The intensity with which the country repeats discussions about its historical memory is a symptom of a sick society. The harsh conflict over the legacy of the colonial war or the discoveries exposes a wound on the path to infection. Radicalism fuels discussions that reveal deep hatred in favor of extremes of the political spectrum. And there is nothing to predict that the situation will improve. It is an impossible premise: as if by magic, operated by ideology, the country denies some of the deepest foundations of its identity. Silence about the problem is not recommended: just be careful. If nationalism is a fraternal virus, so is the radical historicism of anti-racist movements.
We have gotten into a conflict where dialogue and compromise seem impossible. In an increasingly extreme contrast between the concepts of a fossil right and an absolutist and authoritarian “antifa” left, the country is even forgetting the consensus that democracy has achieved with regard to the colonial past. The brutality of the systems of exploitation, slavery or persistence of other peoples far beyond the wave of self-determination after the Second World War was accepted in the collective consciousness. The enlargement lost its idyllic and glorifying face. The increase in the colonial empire that mobilized the country during the ultimatum, the First Republic or the Estado Novo is over. European Portugal has eliminated the most important remnants of Salazarism.
The radicals of a certain left want to go further and in their demands feed the radicals of the right who want to go backwards. There is an instinct on both sides to impose their truths on others. Both of them refrain from facing the story in its complexity. Both reproduce the poison of intolerance. There are even those who are not ashamed to sign a petition in favor of the deportation of a Portuguese citizen, even if they are arsonists in their positions. The history of colonization is as it was. It is a mistake to see one’s darker side without a civilizational context, as if it were a deliberate reflection of a modern state as it led to the Holocaust. To see it as the testimony of a heroic people is absurd. A comfort zone must be available for all positions. Freedom and responsibility of democracy.
Portugal became an identity project at the expense of the illusion and dogma that destroyed historical truth. Reading and criticizing it is important: destroying your imagination is a chimera. Part of the Portuguese would never accept it. As Eduardo Lourenço said, the past cannot be repaired by creating a metaphorical court of the Inquisition to “pyre the history of this little country”.