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Disintegrating Portugal: An Interview with Mário Soares

Lisbon, September

Civil war is at the gates. It is encircling Portugal in a siege that may last some weeks or some months, nobody knows, and its avoidance is an enterprise in which nobody here believes any more. Chaos reigns unchecked, anarchy is complete, confusion endless. Every day, events take an unexpected turn, each one more senseless than the last. The only thing that shows some stability is the incapacity on all sides, nurtured on presumption, mental insecurity, ideological void, while power fritters away in the frightened hands that have seized it. The hands, usually, of whoever happens to be on the top at the moment or whoever is crazier than the others.

Officially, power is still in the hands of the MFA, the Armed Forces Movement which overthrew the fascist regime and started the process that here goes by the name of revolution. But, the MFA, until lately compact and united, has started to reveal all its fractures. To put it mildly, one might say it reveals three main trends: Vasco Gonçalves’s communist one, Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho’s radical-minded one, and Ernesto Melo Antunes’s moderate one. To state things exactly, one ought to say it is carved up into as many different factions as there are generals, colonels, and captains. The only voice that has been raised to denounce the confusion and invoke responsibility is Melo Antunes’s in his “Document of the Nine,” but it doesn’t seem to have served any purpose since fears of a bloodbath have increased rather than diminished.

The army no longer exists, you might say. Even the state no longer exists. Refugees occupy banks, priests organize risings, soldiers refuse to serve. They shout, for instance, that they won’t go to Angola unless they are given a paper, witnessed by a notary public, insuring them against receiving even the slightest scratch out there. Politicians are increasingly set aside. To take any kind of action (and they do attempt to) they must rely on the support of the army, obtained in semi-clandestine meetings, Every politician has his own man in the army: Cunhal has Gonçalves, Soares has Melo Antunes, the Maoists have Otelo de Carvalho. Who supports the other groups is not known. What is well known is that the most violent struggle is taking place between the Socialists and the Communists. It’s for them there will be bloodshed.

Of the constituent assembly resulting from the elections, still at work, nobody speaks. What use is it? Who is expected to respect its decisions? One only has to consider the fact that Otelo de Carvalho has let some dangerous extremists out of jail after having had them arrested and now visits them in secret to study Marxism. Realism is dead, surrealism reigns. Something happened in this country more than a year ago that made history go on a drunken binge and wander into surrealism. Or into a farce, into a happening? All of a sudden, those very army men who had formed the backbone of fascism raised the banner of antifascism and became the wardens of freedom. As if freedom could be born from an about-turn. At the very least, what one can expect from them is another about-turn: a Pinochet-style coup.

Pinochet’s name is on many lips. Many glance round, wondering: who’s going to be the Pinochet here? Together with civil war, the specter of a fascist golpe looms as well. Will it precede or follow the civil war? Spínola’s there, not far off. From Brazil, he has come to Paris, where he has announced the creation of his “liberation movement.” And, from Paris, he has proceeded to Madrid: well-armed right-wing groups are encamped on the frontier between Spain and Portugal. Isn’t it always the right that benefits from folly? It’s what Mário Soares explains in this interview where the word hope falls with the weight of a stone and the word catastrophe with a flavor of prophecy. The interview takes place while Gonçalves is toppling and Cunhal picks up the tab. It’s now obvious that the new government will benefit Soares more than Cunhal, and Soares looks pleased. But what I want to know from him is whether he considers his victory transitory or final, and because of this I start out by reminding him of a story he told me in June. This is how it begins.

I

Oriana Fallaci: Soares, do you remember the story you told me in Naples three days before the Italian administrative elections?

Mário Soares: What story?

O.F.: The one about the Englishman and the Irishman. The Englishman is having a quiet drink in a pub, minding his own business, and the Irishman is bothering him: banging into him and muttering insults. The Englishman pays no attention and goes on nursing his drink. This goes on until the Irishman gets tired of the game and gives up. What’s more, he decides to make up the one-sided quarrel and pulls a cigarette out of his pocket. Drawing near the Englishman, he asks, politely: “Please, could I have a light?” Then the Englishman moves like lightning and socks him on the jaw. The barman is indignant: “What’s this? He provoked you for hours and you didn’t react. Then he asked you for a light and you punched him. Couldn’t you make up your mind before?” The Englishman’s answer: “No, I couldn’t. He wasn’t in the right position.” Tell me, Soares, did you or didn’t you deliver that punch to Cunhal?

M.S.: It’s not for me to say whether I did. It’s for you. Do you think I did?

O.F.: Oh, yes. On the quiet, I think, but you did. You’re not going to get me to believe that the events of the last few weeks were a gift from Providence. And Cunhal’s defeat is a heavy one. But whose is the victory: yours, the army’s, or the Americans’?

