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Lisbon's History and Historical Figures

Antonio de Oliveira Salazar

Antonio de Oliveira Salazar is the most important leader of modern Portugal and he served as the Prime Minister between 1932 and 1968. His leadership brought stability to Portugal after the turbulent era directly after the disposition of the monarchy but as with many long established rulers, he relied heavily on fear and persecution towards the end of his rule to maintain order. The right-wing government ultimately collapsed during the carnation revolution of 1974.


The Portuguese as a nation generally consider the rule Salazar as a difficult period. With many of the social problems that plague Portugal today being traced back to the failed regime. Antonio de Oliveira Salazar’s Estado Novo (New State) government was religiously conservative, nationalistic and was bitterly against communism and socialism. Salazar's authoritarian state policies led to economic, political and social stagnation, which in turn forced emigration of the most able. The Estado Novo was able to remain in power for surprisingly long as it was primary funded by the wealth and trade from the African colonies. This dependency on Africa trade resulted in Portugal bitterly fighting independence movements and resulted in deaths hundreds of Portuguese soldiers and thousands of Africans.

Antonio Salazar Portugal

Aerial view of the 1940 World Exhibition

Salazar's Early Life

Antonio Salazar Portugal

Antonio Salazar was born in Vimieiro, near Santa Comba Dão in central Portugal. Antonio Salazar’s father was a modest landowner who had begun as an agricultural labourer and worked his way up to become a farm manager of a wealthy land owner. Salazar’s family were far from rich but earned enough to fund a good education, initially he studied at the Viseu Seminary between 1900 through to 1914. At the end of state education Antonio considered becoming a priest but was convinced to study law at the prestigious Coimbra University. These strong religious convictions drove Salazar into politics, as during the early stages of the revolution and the Portuguese First Republic were heavily anticlerical and charged the powerful religious orders with the failings of the country. Salazar in response started to write for Catholic newspapers and organise protests that supported the interests of the church and its followers.


The Portuguese First Republic (1910-1926) was a turbulent time for Portugal with multiple short lived governments, vying leaders with opposed views. In this era Salazar was asked to join the government of Sidónio Pais whose dictatorship controlled Portugal for a single year in 1917 but he declined. Salazar officially entered the Portuguese world of politics with his membership to the Catholic Centre Party for which he was elected to Parliament but only stayed for one year’s session.

He taught political economy at the University of Coimbra. Antonio Salazar became the 81st Finance Minister on 26 April 1928, after the Ditadura Nacional was consolidated, paving the way for him to be appointed the 101st Prime Minister in 1932. He remained Finance Minister until 1940, when World War II consumed his time.

Rise of Salazar and the Estado Novo

Antonio Salazar rise to power is due to the image he was able to build as an honest and effective Finance Minister, President Carmona's strong support, and political positioning. The authoritarian government consisted of a right-wing coalition, and Salazar was able to co-opt the moderates of each political current while fighting the extremists, using censorship and repression. The conservative Catholics were his earliest and most loyal supporters. Never a true monarchist, Salazar nevertheless gained most of the monarchists' support, as the exiled deposed king was given a state funeral at the time of his death. They were given enough symbolic concessions to win over the moderates, and the rest were repressed by the political police.


Antonio Salazar also supported Francisco Franco and the Nationalists in their fight against the left-wing groups of the Spanish Republic. The Nationalists lacked ports early on, and Salazar's Portugal helped receive armaments shipments from abroad - including ammunition early on when certain Nationalist forces were virtually out. Because of this, "the Nationalists referred to Lisbon as 'the port of Castile.'”

Antonio Salazar Portugal

In 1933, Antonio Salazar introduced a new constitution which gave him wide powers, establishing an anti-parliamentarian and authoritarian government that would last four decades. Salazar was able to stay in power because the political structure was heavily rigged in favour of regime candidates. Salazar's regime was rigidly authoritarian. He based his political philosophy around a close interpretation of Catholic social doctrine. The economic system, known as corporatism, which was supposed to prevent class struggle and supremacy of economics. Salazar himself banned Portugal's National Syndicalists, a more true Fascist party. Salazar's own party, the National Union, was formed as a subservient umbrella organisation to support the regime itself, and was therefore lacking in any ideology independent of the regime. At the time many European countries feared the destructive potential of communism. Salazar not only forbade Marxist parties, but also revolutionary fascist-syndicalist parties. Although Portugal had a high level of illiteracy, Salazar regime didn't consider education a high priority and for many years didn't spend much on it, beyond granting basic education to all citizens.

