Antonio de Oliveira Salazar

Antonio Salazar

Was a Portuguese politician and economist who served as Prime Minister of Portugal for 36 years, from 1932 to 1968. Salazar founded and led the Estado Novo (“New State”), the corporatist authoritarian government that ruled Portugal until 1974. After the 28 May 1926 coup d’état, with President Óscar Carmona’s support, Salazar entered public life, initially as finance minister and later as prime minister. His Estado Novo would come to allow him vast power over Portugal. Opposed to democracy, communism, socialism, anarchism and liberalism, the ideology of Portugal was conservative and nationalist in nature under his rule. Salazar also favored and advocated for Catholicism, but argued the role of the Church was social, not political, and enabled the Concordat of 1940.

Born in 1889 in rural Portugal, in a relatively wealthy family, young Salazar attended the Catholic seminary and flirted with the idea of joining the clergy, but reconsidered the idea and attended law at the University of Coimbra. His involvement in politics was born out of the strong impregnated conceptions of Catholicism in the context of the anticlerical current promoted by the Portuguese First Republic (1910-1926). He officially entered politics in the early 1920’s among the Catholic Party, but at first, he devoted more to his career as a law professor.

In 1933, Salazar introduced a new constitution that granted him powers far stronger than before, allowing him to establish an authoritarian and anti-parliamentary regime. Although he had a right-wing conception, his regime differed from the German or Italian ones through the lack of a charismatic leader or the lack of the expansionist principle, the structure of a single party, and some moderation in the use of violence. A very important place in the theory that stood at the pillar of the “Estado Novo” was Salazar’s Catholic traditionalism. Antonio de Oliveira believed in the necessity of controlling the country’s economic modernization in order to defend the country’s rural and religious values.

Due to these influences and because of Portugal’s and other countries painful experiences, Salazar concluded that the Anglo-Saxon parliamentary democracy didn’t match the Portuguese people in that historical moment. In his view, democracy required a political maturity and citizenship education especially. Without these qualities, democracy would lead to governmental instability, to the impairment of the State’s authority, corruption fostering and ultimately, installation of anarchy. According to Salazar, the liberal regime, in most cases, is degraded through libertinism. By choosing the dictatorship, Salazar chose, in fact, an authoritarian state and rejected the idea of a “totalitarian state”. From this point of view, the difference between Salazar’s dictatorship and the other European dictatorship is essential.

One of the many criticisms of his regime was that he hasn’t paid attention to education at all. At that time, Portugal was a country with a very low level of literate people, and the government has taken little action to improve it. As any kind of authoritarian regime, a significant role was played by the secret police, called PVDE (Polícia de Vigilância e de Defesa do Estado). Founded in 1933 on the German model of the Gestapo, it later became PIDE (Polícia Internacional), and was the main force that incarcerated the political prisoners (communists, people involved in the liberation movements from the African colonies or others).

Despite some similarities with the Third Reich, among which the largest was the disdain for communism, Portugal’s relations with Germany were quite cold, because neither Salazar nor the Portuguese people trusted Hitler. During WWII, the country has remained neutral, but because of an old alliance with England, Portugal was forced to help the British by allowing the Allies to establish military bases in the Azores. After the war, Portugal was invited to sign the Washington Treaty, becoming thus NATO’s only founding member with an undemocratic regime. This was explained by the strategic interests of NATO, who needed the Azores to remain under Portuguese possession.

For Salazar’s regime, the overseas empire was an integral part of the national identity, hence the strong opposition to decolonization. These rigidities brought him criticism from the Western countries and were one of the major fissures of the “Estado Novo” system. Salazar’s death from 1970 didn’t bring the end of his regime, which continued until 1974 under Marcelo Caetano, one of his most loyal henchmen. The strong international pressure and the internal instability led to the collapse of the “Estado Novo”, which ended by what came to be known as the “Carnation Revolution”.

In the introduction of his book, “A Peaceful Revolution”, Salazar presents as following the doctrinal essence of Portugal’s dictatorship: “Respect and love for the country, national solidarity, respect for the family (which is the cell of society through excellence), authority and hierarchy, cultivation of the spiritual values, respect for any human, sanctity of religious beliefs, here’s the essence of our doctrine. We are against all internationalisms, against communism, against socialism, against anarchic unionism, against everything that despises, divides and splits up the family, against the class struggle, against those without a country or God, against slavery work, against materialistic life, against the force as the origin of law. We are against all the great heresies of our time.”

In 2006 and 2007, two public opinion television shows aroused controversy. Salazar was elected as the “Greatest Portuguese Ever” with 41% of the votes on the show “Os Grandes Portugueses” from the RTP1 channel. Salazar was also declared the “Worst Portuguese Ever” in a public poll by the satirical debate program “Eixo do Mal” on the channel SIC Notícias. This thing led to viewers expressing concerns about the reliability and seriousness of the show, with the controversy extending to the poll on the show “The Greatest Portuguese”, which Mário Soares called “total nonsense from start to end”. A survey from the channel SIC had also revealed Salazar as the “The Greatest Portuguese Figure of the 20th Century”.

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