M.S.: Not the Americans’, certainly. To win a battle, you’ve got to fight, and I don’t believe the Americans have done anything to topple Gonçalves. They have more subtle and more efficient methods of interfering in other people’s affairs: let’s not forget that hundreds, if not thousands, of exiled Portuguese officers in Spain and elsewhere are busily preparing a rightist coup. It’s not only Spínola who wants to come back to Lisbon. So the victory belongs to those who fought for it, to, that is, the non-Communist democratic forces. And, above all, it is our, the Socialists’, victory. After all, wasn’t Gonçalves Cunhal’s man, the man Cunhal was backing to establish a Communist dictatorship? Nobody doubts that any more, and to wonder whether Gonçalves was or wasn’t a member of the PCP is at this stage superfluous: his language and behavior are those of a Communist. I can’t understand how it happened that I didn’t grasp this fact earlier, how I ever have trusted him. In any case, the fact that Gonçalves has fallen first as prime minister and then as chief of staff, repudiated by the people and the majority of the army, is a severe blow for Cunhal.

O.F.: He who falls may rise again. Nor is it certain that such a strong-willed man as Cunhal will resign himself to accepting what has happened in the last few days. Is this a final victory, therefore, or a transitory one?

M.S.: Yesterday I talked to a European Communist leader. I can’t tell you his name. He had come to see me to ask: “But why can’t you Portuguese Socialists and Communists reach an agreement? What’s to be done?” I answered that Cunhal’s mistakes had been too many and excessive. That thing he kept on repeating, for instance, that in Portugal the only alternative to fascism was communism. Cunhal’s plan was and is the one he confessed in your interview with him last May: to attain a Communist dictatorship through support from a faction of the army. This plan has met with the disapproval of almost the whole nation and 80 percent of the army, with the result of isolating the PCP from the masses.

Today the PCP’s credibility and prestige have dropped throughout the whole country. It can’t penetrate in any of the regions north of the Tagus and meets endless difficulties even in the south. It has been expelled from its alliances with the extreme left, the very alliances it had done so much to promote. It has been beaten in the trade union elections and within the very unions where it had the lion’s share, like the banking and office workers’ ones. And, finally, it has lost Gonçalves, the man it had put all its hopes in. To date, it hasn’t more than 2 percent of the country on its side. A very, very critical situation.

O.F.: Yes, but, I repeat, it isn’t sure Cunhal will surrender.

M.S.: As I explained to that European Communist leader, Cunhal today is faced with a dilemma. There are only two solutions open to him. One is to proceed with his antidemocratic conspiracy, impelling the army toward the transitory adventure of an armed conflict. I purposely use the terms adventure and transitory because the use of arms can only lead to momentary success. He hasn’t the majority of the army on his side. The other solution is to acknowledge that he is no longer in a position to seize power by antidemocratic means and consequently accept the rules of the democratic game. But that means a total reversal of his crazy policy. It means starting all over again, in most unfavorable conditions, to recover what he has lost. It means having to rebuild his prestige, once so great in Portugal and among Communists all over the world. It means begging forgiveness for the mistakes he has committed, which only his most faithful disciples are now willing to forgive him. I’m alluding to all that zig-zagging of his. For instance, his pretension first to eliminate the Socialists and then his attempt to approach them; his insults to the extreme left followed by an alliance with them; his fawning courtship of the army, in every way and at every opportunity.

What has it served him to rush to the airport every time a general was leaving or returning? When people asked me why I didn’t do the same to court the good graces of the army, I used to answer: “It won’t serve. When the army realizes they can’t rule the country without popular support, they’ll throw off Cunhal. Then they’ll seek me out. They’ll reach out for the PSP. Because the PSP enjoys the support of the people.”

O.F.: Let’s be frank, Soares. Cunhal hasn’t undergone this defeat merely owing to his tactical errors and a certain lack of seriousness. It is also because of what happened in the north that he has suffered it: assaults against Communist headquarters followed by fires. Well organized, by the way.

M.S.: Are you sure they were organized? Are you sure they weren’t spontaneous or at least partly spontaneous? Those episodes made a great impression in Europe, I know. European Communists everywhere sprang up to denounce the persecution against the PCP. But the truth is very different. There is no doubt that in Portugal, even today, the Communists are the persecutors, not the persecuted. Even in the north. Who holds the key to the government establishment, the nationalized concerns, local councils? Who distributes jobs and money? Who persecutes workers who aren’t Communist or oppose the Communists? The recent anti-Communist violence has made you justly indignant, but it was, and is, a reaction to their own violence. A spontaneous reaction, similar to the one that broke out in Hungary in 1956 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968. I’m well aware it has helped the Communists since it casts them in the role of victims, hence attracting sympathy. But they’re not the victims. Try talking to workers and peasants in the north. Ask them who was killed in those riots. They’ll answer you: the people who were protesting against the Communists. Because it was always the Communists that did the shooting, not the rioters.

