“Screw the Troika” - Portugal Rises Up Against Austerity

Under the slogan, "Screw the Troika – we want our lives back," hundreds of thousands of protesters marched against austerity in Lisbon, Porto and other cities across Portugal on Saturday, March 2nd. Following up on November’s general strike and the implementation of a severe austerity budget that raises taxes and pushes through major cuts to the public sector, Portuguese citizens turned out en masse to express their disapproval of the center-right government of Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho and the Troika (a common nickname for the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Central Bank). As in neighboring Spain, the austerity policies enforced by the respective national government and the Troika have been met with a broad coalition organized loosely on the web with the support of major trade unions.

With Portugal’s economy set to shrink by a further 2% in 2013 and unemployment reaching a record high of 17.6%, Portuguese citizens have more to protest than just the incoming tax increases. Hypocrisy by the political classes and the absurdity of some of the austerity measures have become the source of outrage and ridicule online; for example, a draconian new law severely punishes consumers for not requesting a receipt upon making any purchase. Activists have retaliated by releasing the tax ID numbers of Prime Minister Coelho and other members of the government, and circulating various humorous receipts in their names.

In another parallel with Spain and the recent #23F protest, demonstrators in the March 2nd protests recall their country's revolutionary history by singing the song "Grândola, Vila Morena." This popular 1972 song was the signal to begin the Carnation Revolution, which overthrew Portugal’s dictatorship in 1974. As conditions worsen in Europe due to the continuing economic crisis and ever-tighter austerity policies, public protest should be expected. But the protesters in Portugal and other European countries are not just venting anger and despair, they are expressing hope that another path is possible. It is the history of the Mediterranean region, where dictatorships were peacefully overthrown in the 1970s, that animates the desire by the protesters for "a better Portugal" based on solidarity and egalitarianism—expressed so simply and beautifully by "Grândola, Vila Morena."

Given this history, the demands of the protestors might not be unrealistic after all.