On March 6, 2021, the streets of several Portuguese cities were adorned with communist flags and other decorations. These scenes looked like they were straight out of the Soviet Union or perhaps a present-day communist country. In reality, though, we’re talking about cities like Lisbon or Porto. While the images were certainly striking, they shouldn’t be entirely unexpected.

On that day, the Portuguese Communist Party celebrated its 100th anniversary, cheered on by thousands of militants and sympathizers across the country.

I still remember one of my friends, who is of Eastern European origin, saying his parents got extremely confused, anxious, and shocked over the huge quantity of red flags on display. 

These were people who had suffered immensely at the hands of the former Soviet Union. They could not understand how someone could see the sickle and hammer as a symbol to celebrate. Why was this happening in Portugal? Who are the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) and why are they still a thing?

The Portuguese Communist Party is one of the last of its kind in Europe. It is represented in the European Parliament, along with six other communist parties from Belgium, Cyprus, Czechia, France, Greece and Spain. However, of these seven parties, only five are bold enough to use the term “Communist” in their names. And of these five, only three are represented in national parliaments, with those countries being Greece, Spain, and Portugal. 

This is an interesting trilogy of countries, as all three witnessed the fall of dictatorial regimes during the 1970’s. It is important to note, however, that none of these dictatorships were communist. 

In the case of Portugal — and I will focus only on Portugal as that is where I was born and still reside — I identify its 20th-century dictatorship as one of the main reasons why communism maintains a strong presence when compared with most other countries. The other two causes? I would put it down to selective memory and ignorance. Here’s why:

Portugal was a dictatorship from 1926 until 1974. During this period, a key figure emerged: António de Oliveira Salazar — widely known simply as Salazar. 

Salazar governed Portugal from 1932 to 1968. His dictatorial regime may not be the world’s most infamous, but it was just as oppressive and bloody as any dictatorship. The state was heavily entangled with the Catholic religion, there was only one political party in the so-called parliament, a political police, political prisoners, and a colonial war. 

Indeed, the Portuguese dictator insisted on keeping Portugal’s colonies, sending thousands of young boys and men to their deaths, during a time when most other colonial powers accepted decolonization. It is not rare in Portugal today to find an older man who has fought in Africa — that is, those who were lucky enough to survive. On the whole, values such as liberty did not exist. No one could speak out against the government.

But what does all of this have to do with the Portuguese Communist Party? After all, Salazar’s dictatorship was an ultraconservative one, based on the principles of “God, Fatherland and Family” — not a very communist motto. Indeed, many scholars have characterized Salazar’s ideology as a form of fascism. 

The key is that, during the dictatorship, communists constituted a major part of what resistance there was, and later proved vital when the regime was toppled in 1974. With this in mind, it may seem natural that some people in Portugal, especially older generations, feel like they owe their freedom and rights, to some extent, to the communists. 

This might make sense if not for their role during the transitional period between 1974 and 1976 known as the Período Revolucionário em Curso (PREC), which translates to “Revolutionary Period in Course.”

After the fall of the dictatorship, the PCP enjoyed significant influence in provisional governments. Their ultimate goal was to turn Portugal into a socialist nation. Fortunately, they were unsuccessful. Had they reached their goal, there would have been a Soviet satellite state in Western Europe. 

Regardless, during this time, the PCP and other communist-aligned groups were responsible for acts such as invasions of private property (if you owned two properties, you were considered a fascist) and attempts to nationalize pretty much every industry or company. On November 25, 1975, a military intervention ended the communists’ dreams, and democracy was fully established shortly thereafter, in 1976. 

Some years later, a far-left terrorist group, FP25, emerged. They were responsible for several acts involving bombings and homicides. One of their bombings resulted in the death of a 4-month-old baby after his grandfather’s property was attacked. 

Though the PCP was not directly linked to FP25, the majority of the movement’s members strongly sympathized with the idea of making Portugal a communist country.

After the ultraconservative dictatorship fell, Portugal was on the verge of entering into a communist one. Yet, many Portuguese people kept on voting for the PCP, attending the Avante (an annual festival organized by the party), and saying that the far-right and far-left are not at all comparable because the far-left is “less bad”. 

It seems like, even after witnessing the horrors committed by the radical left during the PREC in Portugal, people’s memory is selective, and many focus only on the oppression carried out by Salazar. 

I don’t blame them that much. After all, Salazar’s dictatorship lasted almost 40 years while the PREC lasted only two. In addition, FP25’s violent deeds were more confined to a specific time. Yet, regardless, it is important not to ignore evil just because it was short-lived. We should think about this and about what could have been if the outcome of the transitional period had been different. We may not have the freedom we have today.

Finally, I will address the third reason why I think people keep voting, liking, or at the very least tolerating the PCP: ignorance. I am not saying, of course, that people are ignorant because they view the world differently. However, I do contend that, for a long time, many people in Portugal, especially young people, have not been aware of what communism ultimately represents. 

Despite frequent discussions about workers’ rights, which draw people in, the PCP is, in reality, quite socially conservative. Surprisingly, even some LGBTQ+ individuals within their ranks praise Stalin. This is particularly concerning given communism’s track record on LGBTQ+ rights. 

Moreover, in Portugal, the PCP has abstained in parliamentary votes on LGBTQ+ issues such as adoption rights for same-sex couples and the condemnation of homophobic persecution in Chechnya. 

Fortunately, communism in Portugal has shown its true colors during the War in Ukraine by indirectly aligning itself with Vladimir Putin’s Russia and failing to acknowledge the invasion. This has led some people to question whether the far-left is really any better than the far-right. 

Nonetheless, Avante, the aforementioned communist gathering in Portugal, took place once again this year, attracting a substantial audience. It might be time to raise some essential questions, such as what this means for Portugal’s future.

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