O.F.: But there was a manhunt for Communists, I’m told, maybe fostered by fascist elements, possibly by reactionary bishops…

M.S.: Are you sure those elements were fascist? As for reactionary bishops, I don’t deny some of those taking part in the riots did profess reactionary sentiments. However, what I say is: one mustn’t overlook the resentment provoked by the Communists in the Church and among Catholics. And at the very moment when we were about to draw the Church on to our side. Think of the occupation of Renascenza, the Catholic radio transmitter. The Communists acted in that case exactly as they had done previously with the Socialist daily Republica. What, for instance, happened at Braga? A public meeting to voice support for the bishop, following the occupation of Radio Renascenza. After the meeting, the people left for the bus station to return to their respective villages. A station right beside the local Communist headquarters. From the windows, the Communists started shouting: “Sheep, reactionaries, you’ve sold out to the priests.” The Catholics reacted. They started to shout too and to throw stones at the windows. And the Communists started shooting: into the crowd.

O.F.: I must tell you something unpleasant, Soares. Lots of people believe that the episodes in the north are part of a Socialist plan. Like the strategy of the Englishman patiently waiting for the Irishman’s jaw to move near enough to his fist.

M.S.: With all the vehemence at my command, I assure you we Socialists have nothing to do with the unsavory business. With all the vehemence at my disposal, I swear to you that no Socialist militant has ever been mixed up in those riots and that on several occasions Socialists have rushed to the Communists’ rescue. Besides, we have publicly condemned such episodes: in the same spirit and with the same firmness with which we had previously condemned attacks against the Christian Democrats. However, even if we condemn them, we must attempt to explain them. We have to ask ourselves why popular anger has exploded, why a people seemingly well-disposed toward the Communists has suddenly turned against them.

Believe me: what has happened, and is still happening, in the north isn’t the result of reactionary maneuvering. Reactionary ideas have no prestige in the eyes of the people. What happened, and is still happening, in the north is the product of Communist arrogance and brutality in Portugal. It’s the product of the PCP’s policy. Or, better, of the policy of the PCP’s directorate, which in a single year, in Portugal, has caused more anti-Communist feeling than Salazar’s and Caetano’s propaganda over a fifty-year period.

O.F.: Are you implying that the fault must be ascribed to Cunhal personally?

M.S.: Yes. He has a great margin of personal responsibility because of his considerable, and decisive, influence on the PCP. His authority there is undisputed and undisputable. I know his central committee, his secretariat: I know to what extent Cunhal’s comrades are dominated by Cunhal. I’ll add further: I’m a Marxist, not a dogmatic one, but still a Marxist. As such, I’ve always believed men were instruments or interpreters of history, that great historical movements were uninfluenced by the characters involved. But after what I’ve witnessed for a year in Portugal, I’m beginning to believe in Cleopatra’s nose.

O.F.: You mean Pascal: “Had Cleopatra’s nose been shorter, the whole of history would have been altered”?

M.S.: That’s it. Man counts. He really does.

O.F.: With his feelings and resentments. It sometimes seems to me that there’s a personal guerrilla fight between you and Cunhal.

M.S.: No, no! On the contrary. On my side at least. In my young days I admired him greatly: for his intelligence, his courage, his faith. You know he was a teacher at my father’s college. Yes, teacher, not janitor as he told you in your interview. Maybe he said he was a janitor to give himself a more proletarian touch: in those days he was already a law graduate and my father took him on as assistant lecturer in literature, history, and philosophy. He couldn’t take him on as titular lecturer, since he would have had to obtain the authorization of the PIDE for that, and Cunhal had already been arrested by the PIDE once and figured in their files as an active Communist. At that time I admired him so. I was sixteen at the time and he was only twelve years older, but still I admired him. And I admired him still more later, during his trial: his behavior was magnificent, proud, and courageous. One must give him credit for that. He took on his own defense, refusing counsel, and spoke for three hours. I remember that speech: he didn’t really speak to defend himself, what he did was conduct a trial in condemnation of the Salazar regime. A masterly attack: it impressed me greatly. His conduct in prison was exemplary too: I was kept informed because I used to meet his father, a lawyer, who had undertaken his defense in court. It isn’t true his father was a poor devil, as he told you in your interview. His father was Evelino Cunhal, a leading lawyer and professor of history. His mother was a lady of the upper bourgeoisie and a devout Catholic. I know: I used to see his family often.

O.F.: But why should Cunhal tell me so many paltry falsehoods concerning his past life?

