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salazar of portugal

salazar of portugal

we have been trained to have abhorrence for the dictators. salazar is not an exception. but the person and his antics should be considered with reference to his times and circumstances. it is generally said that hour produces the man. in portugal it came in the role as salazar.

salazar was born in 1889 in a small village, fifth child of a poor farmer family. he moved at the age of eleven to a seminary where he won, by showing excellent scholarship, admission to coimbra university. having got a degree in political economy, he joined the faculty in 1914. four years later, he was appointed professor of political economy.

in 1910, army revolted against the king manuel and declared portugal a republic. wild celebration broke in the coimbra university but salazar kept aloof from it. for the next sixteen years, the republic had political chaos. in the name of democracy, there were twenty four revolutions, 158 general strikes, forty four changes of government. mutinies, inflation, assassinations etc. were the order of the day. salazar joined a group of conservative students dedicated to restoring peace and order to the nation. his writings and speeches attracted national attention. he was charged, in 1919, with launching monarchist propaganda but the high court dismissed the case.

in 1921, he was persuaded to run for elections to parliament and was one of the three deputies elected. finding his opposition futile, he resigned after only one day and returned to university. in 1926, general de costa seized power in a coup.  knowing salazar to be honest, conservative, and brilliant economist, he invited him to become minister of finance. nation was bankrupt and salazar wanted an austerity programme which would involve heavy sacrifices from the people. de costa refused and salazar went back to the university.

as the financial crisis deepened, salazar was called back in 1928 at his terms. he restored economic stability to portugal and was rewarded with prime ministership in 1932. for his first cabinet, he chose only experts and no politician. with the neglect of centuries, industry was undeveloped, roads dilapidated, bureaucracy was inefficient, army was a rabble, education in shambles. salazar introduced austerity measures. he had a constitution drafted known as 'new state'. it ensures social justice and strict discipline. the constitution was approved in a general vote in 1933.

his balanced budget forced people to live in meagre means. but people were satisfied that salazar practiced what he preached. he lived in a three small rooms set, ate frugally, buying his own coal, paid his own servants from a weekly salary of $ 125. he was seen as a paragon of virtue, never smoked, drank, never looted the treasury, never spoke unnecessarily, never glorified himself. he never married, saying his duty towards family may lead to neglect of the country. feeling lonely, he adopted two little girls.  

he ran a quiet dictatorship behind the legal facade of an elected president. absolute power was his but it did not change him. he spent time in seclusion, enjoying walk on the countryside. he said once to the people who wanted to give him gifts that he only tried to help them, not to please them. he maintained neutrality during the world war. only towards the end, he allowed allies the use of airfields. he involved portugal in europe making the country founder member of nato (1949), and join efta (1960), oecd (1961) and gatt (1972).

portugal paid off all its foreign debts and remained financially viable under his regime. education was given special attention. literacy, which was 26 % in 1911 rose to 33 % in 1930; 56 % in  1940 and 76 % in 1950. it was 97 % in 1960. universities were established not only in mainland but also in oversees provinces.

in industry, import substitution continued to rule supreme in portugal. the industrial progress in fifties and sixties was impressive though portugal remained poor as compared to other european countries. in 1960, portugese per capita gdp was 38 % of european average. by 1968, it went upto 48%. (in 1973, it was 56.4 %).

portugese constitution regarded the overseas colonies as outlying provinces of portugal. the winds of change did not affect salazar. till 1958, the president (who appointed prime minister) was elected easily. after that as the opposition grew, so did the repression. the elections were rigged. in the colonies, movements were crushed ruthlessly.

in 1968, salazar suffered brain haemorrhage and president, reluctantly, appointed caetano as prime minister. though salazar recovered partially, he was never told of his removal and lived for two years (till july 1970) ruling in his privacy. he was buried in his native village.

it is the common opinion that salazar in the 1930s brought remarkable improvements in the economic sphere, public works, social services and governmental honesty, efficiency and stability.

in july 1940, life magazine called salazar "a benevolent ruler", and described him as "by far the world's best dictator". an opinion by united states ambassador said "salazar 'didn't look like a regular dictator. rather, he appeared a modest, quiet, and highly intelligent gentleman and scholar (…) literally dragged from a professorial chair of political economy in the venerable university of coimbra a dozen years previously in order to straighten out portugal's finances, and that his almost miraculous success in this respect had led to the thrusting upon him of other major functions, including those of foreign minister and constitution-maker.

(note on physical features of the country –

portugal has six zones. the northern part  is a mountainous, rainy region, characterized by many small farms and vineyards. the upper central region is a desolate area of rocky hillsides where smallholders have eked out a meager existence for hundreds of years. this region is also said to be the origin of the strongest portuguese national values of hard work, thrift, traditionalism,  and practicality. the lower central coastal region consists of dunes and pine forests, and many residents of the area earn their livelihood from fishing. the central eastern areas, known as the beira, consist of mainly small and medium-sized farms, with some mining and light industry. the greater lisbon area, including both the city and its suburbs, accounts for most of the nation's commerce and much of its industry. southern portugal, known as the alentejo is an area of gently rolling hills and plains dominated by extensive estates with large-scale agriculture and grazing. It was traditionally also a land of often embittered tenant farmers and peasants. in contrast to the conservative north, the alentejo was an area of radical political movements; for a long time. the extreme south of portugal is known as the algarve. It is a dry region of smallholdings, grazing, and fishing, and coastal towns. overall portugal has less natural resources than its neighbours. after the loss of brazil colony in early nineteenth century, the economy has not been very rigorous.)


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