Mário Nobre Lopes Soares is the 17th President of Portugal who served two terms in office from 1986 to 1996. He was also the nation’s Prime Minister from 1976 to 1978 and from 1983 to 1985.
At the time when the former dictator António de Oliveira Salazar was ruling Portugal, Soares diligently fought him and the dictator’s secret police PIDE that arrested him 12 times and expelled him to different countries.
Soares is endowed with the highest-ranking military order of Portugal titled “Military Order of the Tower and of the Sword, of Valour, Loyalty and Merit” which was created by King Afonso V in 1459.
Mario Soares’s father João Lopes Soares was a minister, anti-fascist republican and a vocal critic of Prime Minister António de Oliveira Salazar. Salazar ruled Portugal from 1932 until 1968, marking the longest era of dictatorship in Europe, even longer than that of Spain’s Francisco Franco.
President Soares was a Member of European Parliament from 1999 until 2004. A recipient of the North-South Prize awarded by the Council of Europe annually to two public figures for their outstanding democratic and political achievements, Mário Soares is currently a member of the Madrid Club and also the founder of Mario Soares Foundation. In 2006, he ran for a third term as the Portuguese President, but came third after Aníbal Cavaco Silva and Manuel Alegre, receiving 14.31% of the vote. He had received an overwhelming majority of 70.35% in the 1991 presidential elections.
In an exclusive interview with Tehran Times, Mário Soares said that he is immensely hopeful about the future of Iran-West relations and that although he doesn’t know the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani personally, he feels a great sympathy for him. He believes that the recent nuclear deal between Iran and the six world powers was a major step toward solving the controversy over Iran’s nuclear program forever.
Last week, Tehran Times had the opportunity to conduct an exclusive interview with President Soares and ask him some questions regarding Portugal’s history, culture, foreign policy, financial crisis in the Eurozone, the Middle East current affairs and the recent developments surrounding Iran’s nuclear program. What follows is the text of the interview.
Q: Since a very young age, you were at the forefront of fighting against tyranny and fascism in your country and closely involved in the political developments of Portugal. Why did the era of dictatorship under António de Oliveira Salazar lasted for so long in your country to mark the longest period of dictatorship in the whole European continent, even longer than the dictatorship of Spain’s Francisco Franco?
A: It was due in part to Salazar himself and to a portrait that a master spin-doctor, António Ferro, has made of him. It was also due to the civil war in Spain, in which Portugal participated because Salazar was an ally of Franco, Mussolini and Hitler. And finally, the third factor was the betrayal of the winning Democracies, United States of America, Great Britain and the France of De Gaulle, which, for fear of Communism, helped Franco and Salazar. It was a real betrayal of the Iberian Democrats.
Q: Please tell us more about your experiences with the now defunct secret police, PIDE, that arrested you for your political activism several times. I noticed that under the Estado Novo, PIDE had made concerted efforts aimed at derailing the civil liberties and curtailing the political freedoms of the people in order to consolidate the Second Republic’s power and help its authoritarian rulers remain in power. What’s your take on that?
M.S.: The political regime of Salazar was a moderate fascism. The PIDE (International and State Defence Police), the political police, along with the Censorship, were the two instruments used by Salazar to survive. They were effective because without them Salazar wouldn’t have been so long in power.
The PIDE arrested me 12 times and I passed through the three main political prisons of Lisbon and surroundings: Aljube, Penitentiary and Caxias. I was only judged once in the Plenary (a political Court), where I came often as a lawyer to defend many communists, republicans and leftists. Moreover, I was deported to the isle of São Tomé and Príncipe, a Portuguese colony at that time, located on the equator line, where I stayed for almost a year without previous trial. And later, I was expelled from Portugal, also without due process, but solely on political orders. I was then in exile for 4 years in France, from where I helped to found the Socialist Party in Bonn, with the support of the SPD (German Social Democratic Party).
I was never beaten up in the prisons where I was thrown in, but during the interrogation sessions at the PIDE headquarters they roughed me up. I was not allowed to sleep for two consecutive days, it was the “sleep deprivation torture”, and they kept making several threats, including the one of killing me.
The so-called “New State” (i.e. the dictatorship of Salazar and Caetano) has always been a harsh dictatorship, more fascist type than Nazi type. It was always supported by the Catholic Church. The Patriarch Cerejeira was a close friend of Salazar since they were students at the University of Coimbra and he has always been dependent on Salazar, except after the II Vatican Council and the appearance of the “progressive Catholics”. It was a dictatorship with more or less hardness, depending on the international context. NATO gave Salazar’s dictatorship a great support.