M.S.: I don’t know. There are some things about Cunhal I don’t understand. For instance, he told you he hadn’t been in exile in Moscow and Prague and phrased things so as to make you believe he had spent that time in Paris. That isn’t true. I met him several times in exile, and in Prague too. And I met somebody who told me he had spent four years with him in Moscow. The fact is that Cunhal likes to surround himself with mystery. Nobody, for instance, knows whether he is married or not: his marriage is a state secret. It is rumored that he has a daughter, but this too is part of the mystery. Why? I have a daughter and I’m so proud of her that I introduce her to everyone. But then my address and telephone number are listed in the directory, Cunhal’s address is secret. Yes, indeed a peculiar man, Cunhal. Full of contradictions. When I was a minister and we met at cabinet meetings, I used to watch him and think: he’s greatly self-possessed but sometimes his balance breaks, there’s something like a fracture between his capacity for reasoning and his sensibility. The greater his capacity for highly intelligent reasoning, most intelligent, let that be clear, the scarcer his sensibility. And then I’d think: maybe it’s owing to all those long years of prison, of exile. I’ve been to prison too, but not for long, say not more than a six-month stretch at a time. I’ve been in exile too, but not for long, say not more than a few years. He, on the other hand, has had thirteen years in prison, fourteen in exile, and ten underground: for nearly forty years he has been estranged from Portuguese life. How can he grasp its realities now?

O.F.: Do you think it likely that, in the end, he will be cast aside, bypassed, with Moscow’s approval?

M.S.: There are lots of rumors to that effect. One hears a lot of talk about Alboìm Inglés, who has just returned from Moscow. Destined, they say, to replace Cunhal. Frankly, however, I doubt it. First of all because, as I’ve already said, he’s very strong within the PCP and nobody can check him. Secondly because the PCP’s structure is based on leadership and it takes an earthquake to shake the leader. Last, because he enjoys the support of the Soviet Union, which, even through its press, especially Pravda, consistently sustains Cunhal’s theories. Obviously so, since Cunhal refers systematically to the 1917 Soviet experience and refuses any other path to socialism. But let me conclude my answer to your question concerning any presumed rivalry between Cunhal and myself. Do you know why there can be no rivalry between me and Cunhal? Because I’m a dyed-in-the-wool democrat, I’ve never even considered the possibility of imposing my wishes without being elected, and I’d feel dishonored to attain power against the wishes of the people. Cunhal, on the contrary, is deeply antidemocratic: he isn’t concerned with being elected, he wants to carry out his own personal revolution against the wishes of everyone else. Maybe he thinks he’s acting in the interests of Portugal, but so did Salazar, after all. Consequently, his conceit is the same as Salazar’s. Only the color is different.

II

O.F.: Let’s return to the sock in the Irishman’s jaw, Soares, and consider the consequences: will there be civil war or not?

M.S.: Well, there’s a great risk. I’ve been saying so for six months and now even the Communist press agrees. Civil war…. We’re trying our utmost to avoid it. I believe there is some chance we may be able to.

O.F.: Only some?

M.S.: Yes…. Some chance…. Il y a des chances…. Il y a des chances….

O.F.: You don’t sound deeply convinced.

M.S.: You see, when you interviewed me and Cunhal last May, I felt sure we were on the eve of a Communist government in Portugal, or, rather, of a Communist military dictatorship in Portugal. A dictatorship ruled by Cunhal and Gonçalves. There were too many clues leading to that solution: the affair of the Socialist daily Republica was one of them. I therefore retired from the government, with all the Socialists. I was widely criticized at the time for leaving the way open, it was alleged, for Cunhal by my withdrawal. Quite the opposite happened. Cunhal’s troubles started at the very moment the Socialists withdrew from the government. To compensate for this withdrawal, Cunhal was compelled to seek the complicity of Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho, the head of COPCON. Otelo turned his back on him and Cunhal was left alone with Gonçalves, the situation deteriorating in the way we’ve seen. Hence the rebellion and the document of the Group of Nine headed by Melo Antunes. Hence the crisis within the army and the fall of Gonçalves.

To use your metaphor: the Irishman is now floored. Floored, however, in a position compromising him in the eyes of the country and international public opinion, and he’s got to choose in that dilemma: whether to play the game according to the rules of democracy or to seize power by force. I fear Cunhal is incapable of submitting to the rules of the democratic game. His strategy would become incomprehensible, demented, if his objective hadn’t always been the seizure of power by force. And the seizure of power by force can mean only one thing: an armed confrontation, civil war. We don’t want civil war. Nor does Melo Antunes’s group, the majority, that is, of the MFA. But if the Communists throw all caution to the winds and launch themselves….

O.F.: With what results? A few minutes ago you said that would signify, at most, a passing success for the Communists.

