We interrupt our regular blogging schedule today to bring you a protest.
The Portuguese people have been some of the quietest victims of the Crisis, but after Prime Minister Passos Coelho announced yet another round of devastating austerity measures — some of which even the Troika distanced itself from, saying it had not asked for such punitive measures — the anger could not be contained.
Today the Portuguese marched in protest in 40 cities across the nation, including Loulé. Though no official headcount was made, these were some of the largest, if not the largest, protests that the nation has seen since the 1974 Revolution.
Here in Loulé, a thousand people answered the Facebook invitation to join for a march, and that’s in a small city of less than 25,000. Our own informal head count estimated a larger number, possibly up to 1,500 by the time the march was underway.
As people gathered, the ground in front of the Mercado was covered with signs, waiting for people to take them up. A common theme, here and everywhere else in Portugal, was this one: BASTA, meaning ENOUGH.
As time passed, the crowd swelled. When we arrived, it was just a small knot of people in front of the Mercado. After 20 minutes it spilled out into the street. A bit later, the crowd filled the width of the street and all traffic was blocked.
Soon all of the signs were picked up, to be joined by many others that marchers had made before they arrived. A small hatchback car with giant speakers mounted in the back pulled out, leading the way up the city’s main avenue.
As the protesters marched, they were joined by others, swelling the ranks until they filled the main avenue from one end to the other.
Here was a poignant sign: “In place of 500 euros, you give 370…keep the change.” The most helpless victims of the austerity measures have been the pensioners, who paid into a social security system their whole lives and then, after retirement, found their pensions cut, and cut again.
It would be one thing to cut the pensions of the wealthy, or even the middle class. But these cuts impacted across the board, including the poor pensioners, the ones receiving 500 euros a month or less. With a tank of gasoline costing 80 euros now, a €500 pension was already poverty. A €370 pension is penury.
The scene from inside the march. A common theme was “Até quando?” meaning, “Until when?” Another sign further up illustrates the Portuguese frustration with the Troika (the International Monetary Fund, European Commission, and European Central Bank), stating that the Troika does NOT equal dignity, equality or respect.
One thing that struck me about this march was how representative it was of the entire spectrum of Portuguese people. It wasn’t a march of the young and politically motivated. It wasn’t a march of union workers. It was a march of students, workers, families, and many pensioners.
One protester carried Article 1 of Portugal’s Constitution on her back, which declares:
Portugal is a republic based on the dignity of the human person and the will of the people, and dedicated to the construction of a free, just, and united society.
The Portuguese feel that their dignity has been lost, their will ignored; and that their society is no longer just.
But it is definitely united.
I can only hope that such vocal opposition on the part of the people will induce Parliament to vote against this latest round of austerity. It’s a punitive mistake, and will plunge this country into a hole so deep that it may take a generation to climb out.