António de Oliveira Salazar

António de Oliveira Salazar
António de Oliveira Salazar

António de Oliveira Salazar was prime minister of Portugal from 1932 to 1968 and the creator of the New State (Estado Novo).

Salazar was born on April 28, 1889, in Santa Comba Dao, near Viseu, in central Portugal, the son of an estate manager. He received his education at the Catholic seminary at Viseu and at Coimbra University, graduating in law in 1914.

Salazar became a professor of political economics at the University of Coimbra. In 1921 he was among the founders of a new Catholic party and was elected to the federal parliament, the cortes. After only one session, however, he returned to the university.

After World War I (in which Portugal had chosen the side of the Entente but gained nothing from the common victory), the country was a republic. In 1926, the army overthrew the civilian government and subsequently offered Salazar the ministry of finance, but he rejected the offer.

Two years later, the president, General António Óscar de Fragoso Carmona, made a new offer to Salazar: As minister of finance he would be granted complete control over all expenditures. This time Salazar accepted. He immediately stopped Portugal's long tradition of state deficits and managed to create a budget surplus for the first time in decades.

These surpluses, one of the hallmarks of Salazar's forthcoming regime, were invested in various development plans. The mismanagement of the former era contrasted sharply with Salazar's success at reorganizing the country's finances.

Salazar's reputation as minister of finance paved the way for his power grab, since the church, monarchists, aristocrats, the army, the upper classes, and the parties of the right preferred Salazar to the previous military government. Salazar gained support for his course of reform from different groups of Portuguese society.

The overall basis of his regime was a platform of stability. Salazar's politics privileged the wealthy classes to the detriment of the poorer sections of society. For example, education for the masses was not regarded as a priority and therefore not heavily invested in.

On July 5, 1932, President Carmona named Salazar prime minister of Portugal and handed power to him. In 1933, Salazar introduced a new constitution to Portugal, which gave him wide but not unlimited powers and established an authoritarian regime that would last four decades. This constitution and the regime based upon it sharply distanced themselves from any kind of democracy and parliamentary government, although the existing parliament was not completely abolished.

As prime minister, Salazar was nominated for a sevenyear-term. Legally, he was subject to dismissal only by the president of the republic. Based on the new constitution, Salazar propagated and inaugurated the Estado Novo (New State). On the whole, all efforts were concentrated on economic stability and recovery.

Salazar's regime was much less bloody than other contemporary European dictatorships, such as Francisco Franco's in neighboring Spain, not to mention Nazi Germany. This was partly because the death penalty was not introduced in Portugal.

There is an ongoing scholarly debate about the nature of the political regime established by Salazar in Portugal. The main question is whether this regime was typical for the 1920s and 1930s, when apparently similar or at least closely related regimes came to power in many European countries.

While some historians and political scientists argue that Salazar's dictatorship had many aspects in common with Mussolini's fascism in Italy, others find it more accurate to describe his rule as only old-style conservative and authoritarian.

The style of politics created by Salazar in Portugal differed completely from the ways by which Hitler and Mussolini communicated with German and Italian society: Salazar lived a life of frugal simplicity and shunned publicity; he rarely made any public appearances.

There was no cult around his "ingenious" leadership. His life exclusively devoted to the task of modernizing Portugal, he paid little attention, if any, to the reactions and feelings of the Portuguese people.

Salazar's political philosophy was based upon authoritarian Catholic social doctrine, similar to the contemporary regime of Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss and his Christian-Social Party in Austria. The economic system adopted by Salazar was known in Europe as corporatism; it was based on the papal encyclicals "Rerum Novarum" (1891) and "Quadragesimo Anno" (1931).

During the crisis occasioned first by the Spanish civil war and then by World War II, Salazar steered Portugal down a middle path. Although the dictator supported Franco's Nationalist Spain (Salazar sent aid to the Nationalists against the Republicans), he did not side with any of the contenders in the Spanish civil war.

The Iberian Neutrality Pact was put forward by Salazar to Franco in 1939. During World War II, Salazar maintained a policy of severe, if benevolent, neutrality. Indeed, Portugal provided aid to the western Allies, giving permission to them to use the Azores Islands in the Atlantic as a military base for fighting the German navy.

Between 1940 and 1945, Portugal, and particularly Lisbon, was one of the last European exit points toward the United States. Remaining neutral, Portugal continued to export goods to both the Axis and the Allied countries.

After the war, Salazar continued and even intensified his policy of economic reform. Portugal's whole transportation system, the railroads, road transport, and the merchant navy were reequipped. A national airline was instituted for the first time in the country's history.

The electrification of the country was extended, and a huge number of rural schools were developed. A corporate organization, expressed in the corporative chamber as a second house of parliament, was of lesser importance.

Salazar (who personally never left Portugal) wanted his country to be relevant internationally. At the same time, Portugal itself rejected any influence from the Western world. Portugal was the only nondemocratic country among the founding members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949.

This reflected Portugal's position as an important ally against communism during a period when the cold war reached its peak. Salazar's dictatorship never had to survive in total isolation like Franco's Spain had. Portugal was invited to accept economic help within the framework of the Marshall Plan, but Salazar refused.

By around 1950, Salazar's regime was firmly established. One major problem remained: the country's large overseas provinces. At that time, Portugal was in control of the Azores, Madeira, the Cape Verde Islands, Sáo Tomé e Príncipe, Angola, Portuguese Guinea, and Mozambique in Africa; Goa, Damão, and Diu in India; Macau in China; and Portuguese Timor in Southeast Asia. Almost everywhere, independence movements challenged Portugal's rule over its colonies.

Salazar was determined to retain Portuguese control of these territories. The 1933 constitution and various colonial acts had provided for the integration of the provinces. Portugal became increasingly isolated from other Western countries, which were gradually releasing their colonies into independence.

Around 1960, Salazar faced a broad movement of anti-colonialism that united the Soviet Union and the United States. In that situation, Salazar personally took over the ministry of war and proclaimed that Portugal would defend its possessions no matter what the price.

From the capture of Portuguese ports in India in 1961 until after Salazar's death, the overseas territories remained a continual source of trouble for Portugal, especially when the country had to fight the African colonial wars.

Salazar's stubbornness regarding the status of the colonies, understanding the changing world order, and grasping the impossibility of his regime's outliving him marked the final years of his regime. "Proudly alone" was the motto of his final decade.

In September 1968, Salazar became seriously ill with brain damage after falling from a chair. According to some sources, he suffered a stroke. Salazar's physical condition made him unable to continue his duties and forced President Américo Tomás to dismiss him as prime minister.

When he died in Lisbon two years later on July 27, 1970, he left neither property of his own nor a family. A special train carried the coffin to Salazar's hometown of Santa Comba Dao, where he was buried. Thousands paid their last respects at the funeral.