M.S.: Gonçalves can only command the services of Communist or pro-Communist generals like Corvacho, the overlord of the northern garrisons, but he can’t rely on their troops. Just a short time ago, the troops under Corvacho’s command refused to shoot and agreed to take part in maneuvers on condition their rifles were only armed with blanks. Our soldiers, the majority of them, aren’t Communist. And soldiers, recruits, represent the people. They are the people. There do exist Communist cells among the soldiers and, as we know, Communist cells are subject to strong discipline. But is that enough to influence a whole regiment, a whole division? Most of the officers in the army are on the side of Melo Antunes, as we’ve seen, and the air force too, thanks to its chief, Moraes e Silva. All Gonçalves has left is the navy with its marines. The marines are an elite, true, but few in number. Cunhal asserts he can count on an armed people’s militia, especially in Lisbon. Let’s admit they are strong and energetic and add them to the troops of the Fifth Division, which is Communist: the forces in the field are still quite unequal. Gonçalves might score that passing success in Lisbon. But what then? I keep on naming Gonçalves, not Cunhal, because the decision to embark on such an adventure rests with Gonçalves. All Cunhal does is to tune him up, nothing more.

O F.: What kind of man is Gonçalves?

M.S.: Oh, not unattractive, you know. Not at all. He attracts sympathy in fact, because he’s an idealist. He’s sincere. He really believes in what he’s doing, albeit naïvely. Certainly, he’s a man who abandons himself to excesses, but in human contacts he’s shy. In the cabinet, for instance, I’ve never had a quarrel with him: he was always ready to search for a compromise, an agreement. He shows firmness only when faced with a crowd, in an emergency and with Cunhal beside him.

O.F.: What about Melo Antunes?

M.S.: Oh, he’s not an army man: he’s a politician. At most, an intellectual army man. He has great political flair, he’s the most intelligent of the lot; and he’s morally strong too. He didn’t wait until April 25 to declare himself against fascism. In 1969, he stood as candidate in the elections, defying Caetano. I’ve known him since then, we’ve been friends since then. And, although there exists no alliance between the Socialist Party and the Group of Nine, between Melo Antunes and me, I must admit that our programs coincide completely. Melo Antunes is fully aware that the PSP is on his side.

O.F.: And the new prime minister, Admiral Pinheiro de Azevedo?

M.S.: Very direct, very frank, very emotional. Too emotional. In Portugal men like him are described as having their hearts in their mouths. The kind of man, in one word, who is even too open in expressing his thoughts. He believes himself very strong, from a military viewpoint too, and he says so. But we’ll have to see whether he isn’t deluding himself. He’s certainly not cut out for politics. Among other reasons, because, as an army man, he finds it difficult to listen to anyone else’s point of view. Ideologically speaking, he asserts he belongs between the Socialists and the Communists. What he means, exactly, I don’t know. So it’s hard to guess how things will develop with him.

O.F.: And President Costa Gomes?

M.S.: You’ve named our great problem, our greatest question mark: Costa Gomes. What’s Costa Gomes’s position? Who is Costa Gomes, really? To begin with, he’s not a proper army man: in the army he was an engineer with colonel’s rank. He was promoted to brigadier during the revolution. So he hasn’t an army following like Gonçalves and Otelo and Antunes, nevertheless his word carries authority in military circles. He has had a lot of human experience in the army: he knows how to deal with soldiers. Costa Gomes is a mathematics graduate: what game is he playing? At first sight, he has made a lot of concessions to the Communists, and he’s still doing so. However, he has always spoken a different language, very different from the Communists’ and from Gonçalves’s. The only sure thing about Costa Gomes is that he appears obsessed by the idea of an armed confrontation and that he wants to avoid it. He’s doing everything to avoid it and….

O.F.: But what are you doing to avoid it?

M.S.: There’s only one thing to be done: dissuade Gonçalves and Cunhal. I, for instance, am attempting to dissuade Cunhal by organizing that meeting of European Socialists and Communists. Because, you see, after the recent events in the north, the campaign for solidarity with the Communists of Portugal has grown stronger, especially in European countries. Thanks to the French Communist Party that launched the campaign. Well, international solidarity is a fine thing, but it becomes debatable if it’s based on mistaken premises, the wrong information. We have to explain to the European Communist and Socialist parties what this Portuguese revolution consists in and how diabolical, unconsidered in fact, is the Portuguese Communist Party’s strategy. None of the other European Communist parties, the Italian, the Spanish, or the French, has ever contemplated the possibility of sinking the government, destroying the economy, causing total chaos in the country in order to achieve a Communist dictatorship. On the contrary, and the Italian Communist Party is the most striking example, they believe it is only within the framework of advanced capitalism that it is possible to build a democracy launched on the path toward a socialist society. To attain socialism, that is, one mustn’t destroy the existing democratic state: one mustn’t, and can’t, sacrifice the political democracy and freedom that are socialism’s ultimate goals. Even if it’s a bourgeois style of freedom, as Cunhal says. The problem is by no means theoretical, and, so far as Europe is concerned, is of interest to at least four countries: Italy, Spain, France, and Portugal. If the Communist parties of these four countries manage to convince Cunhal of the usefulness of a meeting, they may also be able to convince him of the necessity of refraining from launching himself into civil war.