Q: You’re known as one of the fathers of Portuguese democracy. As a Prime Minister from 1976 to 1978 and then from 1983 to 1985, you had to eliminate the legacy of more than 3 decades of dictatorship and construct a new republic based on democratic values. What do you think about the long way Portugal has come to become a completely democratic nation? What’s your prediction for the future of Portugal, now that you are not in power?
A: Your assertion is excessive. In fact, from the very instant, the republican and democratic ideals have always been clandestinely maintained during the dictatorship. Nevertheless, both have been always active. There were numerous failed revolutionary attempts. Secondly, because the democratic and anti-Salazar thought, streamlined around the magazine Seara Nova, was intellectually stronger than the one of the dictators. At the end of the war, some young university students, like me, created the Youth MUD (Youth Democratic Unity Movement). We had great masters at the time, as António Sérgio, Câmara Reys, Mário de Azevedo Gomes, Jaime Cortesão, Bento de Jesus Caraça, etc.
Salazar twice ordered the dismissal of university teachers, among the most distinguished Portuguese intellectuals and academics.
All this happened before 1974, year when the so-called Carnation Revolution of April 25 took place, peacefully. The military forces were then the only ones we must thank for the destruction of the Dictatorship, to put an end to the colonial wars.
It is true that I was one of the participants in the creation of the Socialist Party and, once returned to Portugal, appointed by General Spínola to be Minister of Foreign Affairs. The political parties have been legalized: the Socialist Party of which I was secretary general, the Communist Party led by Álvaro Cunhal and the Social Democratic Party founded by Sá Carneiro. Later on, the Christian Democrat Party (now PP) was established by Professor Freitas do Amaral.
The Socialist Party won the first free elections and I became Prime Minister twice (1976-78) and (1983-85) by the party’s decision. But I have also been a deputy to the Parliament in the Opposition. It is true that the Socialist Party played a dominant role in the building up of the Democracy, the Welfare State and in the Decolonization.
Until 2010, Portugal was, in fact, a well-established democracy, where the rule of law, the welfare state and the respect for trade unions were upheld. The Socialist Party had a dominant role there. Today, unfortunately, due to the European crisis, the States are dominated by the markets.
As for the future, I believe there will be political changes and that the pure economic-orientated approach will be dominated by politics (and not otherwise), so that the European Union does not fall into the abyss. This would be a world tragedy.
Q: How is the state of Portugal’s relations with its former colonies today, especially Cape Verde? I read that you’ve advocated Cape Verde’s joining the European Union. Is it practically possible? At least from a geographic point of view, Cape Verde is dissociated from the mainland Europe and is located on the Western coasts of Africa. How is it possible for Cape Verde to join the EU under such circumstances?
A: It is excellent. Decolonization was quickly taken, recognizing the colonies the right to self-determination. Guinea and Cape Verde - thanks to my friends Aristides Pereira and Pedro Pires, who had a key role in the process - were the first colonies to become independent. And I am very honoured for having participated in this change, as in all the others.
Our current relations are excellent. Cape Verde is a great State with a well-established democracy and is deeply respected in Africa. As for the entry of Cape Verde in the European Union, I am in favour, of course. But perhaps it will be better to wait for the passing of the current crisis, which I hope will happen this year.
Q: Portugal has always maintained close and amiable relations with the Latin American countries, especially Brazil, and the reason is completely understandable: the inextricable cultural, lingual and ethnic similarities that have kept these countries tied to each other. In what ways does the cooperation between Portugal and the Latin American nations can contribute to international peace and security? Why is it important that the rest of EU countries learn from this example and consolidate their relations with the Latin American states?
A: To Portugal, Brazil is a brother country. Unlike the English-speaking Community (Commonwealth) that does not include the United States of America. We, Portuguese, did everything so that Brazil could become, as it is since the beginning, the first member of the CPLP (Community of Portuguese Language Countries), this year chaired by the Democratic Republic of East-Timor. There are excellent relations between all of us. We all speak Portuguese, which is the third most spoken language in Europe and the fifth worldwide.
Our connection is not only linguistics; it is also political, economic, cultural and environmental.
In what concerns the Latin American countries, we also have a great affection and respect for them. Fortunately, these countries are booming, living in peace and having a good relation with Spain. Like us. I hope that the United States of America will put an end to the blockade on Cuba, because it will be good for everyone.
Q: What’s your analysis of the 2010-2013 financial crisis in Portugal? What factors have contributed to these irregularities in Portugal’s economy, its public service and its judicial system that is said to be the slowest justice system in Western Europe after Italy? Have the austerity measures and bailout plans helped Portugal get out of the crisis?
A: The Chancellor Merkel has major responsibilities for insisting on austerity, that kills, as the Pope Francisco said. The crisis began in the United States of America, which has already controlled it, and spread to the European Union, that has accepted the markets could dominate the politics. However, the Euro zone of the EU must change; otherwise it will fall into the abyss, as Helmut Schmidt said.
