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Portugal A Country of Myth and Future Past

“Looking for romance, discovering culture, living adventure, relaxing? Indulge yourself in Portugal, your destination.” www.visitportugal.com

Portugal is a country of Myth and Future Past living. A country that created one of the biggest empires on the planet. It is curiously one of the warmest European countries. Also a country with one the  most popular languages. However a country that lives in a sort of future part with a melancolic approach., sometimes self destructive and  paranoid. During the long Salazar’s dictatorship, Portugal was kind of “sold” abroad, in a mythical tourist campaign, as the best kept secret in Europe. It is ironic to reconsider this image of this country, in the present, troubled days.

During the 15th and 16th century, Portugal had in fact was one of the countries that started the globalisation with probably the first truly global empire that included possessions in Africa, Asia andSouth America. Portugal, although people tend to forget it, was one of the first world’s global major economic, political, and cultural powers.

I recently saw on CNN a publicity spot for New York’s Wall Street Journal, depicting a businessman running up a stairway, demonstrating strength, determination and an enormous will to catch the train. This action was taking place in a beautiful, futuristic train station. The station appearing in the publicity of that important journal of world-renowned reputation was precisely our own Estação de Comboios do Oriente, by the arquitect Santiago Calatrava, conceived for the Expo 98, in Lisbon, and currently a strategic point of our CP train network.

It is significant to analyse the above situations in order to sustain possible conclusions.In one hand the land within the borders of today’s Portuguese Republic has been continuously settled since middle age and in general almost since Pre-History.

What image does Portugal have of itself? The metaphor suggested by the Wall Street Journal publicity hints that the country possesses the privileged spaces and structures to be that determined businessman, and yet this is not the vision of the westernmost country of mainland Europe. What do Portugal lack for this to be true? Portugal is a country with lack of confidence. To edify self-esteem is the challenge that Portugal must take upon itselves, and it is, at this moment, of critical importance.

It is a fact that Portugal is sometime a postponed country, delayed by sceptics, and feeding on inconsequent promises and mediocre messiahs. Probably because Portugal was one of the last western European nations to give up its colonies and overseas territories, turning over the administration of Macau to China in 1999. Its ups and downs and completely schizofrenic colonial history although it has long since been a cornerstone of its national identity, is in the other hand a ghost that haunts the country in all subjects of its old “personality”. And that explains a lot of Portugal contradictions and decadence. Rather than preoccupying  with the past or the melancoly it should be less preocupied about who is responsible for the things that happen in the country, it must assume, each Portuguese, a part of the responsibility and the blame for the good and the bad.

The Messiahs myth, with the jews and arabic heritage still in the blood as well as the profoundly catholic (and indeed the inquisition mentality) are part of the DNA. The fact is that Portuguese are not a god-chosen people, nor are them (or any people in the world) illuminated or blessed. Indeed Portuguese are notany more the strong and  advanced  navigatots, not are they no longer “conquistadores”.Sometimes this heavy heritage and pride has become a sore excuse to maintain the people closed off from the rest of the world. All the big myths: D. João II is dead, Infante D. Henrique is dead, Vasco da Gama is dead, the Fifth Empire  (the misticentity of portuguese literature) never existed. And it is this psychological scenario that still populates the country now. The question should be the present not the future past that never existed ot the grandiloquence of the decadence. The concern should be about the Portuguese people, with virtues and faults; men and women of flesh and blood; real people with real problems: computer experts, designers, businessmen, doctors, engineers, writers, research scientist, diplomats, football players, artists, filmmakers…

One lives in a time of impact, of too many and contradictory impacts. The rapidly changing order of technology, information, modern biology, international politics and economics is overwhelming; in a globallandscape emerged in a high speed world of technology, drugs, images, sounds…

These are complex times, yet the world continues to progreed and change whether one has or has not an active part in the process. None of this is new, nor is it unexpected, yet the moment may have come to analyse the situations that surround each one of us, to define objectives, to trace courses of action.

A problem that applies to individuals, but also to countries, and in this particular case to Portugal is, in addition to the lack of confidence, the lack of clear and definite objectives. Should its people overcome this lack, this people will succeed, as succeeded in producing the Expo 98, and as succeeded in modernizing a nation in scarcely two decades, an unprecedented deed in the history of the country.

Unprecedented in Portuguese history is also the quantity of works, books and essays that have been written and published lately, and of undeniable quality as is testified by the recently conferred Nobel Prize to a Portuguese writer. Never before has there been such a vast production of movies, theatre plays and artwork, or such a growth in our science, design, architecture and music. Even in the midst of a recession, there is alot of reading, writing, cinema-going, research and creation going on.

The fact is that Portugal is no longer as it was; so why continue to be afraid of assuming who are, and of showing with pride the things the country does?

Portugal is living a new moment: it is no longer included amongst the poor countries that attract multinational corporation funds, that in their thirst for profit seek out third-world places where labour is cheap and exploitation is easy. This is a good thing, and it should make us conscious that a positive stage of our development is concluded. Moreover, put aside the natural tendency to exaggerate problems, the truth is that the country is aware of its actual situation, and of where its weaknesses and strengths lie. Gradually but surely, the country must continue the work and the structural changes that will take us forward one step at a time. Portugal has survived the last 860 years, and one lesson at least the country, the people must draw from its past, and that is to be patient and persistent.

Given the present conjuncture, things could be better; but the question that now arises is what is missing in Portugal? Spirit of enterprise; people that have clear objectives, and that are determined. Portugal no longer is the best kept secret in Europe, which is fine, for that was equivalent to being a country closed upon itself, and thus, staying behind others. It is not an effortless course we have before us, but then again it never was. It is required that we continue to work and to invest; to invest in ideas, in continuous education, to travel and make contact with that which is beyond our frontiers, and reinforce allegiances, and most importantly Portugal must have a strong civil conscience in all it does. We must keep in mind that the country have come some of the way, but that there is still so much to achieve. Things must be carried out in a positive and serious manner so to conquer respect and credibility, and not falter at the first obstacles that are encountered. As a country it has a structural, educational and cultural delay of decades, and it shouldn´t be expected that changes will happen from one day to another.

Traditionally Portuguese are a melancholic and pessimistic people, but then they are also known to be dreamers, stubborn, courteous and easily adaptable, and it is these proverbial characteristics that must be put to use for the edification of a better Portugal. For 860 years Portuguese people have complained and wondered about their fate, but now it is important that they look ahead. It is about time that Portugal started appreciating itself and worked its past for the future.