O.F.: Soares, how far do you believe in the possibility of avoiding civil war?

M.S.: The Portuguese are very different from the Spanish. They are more conciliating, more compliant. They’re not bloodthirsty. If all this had happened in Spain, civil war would already have broken out. However, we’re not saints either, and there are already signs that our pacifism is crumbling. All those cars, army vehicles or civilian, loaded with munitions that are being discovered daily. All those episodes of violence. And at the point we’ve reached in the conflict with the Communists, in view of the situation in which the country has precipitated….

O.F.: Are you alluding to the anarchy upsetting Portugal?

M.S.: Yes. I’ll give you two examples. The other day there was a demonstration against sending troops to Angola staged by the army itself. Yesterday, I walked into a hotel and saw five or six young military policemen, you know, the ones that wear mimetic battledress. They surrounded me and said: “Mr. Soares, have you heard that the other day we nearly killed the prime minister?” Open-mouthed, I could only utter: “What? How? When?” They explained: “Yes, indeed. We were at the demonstration and Gonçalves appeared in his limousine with a motorcycle escort driving to Belém. We hurled ourselves on the motorcyclists and then on Gonçalves’s car. We started kicking its sides to get the doors open and we’d nearly succeeded when the driver, swinging the wheel, managed to escape.” When I reported this to Costa Gomes, he answered: “Yes, I had heard about it. It’s very serious.” Second example. The day before yesterday, the Bank of Angola was occupied by refugees who wanted to change their Angolan escudos for Portuguese escudos. “We’ve been robbed! We want our money back!” they were shouting. The army managed to clear out the premises and next morning the president of the republic, satisfied, told us how successful the operation had been. He was still congratulating himself when the phone rang: the bank had been occupied again. A mass of refugees had poured in as soon as the doors opened for business and this time they were even talking of sleeping there.

O.F.: But civil war requires two sides of the barricade, not three to man it. And against Gonçalves’s and Cunhal’s Communists there aren’t only Soares’s and Melo Antunes’s Socialists. There are Otelo’s radicals too. At the same time, Otelo isn’t at all on the side of Soares and Melo Antunes, so that…

M.S.: I think Otelo is a democrat and a revolutionary. Maybe he’s influenced by the extreme left, but he isn’t being used by anyone. It’s true he changes opinions rather often and voices somewhat original ideas. You’ve only to think of what he said on his return from Cuba or his language to American ambassador Carlucci, when he accused him of being a CIA agent. I was foreign minister at the time, and I alone know what trouble that utterance caused. Nobody could ascribe the gift of diplomacy to Otelo. However, words are but words and he must be forgiven some of his rather emphatic attitudes: the fact remains that he is capable of filling a very important role in Portugal. And, should an armed conflict occur, he wouldn’t be the third barricade.

O.F.: What about the fascists then? Let’s say civil war breaks out between Socialists and Communists, with Otelo on the Socialists’ side. If the fascists move in against the Communists too, you’ll find yourselves fighting side by side with them. What’ll you do in that case?

M.S.: That’s exactly what Cunhal has in mind when he attempts to throw us into the arms of the reaction. We won’t fall into the trap because we’re a left-wing force. We’re a left-wing party and we may even have some connection with the extreme left. With Intersindical and the Maoists, for instance. That doesn’t solve that complicated and terrifying menace. But that’s one more reason why we wish to prevent civil war. And, while it is true that every day there are fresh rumors according to which Spínola is Soares’s ally, it is equally true that Soares will have none of any such alliances. No Socialist wants them.

What we want is to become the party of the working class, to win over all the workers. If we’re forced into civil war against the Communists, we’ll resist on our own: without any help from the forces of reaction. Besides, I wouldn’t count excessively on help from the reactionary side. Rightists don’t love us. And should the right move in against the Communists, it will move in against us too. But not with a third barricade: with a rightist coup. In substance: I fear a rightist golpe more than civil war. In Portugal today there is a very grave danger of a rightist golpe. And while last May the Communist threat loomed largest on my horizon, today it is the fascist one that does.

O.F.: As the proverb has it: while two fight, the third exults.

M.S.: That isn’t the case, because the excuse for such a coup isn’t offered by the contest between us and the Communists. It’s the Communists themselves that offer it. It’s they that have pushed, and are pushing, large masses of the population into the waiting arms of the reaction. People have started to say: “If this battle has to take place, it might be better to have a strong right-wing government.” You hear it at all levels. You’ve only to listen to your taxi driver or stop at a streetcorner group. People are discontented, sometimes desperate and frightened of the Communists. Cunhal even manages to frighten the workers. Add to this the repatriation of the Portuguese from Angola. They’re a bitter, if not actually reactionary, force. They’re a force the reaction can easily manipulate. Because they’ve lost everything and want a scapegoat. In that state of mind, they’re coming back to a country in the throes of social and economic upheaval, half destroyed by anarchy. Some of them are already getting organized.

