There’s been much noise and disinformation about the so-called IMF/EU ‘bailout’ of Portugal, which I chose to spell with quotes because it’s not really a bailout, but rather a loan made under such paradoxical draconian conditions — eg. restoring ‘competitiveness’ by lowering corporations’ welfare taxes while raising taxes on the energy they spend; privatizing only the public companies that actually made a profit for the State — the portuguese economy won’t be able to pay it. It’s no stretch for conspiracies theorists to see Portugal (and Greece, and probably the rest of Southern Europe) out of the Euro before you can say ‘loanshark’.
There’s a saying about “nobody is ever right in a home without bread”, which no-one seems to acknowledge. Our incumbent Prime-Minister, José Sócrates, is perhaps the most hated man that ever lived, and there’s no shortage of newspaper articles, viral videos, tweets and remarks on Facebook blaming him for everything, from gasoline prices to the shortages of second-gen iPads on retailers. Most common though, is the charge our PM and a small cadre of ‘boys’ “ruined our country”.
I mean, they did. But so did you and me and everyone else. Our politicians are our representatives, and I don’t mean this in the democratic sense that we elected them. When people say our ministers and MPs and public company execs ‘lost touch with reality’, I contend they didn’t: they’re our hyperreal selves. Whenever I see someone linking to a blog post listing the salaries of politicians, or to a video clip of a report about the Parliament’s luxury car fleet, quite often it reeks of envy-fueled outrage. For it is hard to detect a feeling of injustice in a people who generally like to brag about their own consumption.
Most of us in Portugal live damn confortably. When our grandparents tell us their personal stories of hunger, of their shoes being their most prized possessions, we fail to believe it. Most haven’t seen something like Las Hurdes, the shocking documentary Luís Buñuel did in 1933 about the misery in a part of Spain just the other side of the border (and we can be sure this side of the hill wasn’t any greener), and those who did think bygones. We’ve come a long way, and we’re spoiled brats, who yearn for a past that never existed just because the cable TV bill went up. So spoiled, a whole generation of graduates has the luxury of considering themselves ‘slaves’ after volunteering to work for free, basically sending the job market the message that their knowledge and studies are worth zero euros per hour.
Politicians have the responsability of their leadership. But we, the portuguese people, fell well on the turbo-capitalist addiction. It starts at home, from credit cards to car loans (and I do have one), from the habit of dining out on a weekly or bi-weekly basis to the home-owning mania, from plasma TVs to tablets to holidays in Brazil. We hear people complaining that because of the crisis, they’ll have to keep the same car for two years. We see parents buy their twelve year-olds all game consoles known to Man. We made tax evasion a national sport, and mistake being gentle for being a loser.
Still, for all their self-righteousness about their being Workers and our being lazy pigs (spend a year in our climate and try being anything else — someone said “geography is destiny”, rightly so), there’s something quite critical the leaders of the richer countries of Europe like to forget about: although in the past two decades their taxpayers contributed a lot of money to Portugal via the European Union, they weren’t actually giving it away for our politicians to mismanage at will. All that money actually came with a lot of strings attached, and all those countries bought something from us — a dismantlement of a great part of our agricultural and industrial capacity, and our conversion to a EU-enforced services-based economy —, basically an almost irreversible ‘non-compete’ clause that made Portugal and other Southern European countries utterly dependent on foreign imports — Northern exports — and credit. Part of their growth was our loss.
In the end, though, it’s our collective fault, and no better proof of that than our denial to acknowledge we ever did anything wrong, as if our Prime-Minister was the only obstacle between Portugal and Paradise. So convinced only a supervillain kept us from glorious destiny, take as an example the absurdity of this discussion over at Metafilter, regarding a YouTube video called What the Finns Should Know About Portugal. That video was a desperate plea for Finland’s approval of the EU bailout put together by bored employees at some right-wing municipality, full of unproven (or even disproven) factoids regarding Portugal’s delusions of historical awesomeness, with a bit of ill-willed moral blackmail at the end. Despite the obvious fact we are not so awesome anymore (and who gives a shit, really, “our Ronaldo is better than the brazilian Ronaldo?”), this video spread like wildfire through Facebook and Twitter, and its only practical effect was convincing the rich Northern Europeans we are in fact all a bunch of douchebags. PIGS, in fact.