"Do you want me to declare war on Spain?" - The cynical response of the Portuguese prime minister.
Last Saturday, June 22, hundreds of left-wing militants from the Left Bloc coalition and the Communist Party were planning to leave the country and join the anti-globalisation demonstration in Seville, Spain. As many readers know, there was a European Union summit going on at that city.
To their surprise, a few miles after crossing the border they were stopped by police forces (the shameful Civil Guard whose services to the dictator Franco are not yet forgotten by conscientious left-wing militants). They were told to turn back and leave the country, as they were considered a threat to Spanish interests and national security!
Travelling in the leading bus were not only the leaders of Left Bloc, but also the press and television were there to cover the Seville demonstration. So the whole scene was filmed.
Obviously these comrades did not let themselves be intimidated by the police arrogance and their disgraceful showing off with machine guns and all. It is necessary to point out that only the two MPs stepped out of the bus. The comrades were never aggressive or disrespectful to the police. The two MPs, after identifying themselves as members of the Portuguese parliament, refused the privilege granted to them to travel alone to Seville because the hundreds of people who they were travelling with were not allowed to cross the border. After this, they had the "outrageous" idea of demanding the identity of the police officers. That was the moment the policemen lost their heads and started to beat the two MPs with batons. They forced them to get back onto the bus and escorted the buses all the way back to the border and out of Spain.
This was all filmed by cameras from the different TV channels, so the entire country was witness of the brutal methods the police employed by order of the Spanish government to keep demonstrators out not only of Seville itself but the entire country. In a blatant violation of the right to demonstrate and the right to freely travel inside the European Union countries, the so-called democrats from the Spanish government denied all the Portuguese people they could from demonstrating their disagreement with EU policies. They didn't even care to respect their own agreements and laws - the Schengen agreement foresees the possibility of temporary border controls for the sake of "national security" if all the parties are consulted previously and give their agreement. That was not the case, but even if it had been, that does not give the governments and their police stooges the right to forbid people to demonstrate. The simple and eloquent fact that the police did not even care to get the identities of the demonstrators - the MPs gave theirs by free will - shows that the police were not concerned with any terrorist threats - a very fashionable excuse indeed - but only to prevent an even bigger turn-out for the demonstration called in Seville. The simple and eloquent fact that many buses on different border points at different hours were stopped and forced to move back shows that what happened was not an unfortunate accident but a conscious policy order by the Spanish government that was strictly followed by the police forces all around the border between Portugal and Spain. They even went as far as to prevent a reporter who was on his way to cover the Seville demonstration from getting into the country. He got in afterwards when he lied and posed as a tourist at a different checkpoint.
This event has produced a shockwave throughout the country as different television channels broadcasted the images of police brutality that evening. When you think that there's an ancient rivalry between the two countries - there have been many attempts by Madrid to "unify" the peninsula throughout the centuries - you can imagine what people thought: "just imagine if it was the opposite, if instead of Portuguese MPs, some Spanish MPs or even a member of the royal family got beaten by Portuguese police…"
To the feeling that supposedly inviolable democratic rights were shamefully stepped on, is now being added the feeling of national humiliation as the Portuguese government is playing the most dreadful part in all this dirty business. They are simply showing that their relation with the Spanish government - not to mention Spanish big capital - is the same that exists between puppet and the puppeteer. They have made no real protest, they consider the border closure normal, they even went as far as to accept the Spanish government's excuses - excuses that nobody else has seen or heard for there has been no recorded speech or official note presented by the Spanish government apologising for the beatings, so as far as we know there may not even exist any apologies at all!
This behaviour from the right-wing Portuguese government "champions of patriotism" shows just how cowardly, cynical and low these people can get. Especially if one remembers their silly and chauvinist electoral proposal to force children to sing the national anthem every day at school. But that should be no surprise, for after all the Portuguese government is just following the same liberal policies as their Spanish counterparts. The Portuguese government must necessarily see señor Aznar as a model. Besides, they are also concerned about the working-class reaction to their own reactionary policies. Three months after the general elections, recent polls have shown that support for the government has fallen sharply. If elections were held today, the right-wing parties of the governing coalition would have disastrous results with the Socialist Party winning by a large margin. In fact, recent demonstrations called by trade unions have been a major success, being the best attended in years. Discontent is growing really fast as the government has lowered corporation taxes, raised sales taxes, has cut bonuses to youth willing to buy houses, has announced the laying off of tens of thousands of public servants, has implied further cuts in education and health, and wants to privatise the welfare state. So, in spite of all the "bravatas" and nationalist rhetoric, these right-wing leaders are nothing more than minor partners of the foreign powers and the servants of our own national capitalists. In the end, it's all the same crap.
But rest assured that the Portuguese working class united with its Spanish brothers and sisters, united with all the workers of Europe and the world will show in the near future what pride and solidarity really means. And when the time comes, we all know whose ass is going to be kicked, don't we?
June 26, 2002