O.F.: And it’s too late to attempt any remedy, isn’t it?

M.S.: It’s never too late to save oneself, if one wants to. We Socialists keep on fighting. Certainly, if we lose, it’s a catastrophe. If we can’t manage to agree on a left-wing government, to solve the workers’ problems as soon as possible, to establish bridges with Europe, to start the economic machine working again, I tell you that in two months from now…. Yes, within two months discontent will have reached such heights that it’ll be as easy as pie for the right to stage a counterrevolution.

O.F.: Only two months?

M.S.: Yes, only two months. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Portuguese officers are preparing themselves in France, on the frontiers with Spain, maybe even here in Portugal itself. In the streets of Lisbon, yesterday, they were distributing pamphlets extolling Spínola. But a month ago, that would have been impossible: the people wouldn’t have allowed it. Today, the people accept it. They seized the pamphlet and read it. I’ve even told Costa Gomes about it. He said he already knew.

O.F.: There’s some resemblance to the last months of the Allende government in Chile.

M.S.: I’d say the Weimar Republic was a better comparison. Aren’t we too bearing the consequences of a colonial war, of a defeat? When we arrived on the scene, it was already too late: the army had collapsed. And it’s significant how this army, formerly an army of occupation, is now identifying itself with the [African] liberation forces. A sort of psychoanalytical phenomenon. Not only have the Portuguese army men forgotten that it was they that occupied the colonies and carried out reprisals: they even consider themselves in the guise of liberators. In psychoanalytic jargon this is defined as “a transference by the man who is defeated but won’t recognize it, identifying himself with the victor.” The same thing happened in Germany after the First World War: the German army refused to acknowledge its defeat and the social consequences thereof. Socialists, Communists, and Social Democrats, they all contributed immensely to the Nazi seizure of power. And they only realized this fact when they all met one another in the concentration camps.

O.F.: So the so-called revolution has failed?

M.S.: Not yet. Or better: I wouldn’t say it has failed but that it threatens to fail. At least, it’s compromised. Also, above all, because the Communists refused to understand that it had to be carried out with endless caution. Without forgetting, for instance, that the peasants in the north either own the land or are tenant farmers, not laborers. Or that, besides an important working class, there also exist an infinite number of minor civil servants and small landlords. Or that Portugal is a country with a European culture and education, that the Portuguese feel themselves European, that one million Portuguese work in the countries of the EEC, that we depend on Europe for 80 percent of our trade. Patience was required. Nationalization should have been undertaken gradually, so as not to awaken hostility in Europe. Instead, what has been done? The way has been left open to demagogy, the middle and lower bourgeoisie has been angered, those who offered their support have been frightened away, and the Church, seemingly well-disposed toward us, has been pushed into the opposition. An enormous potential has been wasted and the risk of a Pinochet nurtured.

O.F.: Are you alluding to Spínola?

M.S.: No. Spínola…. You know, I don’t like to talk about Spínola. For several reasons. I believe he committed serious mistakes, yes, stupid mistakes. And I think that maybe he’s one of those responsible for what happened after he left. Or, at least, responsible for part of the trouble that followed his departure. Because he tried to force events and because, blatantly, he made the attempt without being in possession of the required strength or ideas. Spínola was a deviation from revolutionary legitimacy. A deviation to the right. For instance, he wanted to set limits to the revolution and didn’t realize how impossible that was. However, especially on the part of the Communists, several lies have also been told about him. What I mean is: if there exists such a thing as revolutionary legitimacy, and there can be no doubt that there does, if said revolutionary legitimacy is represented by the MFA and is impersonated by its officers, then one can’t deny Spínola belonged to it. For better or for worse, in the beginning, he represented something too. That’s why I don’t like to discuss him. That’s why I prefer to say he made mistakes. And that he did is undeniable: for instance, he took for Maoists some democrats who are sincerely democratic. He also made more serious declarations: mistakenly. He was mistaken in many things, sometimes vociferously. But then, he’s not a brainy man.

O.F.: So you don’t think he’ll be the Pinochet?

M.S.: No, I don’t think so.

O.F.: I find it strange that you should attribute so little importance to him.

M.S.: Because, I repeat, I don’t believe in Spínola. I don’t believe in Spínola’s star, even if he still has some charisma in Portugal. Of course, I may be mistaken. Wasn’t I mistaken in Gonçalves, at the beginning? However, it doesn’t seem to me that Spínola is the man the right is staking its chances on.

O.F.: You know, of course, what people say about you and Spínola. They say you have mutual contacts, albeit indirectly. They say a meeting in Paris is scheduled between you….

M.S.: I know, I know. Every day, the national news agency, completely under Communist control, emits short communiqués to state, in one way or another, that I have contacts with Spínola. All stupid lies, and I find it a nuisance to have to keep on repeating that I have no contacts whatever with Spínola. I don’t want any contact with Spínola. Nobody in my party has any. I don’t want, we don’t want, anything to do with Spínola.

