Peace and anti-militarist movements do not have a strong tradition in Portugal. In recent years, the only notable concerted action has been the protest against the invasion of Iraq in 2003, which brought together 15,000 people. One can point out some other initiatives, particularly in defence of the Palestinians and against Israel, or in favour of the Sahrawis [of Western Sahara].
This lack of a tradition stems from the colonial past, the important role of the military in the overthrow of the fascist regime in 1974, the feeble associative tendancy of Portuguese people, and the conservatism of Portuguese political parties, even left-wing ones, which, for example, never raised the issue of the crimes committed during the colonial war (1961-1974).
The absence of independent media and the vast audience of television programmes are offset by the widespread use of the internet by activists and citizens’ groups.
The Portuguese political scene is particularly conservative and the political parties’ names are misleading.
The Socialist Party (PS), in power, is simply an ordinary party of right-wing neo-liberals that follows the demands of the financial system and Brussels, through the continued reduction of workers’ income and rights as well as the persecution of the poorest (over one fifth of the population).
The left-wing parties – Left Bloc (BE) and the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) – do not differ much in their political agendas, which are quite outdated.
It should be noted, by the way, that Portugal does not have a truly environmentalist party nor even a strong environmental movement as is the case with the rest of Europe.
Moreover, the main (almost the only) trade union confederation – the CGTP – is the only pole for workers’ unity, despite the PCP’s Leninist control of it, and its very conventional fighting methods, very far from what happens in Greece.
Within this context, what is of particular importance is the dissociation from political action of the vast majority of the population, particularly of young people, the unemployed and precarious [casual] workers, abandoned by the unions.
On the other hand, there is great contempt for or indifference to the parliament, cited more often for the privileges of the members than for the benefits it brings to the people. Similarly, the judicial system, politically tainted, does not generate rulings for any of the frequent financial scandals and corruption cases.
The NATO summit
Prompted by the upcoming summit meeting to be held in Lisbon this November, PAGAN – the Anti-War, Anti-NATO Platform – was formed about a year ago in Lisbon and Oporto. Its objective, as a pacifist citizens’ movement, has always been the formation of a citizens’ movement against war and against NATO.
From the beginning, PAGAN was met by the indifference or opposition of the traditional left-wing parties, that have no interest in initiatives they cannot control, in an area they do not recognise as politically important or as a source of votes and, finally, because they know that pacifist activities are not in sympathy with the established power structure.
PAGAN has proposed a counter-summit and protest actions in conjunction with the many international members of the coalition “No to War, No to NATO”, anticipating the express or tacit refusal of the left-wing parties’ leaderships to create a united front against NATO. PCP has developed its own platform with its own organisations (many of which are no more than ghosts) or others that have accepted their leadership, and does not want any international unity against NATO. PCP has announced, however, a standard demonstration for 20 November. BE is organizing an international conference in October, has refused PAGAN’s participation in it, and seems to be more intent on supporting the government’s presidential candidate for the 2011 elections.
Both parties have ambiguous positions in relation to war and militarism. PCP condemns the US/NATO invasion of Afghanistan, but considers virtuous the Soviet invasion that preceded it. Both PCP and BE belittle the anti-militarist fight in the face of the economic crisis and unemployment, refusing to connect the two as integral parts of capitalism’s actions.
Both parties portray themselves as against NATO, but at the same time defend the existence of armed forces, even when those armed forces have become a professional body of praetorians, trained by the Pentagon, amounting to nothing more than NATO’s local regiment, through the EU’s Treaty of Lisbon, which came into force on 1 December 2009.
The purchase of two submarines from Germany – justified officially as part of the fight against narco-trafficking – is linked to a dubious business in which the cabinet led by Durão Barroso and the business elite participated. However, it is not being used politically to promote anti-militarism.
In the same vein, the military budget was increased by 15.8% in 2010, despite the economic crisis and public deficit, which are devastating to the population’s standard of living. The presence of the Portuguese military in Afghanistan was the motive for two petition actions, one organised by PAGAN, another by the PCP, but the population is almost unaware of the presence of Portuguese soldiers in Kosovo and Uganda, or of a Portuguese warship in Somalia.
As happens with the social struggle in general, the peace and anti-militarist movement is creating its own path, despite government threats and the hostility of left-wing parties with parliamentary seats.