The old world power on
Many a Portuguese was shocked to hear that according
to a poll conducted in March 2007 by the public broadcasting
corporation, António de Oliveira Salazar ranked
far ahead of all others as the greatest Portuguese of all
times — Salazar, the dictator who had ruled the country
with an iron hand from 1932 to 1968, i.e. for over 30
Salazar wanted to see a Portugal that was “poor but
independent” — and to reach that goal, he forced his
countrymen into a system of government that can only
be termed near-feudal. But unlike General Franco next
door, Salazar was not a military man who had seized
power in a putsch. Indeed, he was an economics professor
whom the generals had appointed to come to
grips with the country’s chaotic economic and financial
situation at the end of the 1920s. Salazar’s “New State”,
the “Estato Novo”, an authoritarian Catholic regime run
by elites, was strictly hierarchical in structure. Economic
power was in the hands of a small number of prosperous
families, while the broad mass of the population
enjoyed — if at all — no more than a rudimentary education.
As late as the mid-1970s, one fifth of the adult
Portuguese population could neither read nor write.
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