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60 years of colonial wars against a backdrop of controversy

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                The death of a contested war hero, a deportation bill, colonial symbols threatened with destruction: the difficult work of remembrance in Portugal.

                                    <p><span><span><span><span><span><span>A massacre.  One massacre too many was at the origin of the Portuguese colonial wars in 1961. On March 15 of that year, guerrillas from the UPA, the Union of the Peoples of Angola, appeared in villages and farms, the fazendas, in northern Angola.  They decimated women, children, babies, white settlers with machetes, but also half-breeds and black workers in the colonies.  This act of rare violence is widely disseminated in the Portuguese metropolis, unlike its origin. </span></span></span></span></span></span>

A month earlier, a revolt by the peasants who worked for the Portuguese-Belgian company, Cotonang, was brought under control by bloody repression. The armed forces destroyed 17 villages with napalm in the Baixa do Kasanje region. One month after the massacre of the UPA guerrillas. Salazar, the dictator in place in Lisbon will give the order to move forward ” fast and strong »: The colonial wars in Angola, Mozambique and Guinea were to last thirteen years.

And then the leaden screed …

« There is a huge taboo in Portuguese society with regard to these wars, experienced as traumatic by the older generations, those who were forced into military service in the colonies, and who fell silent, especially in the face of to their children “, Underlines Irene Pimentel, historian.

Sixty years after the start of the colonial wars, Portugal has still not started the work of memory. The specialist recalls that the democratic revolution of April 25, 1974 was fomented by soldiers who themselves had fought in the colonies. Having become heroes, they contributed to the silence over the period. ” Much of history has yet to be written, both in Portugal and in the former colonized countries », Emphasizes Irène Pimentel.

Symbols and controversies

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The 60th anniversary of the start of the colonial wars would have gone relatively unnoticed without the sometimes virulent controversies that surrounded it. One of the most striking, from a symbolic point of view, concerns the Monument to the Discoveries. This monument which is built on the banks of the Tagus in Lisbon represents a stylized caravel, intended to pay homage to the great navigators. Placed there in 1960, by the will of a Salazar who still believed in the eternity of the Empire.

Last February, the Socialist deputy Ascenco Simões, in the pages of the newspaper Public, recommended the destruction of the monument ” element of the particular history that the Estado Novo de Salazar has made and which does not fit into a city that wants to be innovative and open to all societies and origins “. An imperialist wart in a way. One can easily imagine the outcry of protests that followed. Yet the deputy wanted, he said, to question the history and the permanence of Salazarism in Portuguese society, and the silence it imposes.

The law of deportation

Chance of the calendar. On February 15, 2021, the funeral of Marcelino da Mata, the most decorated Portuguese military, was held in the presence of the Head of State and the staff of the armed forces. This Guinean lieutenant-colonel had chosen the Portuguese camp during the colonial wars. A controversial figure, he boasted of having tortured many «Turras “, Nickname given to the separatists of the former colonies. The conservative right sought to secure a solemn vote in the Assembly in honor of the controversial Marcelino da Mata, prompting a strong reaction from Mamadou Ba, leader of SOS Racisme, calling him ” bloodthirsty “. A petition was then circulated asking for the deportation – that’s the word used – of Mamadou Ba. At the same time, the far-right party Chega! tabled a bill for extradition and forfeiture of nationality for perpetrators of crimes against the history and symbols of the country.

« In Portugal reactionary movements have declared anti-racism as a public enemy. The petition against me is part of an attempt to reconfigure the conservative political space pulverized by the widening of the social base of the extreme right, with the Chega! Mamadou Ba analyzes. For the Luso-Senegalese activist what matters is ” summon responsibility for political engagement to avoid the perpetuation of a colonial imagination that feeds racism and racial prejudice “. The anti-racist leader considers that this is a maneuver to divert attention from denunciations of racism and its link with the colonial past. An omerta which favors the emergence of nostalgic parties like the Chega!

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Portuguese historians are closely following the steps taken by historian Benjamin Stora and his report on Algeria. The French say that we must go beyond the phase of forgiveness which too often prevents us from writing history. Portugal has not yet crossed this milestone. But hopes are allowed. Mamadou Ba joined the State-created Working Group on Preventing and Combating Racism and Discrimination.


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