The last Salazarist

news: The last Salazarist

THERE’S NOT much that the renowned historian José Hermano Saraiva doesn’t know about the history of Portugal. Now in his mid-80s, he is considered a legend in his own time and is as much a part of modern Portuguese history as the tales he regales to those he comes into contact with.

Rather frail these days, he nevertheless retains a sharp and lucid mind, piercing at times with its intensity. Always controversial in his criticisms of Portugal today and its contemporary politicians, he is a unique card from a deck of personalities that has long since died out. He is the last Salazarist, in the same way that the famous German filmmaker, Leni Reifenstahl, was considered the last testament to the inner sanctum of Hitler and the Nazis.

He knew Salazar personally, still believes he was a great man and leader, and says that his grip on Portugal for over 40 years was remarkable. Saraiva believes that Portugal under Salazar, despite its backwardness, was a better place to live and governed with more common sense. “When I see the way Portugal is governed today, especially with this recent crop of politicians, I feel rather ashamed,” he admits. “I’m not optimistic that democracy has proved a good thing for our country.”

A former Education Minister under Marcelo Caetano, Saraiva saw at first-hand the chaos caused by the leftist regimes following the April 25 1974 Revolution, in which the country’s wealth was squandered and property was stolen or sequestered.

Today, with the election of a new government under Socialist, José Sócrates, he believes that the party has its work cut out and must raise the country’s Gross National Product if it is not to fail, like previous governments, in reforming Portugal.

These days, José Hermano Saraiva continues to tour the length and breadth of the country, with his small three-man television crew, delivering entertaining and spicy historical documentaries about brave knights, mad kings, evil queens and mystical monks.

• The Resident’s Chris Graeme caught up with the history sleuth in Vila Viçosa, where he was recording a programme about Spanish Princess Dona Luísa Francisca de Gusmão, who married Portuguese Prince João IV. Highly ambitious, she persuaded her husband to go against 60 years of Spanish rule initiated under King Philip II of Spain, despite the risks, saying: “I’d rather be Queen for a day than duchess for life!” And so, disobeying the Spanish King Philip IV to present himself in Madrid and offer his fealty, she persuaded her husband to go to Lisbon, where he was proclaimed King of Portugal, and, in this way, paved the way for an end to Spanish suzerainty in December 1640.• Also read ‘Travel Destination’ on page 23