Hundreds of thousands of Portuguese poured into the streets of Lisbon and other cities on Saturday to demand an end to austerity dictated by an international bailout and the resignation of the center-right government.
The rallies, which follow the introduction of the biggest tax hikes in living memory, mark the greatest public show of discontent since demonstrations last September forced the government to adjust some of its austerity measures. More than 200,000 protesters in Lisbon packed the vast imperial Praca do Comercio square, home to the Finance Ministry, and surrounding streets, chanting: “It’s time for the government to go”….
“Grandola”, the signature tune of the 1974 “Carnation revolution” that overthrew the fascist dictatorship of Antonio Salazar after the army rebelled, reverberated through the crowds in Lisbon, which has a population of about 3 million, and elsewhere where protesters gathered. Many cried as they sang.
Protesters have used the song increasingly in the past month to interrupt government ministers speaking at public events. “We are in a new dictatorship. Everything that the revolution achieved is being destroyed,” said one elderly protester in Lisbon who did not give his name.
The rallies, which coincide with a quarterly review by the EU/IMF bailout inspectors, are the first large protests since the government acknowledged last month the economic downturn this year will be nearly double its earlier predictions. The forecast 1.9 percent decline will further deepen the worst recession since the 1970s, already in its third year.
I’ll say it again: One size does not fit all. And yes, in a democracy reform and change must come from within, and yet fanatics still call for the imposition of a monolithic, top-down Europe to replace the creative and productive Europe des Patries of the past.
Writing in the New York Times, Oliver Guez, a contributor to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, moans about the absence of “Europeans,” and appears to acknowledge the EU’s failure — and its lack of democratic credibility — but wants to march deeper into the swamp of “ever closer union.”
It could be achieved through a European civic curriculum in every school; through emphasis on mastering other languages; through increasing exchange programs (across ages and classes); through improving mobility; through unifying European health and retirement systems; through electing European representatives directly responsible to their constituents; through more equal treatment of guest workers and immigrants.
Now there’s food for thought. François Hollande, Angela Merkel and especially David Cameron…Encourage the creation of a single European public and cultural space. Give us a vision for the peoples of Europe: make them dream of being one people, and leave your ambiguities behind. If you sincerely aspire to a political Europe, then take up the responsibility with courage and a vision that goes beyond the next elections and the next economic bump in the road.
Promote the Continent’s spiritual unity, organized around its diversity.
And never (really) answered is the question: Why?