07 May 2023  |   05:12am IST

Portuguese Liberal Thought: Kindling the Goan Mind

Sushila Sawant Mendes

Every struggle, especially against a foreign colonial power, is always sustained by the ideological philosophy of thinkers. Democracy necessitates the free flow of different thoughts. The index of a free society and democracy can be measured by free speech and expression. Western political thought has great elements of free thinking. Even during the colonial period, there were Portuguese intellectual giants who tried to make this world safe for democracy. 

For my generation of the post-colonial period, it is very difficult to appreciate the positive contributions of the Portuguese legacy. For some of us, it is even more difficult because our families suffered many atrocities in prison, having either one or both parents who were freedom fighters. Historiography however needs to be non-biased. Educated Goans were sympathetic to democratic, progressive thinkers who took on the conservative establishments of their times regardless of their nationality or colour. The Goan intellectuals battled Portuguese propaganda, but at the same time, appreciated the progressive thought from the mother country. 

In the pre-Republican period, there were a number of liberal Portuguese Parliamentarians and administrators, including Portuguese Governors and Statesmen like Couceiro da Costa, António José de Almeida, Rocha Diniz, Alvaro Xavier de Castro, Brito Camacho and Afonso Costa. Undoubtedly there were many more. 

T B Cunha has testified in his writings that his imprisonment in Peniche Jail was like a university of learning, as he could have discussions with the Portuguese nationalists incarcerated there who like him had opposed the dictator Salazar.

The first Republican Governor, Couceiro da Costa was a “Liberal Republican”. In January 1910; this Governor had dismissed the old Municipal Committee of Ilhas and had appointed Luis de Menezes Bragança, as the President of the new Committee. In fact Bragança was criticised as being covertly on the official side because of his proximity to the Governor. To this criticism, he replied that they shared the same ‘liberal thought’.

The President of the Republic, António José de Almeida, had protested against the tyranny of the State. As a young student in 1890 of the University of Coimbra, he wrote an article entitled, Bragança, o ultimo. This writing was considered slanderous against the Royal Bragança family and Almeida was imprisoned. In an article entitled Um Homen or ‘A Man’ in the newspaper Pracasha, the fine qualities of head and heart of José de Almeida were discussed at length. The writer, Menezes Bragança at the same time came down heavily on the press censorship policy of the Portuguese government even as he appreciated the good qualities of the President of the Portuguese Republic.

This President had occupied high positions as the Supreme Magistrate, without having an aristocratic background. Hard work and intelligence were not and could never be the preserve of particular castes or classes. José de Almeida worked very sincerely as the Governor of the Provisional Government and helped in the passing of basic laws without which the Republic could not have flourished.  

Royal and Noble ranks and titles were eliminated, the reformulation of the Press laws was undertaken and the acknowledgement of the right to strike action were a few of the many progressive laws.

On the occasion of Governor Rocha Diniz leaving Goa to Portugal in 1926; in an article entitled Palavras de Justiça (Words of Justice) Menezes Bragança, remembered the Governor as being reticent and publicity shy. Diniz had touched the collective conscience because he fulfilled his duty, intermingled with the local people and was also sensitive to their feelings. 

It was believed that it was this proximity to the people that prompted his recall to Portugal after a long period of eight years. 

Alvaro Xavier de Castro was a Portuguese author and politician and an eminent journalist of the newspaper, A Luta.  He was the Prime Minister of Portugal twice – first for a period of just ten days in 1920 when he co-founded the Nationalist Reconstitution Republican Party and later for a period of less than seven months, from 18th December to 6th July 1924, when he joined the Nationalist Republican Party.

Earlier he served as the Governor-General of Mozambique between 1915 and 1918. He was a prominent participant in the attempted coup of 11th January, 1919 which took place after the assassination of Sidónio Pais. Castro passed away at the young age of 49 years in Coimbra. 

Manuel de Brito Camacho's brilliant words, wit and humour had put him on a high pedestal. He wrote the famous column, As Farpas (Little Darts), the 'darts' were used to imply his criticism of the society around him that was the target of his gibes. He used satire and wit to express his views. Camacho wrote for the newspaper Mozambique. His writings showed sympathy for the natives of Mozambique. 

Though a Portuguese national, he was sensitive to the exploitation of the local people by the mother country. 

Camacho served the Republic with detachment and his liberal mind was most often not acceptable to the establishment that he represented. He was respected as one of the greatest intellectuals of that period. Camacho, along with his friend João de Menezes – a fellow journalist (author of the book, ‘The Portuguese Presence in India: Later day Thorns amid Tranquilities’) had together analysed the morass in which Portuguese administration had sunk. They fought against the monarchical form of government. In 1912, the Republicans were divided into Evolutionists (moderates), led by António José de Almeida; Unionists (Centre party) led by Manuel de Brito Camacho and Democrats (the leftist core of the original party) led by Afonso Costa. 

There were two deputados who supported President António José de Almeida—one was Afonso Costa and the other, Mariano de Carvalho. The former was also a Portuguese lawyer and Professor, while the latter was a journalist and a Professor. Portuguese deputados had lively debates in the Portuguese Parliament about the importance of democracy in public life. These Portuguese statesmen were both progressive and liberal in their views, which were rare qualities for those who held high positions in the colonial set up. They were both respected and admired for the strength of their character and ability to be independent. These brave and progressive minds decided against the continuation of the monarchy and the separation of the Church and the State. Later they had the courage of their conviction to even dare Salazar. 

In this way, they inspired many Goans with their liberal and progressive views. In turn, these became powerful influencers to their own people, like Menezes Bragança, António de Noronha, Leopoldo da Gama, Pascoal Gomes, Drs João Barreto, Minguel Caetanco Dias, Bernardo da Costa and even a priest, António Gregório de Costa. These Goans continued the liberal Portuguese legacy.  

 Today more than ever we see the need of a non-prejudiced mind-set in the writing of historiography. Writers of the colonial period wrote freely and without fear despite the strict censorship of Salazar. Portuguese liberal thinkers were appreciated by the Goans, as ‘ideas mattered’, not individuals, ideologies or nationalities. Goan intellectuals of that period were able to differentiate between personal and political foes and also friends and persons who had set high standards for themselves in public life. This progressive outlook has a lot of lessons to be learnt from history and needs to be emulated by our present democratic society. 

A democratic culture can be sustained only by liberal thought.

(Prof (Dr ) Sushila Sawant Mendes is an Author and Professor in History,

Govt College of Arts, Science & Commerce, Quepem)


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