack of drive and initiative in making decisions at lower management levels, which had hampered the country’s ability to be innovative and productive and competitive.

But he doubted that the country needed the help or intervention of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to put Portugal’s house in order.

Instead he felt that it was up to Portugal to sort its own problems out that were of its own making.

“We all know what the problems are, they are discussed at length on a daily basis but it seems that no one is prepared to really get down and tackle the central issues,” he said.

The best-selling author of Equador (2004), which was translated into over 10 languages, including English, and Rio das Flores (2007) which has sold over 100,000 copies to date, believes that Portugal’s main problem lies in its “chronic dependence on the Government” and the so-called “nanny state” which paralysed initiative.

He said, in part, the problem extended back to the times of the monarchy when it was the “kings who took the decision to monopolise markets” from the time of the Discoverers, a problem that still hampered the markets in Portugal today in some key sectors such as energy and telecoms.

“Salazar didn’t believe that the Portuguese could govern themselves,” he said, adding that later this idea proved ironically true during the period between the Carnation Revolution in 1974 and the Portuguese Democratic Constitution set up in April 1976 by Mário Soares during the so-called ‘Hot Summer’ or ‘Verão Quente’ (1975) when the country was in the anarchist grip of the Revolutionary Process in Course (PREC).

During the PREC, when enterprises considered important for the public were nationalised such as banks, insurance companies, transport firms, communications, energy, metalworking, chemicals and the paper industry, “communist militants demanded everything because everything could be demanded,” he said.

Enterprising spirit

Miguel Sousa Tavares detected a vein that seemed to run through Portuguese society for centuries which was the “spirit of leaning and relying on the Government”.

“I believe that it is time for the Portuguese to be more willing to stand on their own two feet and not rely on the government to do everything and make all the decisions. They need to have a more enterprising spirit,” he said.

Instead he said the old way of doing things simply wouldn’t work in the future and it couldn’t be “business as usual”.

“We have to reward merit, those who are prepared to take risks in business, those who invest and those who stand up to the spirit of jobs for the boys (cunha) in politics.

In this, he slammed the way that members of political parties had for successive governments jostled for positions of favour in Government and nearly every walk of administrative life.

He said that the new generation that was coming onto the jobs market had to stand up to petty bureaucracy and corruption and stop “obeying the political generation that had rooted itself in Portuguese life” and was preventing the country from reforming and moving forward.

“Today it seems that educated young people seem faced with two choices: either to face unemployment or go abroad” and he called on a “revolution in mentality”.

“A country that does not allow its young elite to prosper and change attitudes is condemned to failure and weakness,” he warned.

Miguel Sousa Tavares also called for “new blood” in Portugal’s political class. “I would like to see more young people enter politics, ones that do not come from the established party political youth movements which are almost schools for criminals,” he blasted, adding that it was vital that this new generation did not “turn its back on democracy”.

“This new generation must have the courage to break with the past and what we have got used to, in the words of Salazar, “accepting as a habit”.

When questioned about the possible intervention of the IMF, he said: “I don’t think we need them. We have a serious budgetary crisis but it is not such a serious economic crisis to warrant that,” he concluded asking the question, who in Portuguese politics stood to gain from the Government falling?”