Q: As the President of Portugal, what steps had you taken to realize sustainable development in your country, especially in terms of energy economy and security? Our world is facing the phenomenon of global warming and climate change today; so, what steps can the EU nations take to address this concern and prevent the harmful effects of global warming from turning our planet into an uninhabitable place?
A: Acting in accordance with the Constitution of the Republic, I tried to make my best to consolidate Democracy, as well as the Rule of Law and the Welfare State. The climate change, the global warming and the Oceans have also been an important part of my agenda, to warn the Portuguese about the risks they will have to face with the global warming.
Q: As a European politician, what’s your viewpoint regarding Turkey’s efforts to join the European Union? Does Turkey have the political and economic competence to join the 28-member bloc of nations? Is it true that the EU member states have so far opposed Turkey’s membership simply because it is a Muslim majority country and does not comply with the secular values of the united Europe?
A: I think it is necessary to build the peace. The current prime minister is losing the power and he should realize it. Turkey is a great country, which I have always defended that should become a member of the European Union. Unfortunately, both Germany and France never wanted to. It was a big mistake.
Q: Let’s come to the Middle East, where the international attention is focused on Iran and its nuclear program. What do you think about the election of moderate, pro-reform diplomat Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s president? He has vowed to constructively engage with the world countries and improve Iran’s foreign relations. What’s your assessment of this choice the Iranian people have made and its importance?
A: I think that Hassan Rouhani is a great personality. Although I don’t know him personally, I have a great sympathy for him. The agreement he made with Barack Obama was a great step given jointly by the two States towards peace. The choice of the Iranian people was of great importance for the entire Arab world.
Q: The Geneva interim deal between Iran and the six world powers brought to an end some 10 years of inconclusive and fruitless negotiations and. Now, the two sides have a roadmap to implement the deal, settle the differences and move toward the normalization of Iran’s nuclear dossier at the final stage. What’s your viewpoint regarding this deal and the impact it can have on the improvement of Iran’s relations with the Western nations and the alleviation of concerns over Iran’s nuclear activities?
A: The Geneva agreement was excellent, despite some external difficulties, coming for example from France. The nuclear issue seems to be solved. Israel protests, but it has two hundred nuclear bombs, we are told.
Q: What do you think about the future of Iran-U.S. relations? The two countries have been at odds for more than 3 decades, and signs have emerged that they may start a new era of reconciliation and rapprochement. What’s your take on that? Can the betterment of Iran-U.S. relations contribute to regional peace and stability?
A: While men as Rouhani and Barack Obama will be in power, I think that everything will turn well. Afterwards it is an open question. I hope the Israelis, other than those from the right wing, as the current prime minister, have something to say about it, as well as Obama’s successor. If this one is John Kerry, it will be excellent.
I think the improved relations between Iran and the United States have an important effect on regional stability.
Q: Portugal has had many prominent academicians, scientists and literary figures. One of them was the late Jose Saramago who won the 1998 Nobel Prize in Literature and passed away just three years ago. Have you been familiar with his works? What do you think about his international legacy? What’s your feeling toward great authors like Mr. Saramago who composed precious literary works in Portuguese?
A: It’s true. I know Saramago since long before he received the Nobel Prize. I am a reader of his books, his admirer and I was his friend, as I continue to be of his widow, Pilar del Rio, that, thankfully, is alive and very dynamic, directing nowadays the José Saramago Foundation.
Precious literary works are always welcome despite the country they come from - and there are many in Portuguese, the language of Camões. Brazil has great writers who could be Nobel prizes. The same happens in Portugal too.
Q: And finally, what’s your message for the Iranian readers of this interview? Iran’s national football team has a renowned Portuguese coach, Carlos Queiroz, and this is why many Iranians have become interested in Portuguese culture and football. How can the two nations get closer to each other? Overall, how much importance does Portugal attach to cultural and political relations with the Middle East nations, particularly Iran?
A: More than to send a message, I would be pleased to think this interview encouraged the curiosity of your readers to know a little more about Portugal, an old country with more than eight hundred years of history and a rich culture.
Regarding football, I must say it is a sport to which I never paid great attention. However, I appreciate some major players, like Eusébio, who was both Mozambican and Portuguese, Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo, for their role in serving the national interest. I am also proud of the international recognition of some Portuguese coaches, as José Mourinho and Carlos Queiroz, who, I am told, is doing very well with the national Iranian team.
Portugal and Iran can approach each other, especially through both cultures and a history of common friendship, since when Iran was Persia and the Portuguese were the first Europeans to encounter it, exception made to Greece. More than anything, Culture, Art and History unites the peoples unlike the markets that only think and act in view of the money. The markets must obey to the politicians, who are usually elected, and not the opposite.