Portugal: Liberty-day leads to police repression against anti-fascists

Portuguese government protects the extreme right

25 April, what is now known as Liberty day, will forever be remembered as the day when fascism was overthrown. It was in 1974 that the Movimento dos Forças Armadas (MFA), radical mid ranking officers, had executed a plan to overthrow the fascist dictatorship of Marcello Caetano.

The news of the regime’s downfall spread like wildfire. People flooded the streets, thousands of school students marched “shouting down with fascism” and a genuine feeling of liberation took hold of the working class and poor. As events unfolded and radicalised, Time Magazine, concluded in one of its headlines that “capitalism is dead in Portugal”. The revolutionary initiative, energy and determination of the Portuguese working class meant that they succeeded in obtaining radical pro-poor measures. Unfortunately, in great part due to the lack of a revolutionary party with a clear socialist and revolutionary program, capitalism succeeded in directing the movement down a safe, reformist capitalist road.

Recent events show that the extreme-right is rising again. The social crisis, high unemployment, low salaries (412 € minimum wage) and neo-liberal attacks on the public sector by the ex-social democratic party have created a vacuum in which the PNR, the Portuguese extreme-right, has been able to make gains. The PNR is promoting the division of the working class between immigrants and non-immigrants. Attacks by fascist thugs on immigrants and communist activists are becoming a normal occurrence. Although the Portuguese constitution prohibits any idea linked to fascism – with the experience of 5 decades of fascist oppression – the Portuguese government is not taking any action against neo-Nazi groups. They even protect them.

A few days ago, the PNR, put up a billboard on the Place Marques de Pombal, in the center of Lisbon. It is a provocation and a challenge to the left and the workers movement. The billboard shows the PNR leader, José Pinto Coelho, and the slogan: “Immigrants; go home”.

The Place Marques de Pombal is the traditional starting place for left wing and workers’ demo’s. The demo to commemorate Liberation day started here and the 1 May demonstration will start here as well.

Since it was put up, the billboard has been guarded by a group of Nazi skinheads.

During the demonstration on the 25 April, the place was guarded by 12 police-officers, completely in Robocop-uniform. This caused quiet a few incidents of activists throwing tomatoes and then being beaten by the police.

The official demonstration of 25 April was attended by tens of thousands trade-unionists, workers and young people. The main slogan of the demo was: “25 de Abril Sempre – Fascismo nunca mais!” – “25 April forever – Fascism never again”. Everywhere, people were singing the “Grandola – Vila Morena, terra da liberdade”, the song which was played on the radio to signal the start of the Portuguese revolution.

Alternativa Socialista – the Portuguese CWI-section took part distributing a leaflet making the link between the current economic crisis, the growth of the extreme-right and the lack of a credible political alternative at the current moment, which was very well received. The big demostration ended at the Praça do Rossio.

After the official demonstration part of the activists, mainly younger people, set off for another more radical march. Although the radical, mainly anarchist character of the demo might have deterred some people from joining up, the march attracted a good 500 people. Because of its size, the police could not intervene and prohibit the march. Older anti-fascist activists, who cut their teeth against the Salazar dictatorship, united with a new generation of anti-fascist fighters and shouted slogans such as “Immigrants, be welcome”; “Fascists and Capitalists out of our country” and “fascist nationalism is not a part of popular culture”.

The demonstration was militant but peaceful and dissolved around 7 o clock at the Praça de Camões. The police waited until the demonstration was dissolving and then moved to encircle small groups of people The police charged several times and organised raids without any previous provocation. Many people were injured, including some who did not attend the demo. Some suffered broken arms and fractures. 12 young activists, 2 girls and 10 boys between 18 and 20, were arrested and brought to the police headquarters. They were held the whole night and brought to court. They stand accused of participating in an illegal demonstration. During all this, sympathisers held a solidarity vigil outside police headquarters and the court.

We condemn the unacceptable attitude of the police who charged innocent people and defended the fascist propaganda of the PNR. It is, by the way, no secret that a lot of police officers support the PNR.

That a demonstration of young activists was suppressed by the police force, on the day that the Portuguese president asked young people to get involved in civic society, shows the hypocrisy of so-called capitalist democracy and the need for workers and young people to build a socialist alternative to capitalist exploitation.

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