O.F.: But, if we exclude Spínola, then where is the Pinochet among these army men who consistently reiterate their leftist sympathies? M.S.: I’ve the answer ready. Two months before Allende’s death, I was invited to visit Chile. And when Allende received me, Pinochet was there, in the same room. Yes, he was there. He was there…and nobody knew it was Pinochet. He belonged to the group of Allende’s officers, to the staff of Allende’s military advisers, and smiled along with the others. And nobody knew he was Pinochet, although his name was Pinochet. Dreadful. Yes, dreadful….

O.F.: One thing is certain: whoever visits Portugal is immediately pervaded with the feeling that all this business must end in tragedy.

M.S.: Let’s hope not, because I’m not cut out for tragedy at all. I’m a peaceful man, fond of life, and I don’t even know how to shoot. One hears that the whole country is armed to the teeth, but I, believe me, don’t even own a popgun. Neither at home nor elsewhere. Because I believe my weapon is the fountain pen, and because I don’t know how to shoot and don’t want to learn.

O.F.: So you wouldn’t take part in an armed contest if it became necessary?

M.S.: Shooting?

O.F.: Of course, shooting too, if necessary.

M.S.: Who? Me?! Oh, no. Never. Jamais! Jamais de la vie! I tell you I’ve never touched a trigger in my whole life. I’ve never picked up a pistol, a rifle. I’ve never hunted. Nobody ever has in my family, not even my father. I’ve never done any military service! When I was called up I was so thin and so ill with asthma that my father found it easy to get me exempted. Besides, I don’t believe Cunhal has ever done military service either, I really believe he hasn’t. As for me, look, I’d rather die than shoot anyone. I can’t even imagine killing or wounding anyone. Were I to kill someone in a car accident, it would be a psychological disaster for me. When I was practicing law and had to defend someone who was guilty, willingly or unwillingly, of a killing, I always used to ask myself the question: what if it were to happen to me? My conclusion was: I’d go mad.

O.F.: So, were fascism to return to Portugal, you wouldn’t even resort to a small bomb?

M.S.: Let me think. There: I’d place the bomb on condition it didn’t kill or wound anyone. For instance, I might set it to go off in an empty, uninhabited building. If I knew someone was likely to pass by, I wouldn’t put it there. Never. Not even in self-defense. If anyone wanted to kill me, I’d never defend myself by killing him. I’d let him kill me instead.

O.F.: The subject is topical because I know you receive death threats all the time.

M.S.: Yes, every day. The phone rings, I answer and a voice croaks: “Soares, you’re about to be killed.” Or else: “Soares, today you’re going to die.” And I answer: “Okay.” Besides, of what use is it to be afraid, to hide, to walk about armed or with a bodyguard? When a powerful organization wants to eliminate someone, it always succeeds. Even if the person is well protected. Think of the two Kennedys. To conclude: I prefer to carry on with my normal life, walk about alone and not worry. Fear is stupid. It is humiliating. I reject it. The fact is, I can’t manage to feel afraid. I never have. The other day, an Angola refugee attacked me in the street. I was with comrade Zenha. The man jumped at me shouting: “Why did you sell Angola to the blacks?” I gave him a push out of the way and answered: “If you question me politely, I’ll explain that I’ve never sold anyone anything.” The he jumped me again and I had to shove him off once more and…. You know, I’m one of the few that still sleep in their own homes. In Lisbon, nowadays, many are the people who change addresses every night. For fear of terrorism, for fear of arrest…. What I say is: if they want to arrest me, they know where to find me. And if they do arrest me, they’ll have to explain why. In any case, it’s better than running away.

O.F.: Now I see what it is.

M.S.: What?

O.F.: Your irritating placidity. It’s sang-froid. In other words: courage.

M.S.: It’s you that wrote I was soft.

O.F.: It’s true. I’m sorry.

M.S.: Don’t mind too much. So many believe the same. Owing to my face. My heavy eyelids, my falling cheeks. A friend of mine who’s a sculptor once decided to do a bust of me. It took him ages. He kept carving and chipping away. Then he said: “There’s a problem. You have a common face, meaning it might be anyone’s, and your features are soft, although you aren’t soft.” Telling you this, I don’t want to imply I’m tough. I’m not tough, even if I sometimes give way to sinister rages. But I’m not a man to surrender either, or one that succumbs to fright. While in prison, I was never discouraged.

O.F.: And today you are?

M.S.: It’s one thing never to lose hope, and another not to delude oneself. And even when one does not nurture illusions, one may still feel hopeful. Certainly, to cultivate hope, one must fight.

O.F.: Like the Englishman who punched the Irishman?

M.S.: I don’t know if I really pulled that punch.

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