Salazar's era of Fear

Antonio Salazar Portugal

Salazar relied on the secret police, PIDE (Polícia Internacional e de Defesa do Estado) established in 1945 and lasting till 1969. The job of the secret police was not just to protect national security in a typical modern sense but also to suppress the regime's political opponents, especially those related to the international communist movement or the USSR which was seen by the regime as a menace to Portugal. The PIDE was efficient, however, it was less overtly brutal than other countries and the foreign polices that were the model for its creation.


During World War II, Salazar steered Portugal down a middle path, but nevertheless provided aid to the Allies: naval bases on Portuguese territory were granted to Britain, in keeping with the traditional Anglo-Portuguese alliance. Siding with the Axis would have meant that Portugal would have been at war with Britain, which would have threatened Portuguese colonies, while siding with the Allies might prove to be a threat to Portugal itself. Portugal continued to export tungsten and other goods to both the Axis (partly via Switzerland) and Allied countries. Large numbers of Jews and political dissidents sought refuge in Portugal, although until late 1942 immigration was very restricted.

The African colonies and Antonio de Oliveira Salazar

In 1945, Portugal had an extensive colonial Empire, the overseas provinces were a continual source of trouble and wealth for Portugal, especially during the Portuguese Colonial War. Portugal became increasingly isolated on the world stage as other European nations with African colonies gradually granted them independence. Salazar wanted Portugal to be relevant internationally, and the country's overseas colonies made this possible, while Salazar himself refused to be overawed by the Americans. Portugal was the only non-democracy among the founding members of NATO in 1949, which reflected Portugal's role as an ally against communism during the Cold War. Throughout the 1950s, Salazar maintained the same import substitution approach to economic policy that had ensured Portugal's neutral status during World War II. The rise of the "new technocrats" in the early 1960s, however, led to a new period of economic opening up, with Portugal as an attractive country for international investment. Industrial development and economic growth would continue all throughout the 1960s.

Antonio Salazar Portugal

The Indian possessions were the first to be lost in 1961. After India gained independence on August 15, 1947, the British and the French vacated their colonial possessions in India. Indian nationalists in Goa launched a struggle for Portugal to leave, involving a series of strikes and civil disobedience movements by Indians against the Portuguese administration, which were ruthlessly suppressed by Portugal. India made numerous offers to negotiate for the return of the colonies, but Salazar repeatedly rejected the offers. With an Indian military operation imminent, Salazar ordered Governor General Manuel Antonio Vassalo e Silva to fight till the last man, and adopt a scorched earth policy. Eventually, India launched Operation Vijay in Dec 1961 to evict Portugal from Goa, Daman and Diu. 31 Portuguese soldiers were killed in action and a Portuguese Navy frigate NRP Afonso de Albuquerque was destroyed, before General Vassalo e Silva surrendered. Salazar forced the General into exile for disobeying his order to fight to the last man and surrendering to the Indian Army.

End of the New State and Antonio Salazar

Antonio Salazar Portugal

In the 1960s, armed revolutionary movements and scattered guerrilla activity had reached Mozambique, Angola, and Portuguese Guinea. Except in Portuguese Guinea, the Portuguese army and naval forces were able to effectively suppress most of these insurgencies through a well-planned counter-insurgency campaign using light infantry, militia, and special operations forces. Most of the world ostracized the Portuguese government because of its colonial policy, especially the newly-independent African nations. At home, Salazar's regime remained unmistakably authoritarian. He was able to hold onto power with reminders of the instability that had characterized Portuguese political life before 1926. However, these tactics were decreasingly successful, as a new generation emerged which had no collective memory of this instability. In the 1960s, Salazar's opposition to decolonisation and gradual freedom of the press created friction with the Franco dictatorship.


In the mid sixties Portugal and its colonies found themselves in the front line of the Cold war, with a proxy war which drained Portugal of its resources. Salazar was blamed for a War he had no control over and the consequent impoverishment of his country. Thousands from mainland Portugal fled into neighbouring European countries particularly France to avoid the military draft and the war in africa. Most took up menial jobs and were a convenient source of low cost labour in Europe.

In 1968, Salazar suffered a brain haemorrhage. Most sources maintain that it occurred when he fell from a chair in his summer house. Tens of thousands paid their last respects at the funeral and the Requiem Mass that took place at the Jeronimos Monastery and at the passage of the special train that carried the coffin to his hometown of Vimieiro near Santa Comba Dão, where he was buried according to his wishes in his native soil, in a plain ordinary grave. As a symbolic display of his views of Portugal and the colonial empire, there is well-known footage of several members of the "Mocidade Portuguesa," of both African and European ethnicity, paying homage at his funeral.

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