The title is intentionally provocative and I add this appeal to all immigrants, descendants and citizens who believe in building a tolerant, inclusive Portugal that makes interculturality an enrichment factor, and not a ground for the emergence and consolidation of a narrative and racist practices, to come out of the closet. Having an attitude of indifference and individual and collective negligence towards practices that tend to undermine the fundamental foundations of a free, intercultural and inclusive society pays a very high price.
We are, today, dealing with the democratic normalization of an extreme right-wing party, which now has 12 deputies in the Assembly of the Republic based on the 385,559 votes obtained. Regardless of the motivations that underlie the legitimate choices of voters and, contrary to what many defended – that Portugal would be immune to racist and xenophobic winds –, the truth is this: for the first time in the history of Portuguese democracy we have a xenophobic party and racist as the third force. For this very reason, the first myth that it is urgent to deconstruct is that Portugal is immune to racist speeches and practices. Portugal is neither better nor worse than other countries in this regard, in the sense that, given a set of social and political conditions, the emergence and consolidation of racist and xenophobic parties suddenly happens.
Therefore, this battle has to be very rational and not based on a logic of morality and on the division between the bad (the racists and their supporters) and the good (the non-racists) or between the stupid and the intelligent.
In recent times, we have begun to experience the consequences of this consolidation of the extreme right: the legitimacy of the votes of 7.18% of the Portuguese, conferring legislative power and media exposure, making many Portuguese racists want to come out of the closet. The most recent was the attack on an immigrant from Nepal in Olhão and other episodes will, unfortunately, arise. The President of the Republic has had a very assertive and relevant pedagogical intervention.
But having respect – in the sense that they were elected – also means that we must be intellectually serious to say that: from the moment we have a political force with 12 deputies, which goes from 1.29 to 7.5% in the interval of two years, we created the conditions for Chega to become decisive in the formation of governance options in Portugal, if not even to lead them.
With the weakening of right-wing parties, combined with a “nim” narrative on the subject of immigration by the PSD – which is full of intentional contradictions – with the purpose of turning a blind eye to the electorate that today votes for Chega and, simultaneously, not letting its usual electorate slip away, it will – also from the experience of other countries such as Sweden – strengthen the extreme right.
At that moment, we have two aggravating factors in Portugal that end up making the situation even more complex: the first has to do with the expected deterioration of the economic and social situation, which is hitting the middle class particularly hard. In these situations, having a scapegoat (in this case immigrants) and a political leader who, from a complex reality, produces a simple discourse, is an effective fertilizer for the consolidation of the extreme right.
The second aggravating factor has to do with the economic and demographic reality of Portugal, in which the discussion should focus not on whether the country needs immigrants or not, but under what conditions and how quickly we will be able to have more immigrants . Nor am I going to bore the reader with statistics. However, I share a specific situation: have you noticed who is cleaning the bathrooms in the Lisbon Airport or working in dozens of restaurants? This example is to illustrate what we all know: Portugal urgently needs immigrants for different sectors of activity (agriculture, hospitality, construction and industry are the most critical). The problem is that some only want manpower and not people. I’m sorry to say, but that doesn’t exist. Manpower comes to solve a problem, but its culture and expectations do not remain at the departure airport.
It is also important to bear in mind that what dictates the dynamics of migratory flows is the labor market, not politics. What the policy does is, on the one hand, streamline legal mechanisms so that this mobility can occur legally and, on the other hand, create all the necessary conditions for their integration into the host society, where people’s perceptions play a crucial role. .
In recent years, Portugal has done a very positive job with regard to the integration process of immigrants and increased social and political attention is decisive to at least avoid setbacks in this matter.
The recent amendments to the Immigration Law are generally positive and are, in my opinion, on the right path. However, conditions need to be created, namely in terms of human resources so that services, both here in Portugal and at Portuguese consulates, can respond within a reasonable period of time. The response time in Portugal and in the different consulates, due to the lack of human resources, has undermined the virtues of the current immigration policy.
For this reason, and at a time when Portugal is ironically facing structural problems in terms of demographics and labor in some sectors, the key question is how to combine this with the growing legitimacy of a racist and xenophobic discourse.
I don’t have the answer, but I am sure of three things: the first is that the omissions or attitudes of minimizing signs that appear here and there are also a very strong ally in the propagation of racism and xenophobia; the second is that it is important to stop having an excessively moralistic and ideological discussion on immigration in order to deal with the extreme right. A lot of rationality and pragmatism is needed in this matter, at the same time that it is imperative that those who come here to work are not diminished in their status as citizens.
But we also have – as immigrants – our share of responsibility in this whole process, namely in the worsening of the degree of our political invisibility and in the increase of the space of the extreme right in Portugal. Much of this fight will have to be done in schools, in the public space and from an active political militancy around the construction of a decent Portuguese society. But also in party politics. Therefore, today, we need to close ranks around a Portugal where we can all have a dignified seat at the table.
It is equivalent to saying come out of the closet and make our voice heard and reiterate our willingness to advance that Portugal that is white but also mulatto and black; a Portugal where Portuguese has several pronunciations.
The author writes according to the new spelling agreement