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PORTUGAL: Extreme Right to Host Anti-Immigrant Conference

Mario de Queiroz

LISBON, Apr 6 2007 (IPS) - The miniscule but active extreme right groups in Portugal, which in the last few days have gained some notoriety in the press despite their small size, have invited like-minded organisations from other European countries to a “continent-wide” meeting of leaders opposed to immigration.

 Credit: Paulo Amorim

Credit: Paulo Amorim

For the first time since Portugal returned to democracy 33 years ago, after a dictatorship that lasted from 1926 to 1974, the leaders of European organisations that are labelled racist, xenophobic and neo-Nazi will meet in this country, in “a secret place.”

The initiative came from the National Renewal Party (PNR) of Portugal, which invited its counterparts from the rest of Europe to meet on Apr. 21 “in a spot that has not yet been decided, but will not be publicly divulged even after it has been chosen,” according to its leader, José Pinto Coelho.

The date set for the meeting and the decision to hold it in Portugal have been interpreted as a provocation to the more than 300 delegates of the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH), who will hold their world congress in Lisbon from Apr. 19-21.

The keynote speaker at the opening session of the FIDH congress will be former Portuguese president Antonio dos Santos Ramalho Eanes (1976-1986), one of the leaders of the Apr. 25, 1974 coup in which leftist army officers overthrew the dictatorship, after which they dismantled what was left of the Portuguese empire – the two measures by the officers that drew the harshest criticism from the extreme right.

Early this week, the PNR drew broad public attention when it placed a huge billboard in the Marqués de Pombal square in downtown Lisbon with a huge photo of Pinto Coelho and the inscription “No More Immigration; Nationalism Is the Solution; Portugal for the Portuguese”, as well as the image of an airplane taking off with a caption reading “Have a Good Trip”.

The billboard drew howls of outrage, ranging from a statement by the minister of the presidency, Pedro Silva Pereira, condemning the initiative to editorials in virtually every Portuguese newspaper.

But others rejected the xenophobic billboard with humour. Ricardo de Araujo Pereira, Portugal’s most popular humorist, whose TV show “Gato Fedorento” (Smelly Cat) is a big hit, placed his own similar-sized billboard alongside the PNR’s.

Araujo Pereira’s sign shows him and the three other young comedians from his TV programme in a photomontage imitating Pinto Coelho’s expression, and reads: “More immigration. The best way to irritate foreigners is by forcing them to live in Portugal. With the Portuguese, we can’t achieve a thing”, and the drawing of an airplane landing, with the inscription “Welcome”.

According to a lengthy report published in Friday’s edition of the Jornal de Noticias newspaper, from the northern city of Oporto, the preparations for the meeting of far-right European groups are being closely monitored by the Security Information Service (SIS) and the police.

The press reported that SIS’s Interior Security Report 2006 assesses the growing organisational capacity of extreme-right groups and their relations with “skinheads” and neo-nazis from the rest of the continent, as well as the possibility of violent clashes with the extreme left, as “a real potential risk to national security.”

In statements to Jornal de Noticias, Pinto Coelho said “the party is going to act as it always has: we will indicate on our web site a meeting point near the place where the conference will be held.”

The gathering, titled “First International Conference”, will be dedicated to “Nationalist Activism”. The inclusion of organisations from the rest of Europe emerged from contacts made last year with leading European far-right movements, especially Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front (FN) in France and the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD).

Pinto Coelho said it is “very important” for his party that other groups in Europe – from Spain, Italy, Britain, Belgium and Switzerland as well as France and Germany – have accepted the invitation to come to Portugal, because “it is an indication that things are changing in our country, and that the PNR is viewed with respect in nationalist Europe.”

José Mussuaili, a popular Portuguese television personality and journalist whose father was from Mozambique, told IPS that the meeting of the far-right groups shows that “unfortunately, Portugal is turning into a nest of these gentlemen.”

“Since everything reaches Portugal late, these phenomena are only just now emerging here, and I feel sad that this country, the most ‘African’ country in Europe, is passing through this phase, although I am firmly convinced that it will be short-lived,” said Mussuaili, who describes himself as “the first black man to appear on screen, 15 years ago.”

Araujo Pereira, for his part, commented to IPS with irony that “for once in my life I totally agree with the PNR: when people like the European extreme-right come to Lisbon, it only makes sense to say ‘foreigners get out of Portugal’.”

More seriously, “Gato Fedorento” has received threats from the far-right because of its billboard, even though the city government of Lisbon issued an order that it be taken down because it was put up without a municipal permit.

The local authorities have threatened a heavy fine if it is not removed.

The threats were placed on the web site of the Forum Nacional, which “defends the white race.” On the site, unidentified individuals say that the four comedians “should be considered traitors to the fatherland and suffer in accordance, even if that means resorting to physical violence.”

The threats include the announcement of “a visit” to the school attended by Araujo Pereira’s young daughter. In response, the comedian said he had “no comment, except to report that I have already presented the case to the authorities.”

With respect to the order from the Lisbon city government “we will not remove the sign, but will pay the fine.”

“Our sign is humorous, not political. It’s only political satire, although I do not deny that it could have political repercussions,” he admitted in his interview with IPS.

In an editorial Friday, the Diario de Noticias of Lisbon deplored that there are nationalist protests of this kind in a country like Portugal, “which has thousands of emigrants living in France and Venezuela, just to mention the most recent flows.”

It also underlined “how positive it is to be compatriots of these intelligent young men” from “Gato Fedorento”, who “laughed in (Pinto Coelho’s) face.”

“You would have to ignore what Portugal is, ignore (the village of) Murtosa that went to New Jersey, the island of São Jorge (in the Azores) that moved to California, the outskirts of Funchal (in the Madeira Islands) that settled in Caracas, the neighbour who went to work in Luxembourg or the mother who was a caretaker in Paris to dare to be so ignoble and mean to immigrants, who are the other face of emigrants,” said the editorial.

The Diario Económico of Lisbon used statistics to lash out at the PNR, pointing out that the xenophobic billboard was attacking 7.1 percent of the national wealth, “which is what foreign workers are worth” in Portugal, since they generate 14.5 billion dollars a year – the same amount that is produced by Portugal Telecom (PT), the largest Portuguese company.

Besides the clearly negative social and political aspects of the question, the newspaper argues that in strictly economic terms, urging foreigners to leave the country is tantamount to saying “Bon voyage Portugal Telecom. Get out of here.”

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