The value of the past

At a time when there is so much discussion about the memory and the impact of the past on the present, it is worth thinking about what value we really attach to the past.

At a time when there is so much discussion about the memory and the impact of the past on the present, it is worth thinking about what value we really attach to the past. Will it be a source of teachings for the future? Do we all look at the past from the perspective of collective memory or collective forgetfulness? Do we look and reconstruct the past in the same way? To what extent does the past constrain the way we act in the present? Probably, many of us have already faced all these issues when we try to interpret the present.

The value of the past fluctuates, it is true, but it is always a reference to present and future behavior. When we say that some fact, event or situation cannot be repeated, we are always, even if negatively, marking something by past experience. Therefore, the past is so present in our lives that we forget its importance or how analytically it can provide assistance in the decisions of the present.
This text is, therefore, a reflection on the role of the past in the challenges of the present.

This is not a comparison between the current pandemic context and the history of previous pandemics, which is very common today. Before, we tried to reflect on some present events, in light of the antecedents of the past, trying to confront the different memories and forgetfulness in relation to previous times. In such a troubled period, when measures to combat the pandemic and its effects on the economy, sociability, but also on politics are debated, it is worth looking critically at the past.

Globally, the pandemic has made the negative aspects of globalization notorious and exposed its weaknesses. This perception is not completely new, but it has deepened. For the first time, the principles of free trade and the relocation of industrial and agricultural production are questioned. If globalization has facilitated mobility, the truth is that it has enabled the addition of all modes of mobility, including the accelerated transport of viruses. Just as climate change and sustainability cannot be taken as national problems, viral diseases are also global problems. The idea of ​​the location of a phenomenon is challenged by the rapid movement of people, goods, services and ideas. For better or worse, globalization has brought this about.

Regarding Portugal, it revealed the great dependencies that Portugal has, not only in the field of imports, but also of exports. Not only failed industrial products like masks or fans; there was also a lack of tourists or international students who provide part of the demand in the tourism and higher education sectors. This situation revealed the country's weakness and the little resilience that can result. The sector that had grown the most recently, promoting employability, although not very specialized, was exactly tourism, dependent on the flow of travelers. In fact, Portugal as a whole was invited to participate in this bet on hospitality, improving the offer, but rarely refining demand, keeping many localities and areas of the country dependent on mass tourism.

As a dynamic and growing sector, let us take tourism as an example. This activity spread to the entire territory and changed the organization of the local communities, turning the entire local economy in favor of this activity. The fishing boats became tour boats for tourists, the agricultural land was occupied by construction, the city centers were emptied, without contingency or sustainability plans.
However, this dependence of Portugal on the outside is old, as well as the weakness of the productive sectors of the economy. Why has a development not yet been considered taking into account these idiosyncrasies that come from the past? Why did looking to the future, with its promises, seem to free the country from its dependencies? For belief in progress or simply for lack of critical thinking in the face of the past?


One example, among many others
Keeping the example of tourism and a region, it depends heavily on this sector of activity, I refer here to the specific case of dredging of the Arade River so that passenger ships with greater tonnage, known as cruises, can enter the river. The mouth of the Arade River, bathing on one side Portimão and the other Ferragudo, constitutes a fragile ecosystem, previously subjected to processes of dredging and filling sand on some beaches, where there is a remarkable wealth of underwater archaeological materials. A region of human occupation for millennia, it was the scene of naval battles involving Vikings and important transport processes along the river, connecting Silves to the coastal zone, which in the past of Islamic occupation was decisive in the governing organization of the territory.

Now, in an attempt to revive cruise tourism, it is intended to provide Portimão with more conditions to receive larger ships, and may enter the mouth of the river. This project requires a deep intervention in the river, with the municipality of Portimão evidencing the fact that there is a concern with the preservation of the archaeological material, the intervention being preceded by an archaeological intervention. However, in the Environmental Impact Study - Non-Technical Summary, it is mentioned that this intervention has a direct impact on areas of ecological reserve, with the risk of flooding, in some areas.

This means that the entire area surrounding the intervention will be affected. Dredging on the Arade River is nothing new. In the 1970s and 1980s there were interventions that changed the landscape of local beaches, with direct consequences in some areas that took years to recover the quality of the sands and waters. I remember that period, for two reasons, because Praia Grande was the beach of my early childhood and because my maternal family is originally from Portimão and Ferragudo. In my personal memory and experience, the consequences and the high price of interventions aimed at mass tourism that have uprooted fig and carob trees to build houses overlooking the sea are very present. In the space of a decade I lost the smell of figs that intoxicated the air (which still smells like the Algarve to me today) and the landscape dotted with carob and almond trees. In a few years I would say goodbye to those textures and the beach where I learned to swim.

According to my personal memory and valuing my past experience, the dredging that is now proposed should have at least a previous and in-depth discussion and include a reflection that goes beyond the immediate effects of this intervention. In this debate, the reasons that justify this intervention must also be considered and confront them with what the pandemic taught us: that the preservation of the place (be it production or services), more than a social or cultural product, is a product of resilience socio-economic and political.

According to the collective memory of the people of Ferragudo, mirrored in the action of the Parish Council, dredging is also highly questionable. On the Portimão side, there is probably another perspective, because in the past the repercussions of previous interventions were also diverse and because the city believes in the immediate benefits of this intervention. In fact, this has been one of Portugal's problems: solving immediate problems muddies strategy and some longer-term planning. And in this reason, it is worth looking at and valuing the past.


Tell the story, rethink the present through the eyes of others
We start from the proposals thought in two recently published books with the particularity of being reflections on the History of Portugal, but by the hand of foreign authors who necessarily introduce an exogenous perspective on the events of the Portuguese past. Both books are dedicated to analyzing aspects of the Bragança Dynasty, the first centered on D. Maria I and the second on the dynasty as a whole.

Mary del Piore's book, entitled “D. Maria I: The Losses and Glories of the Queen Who Made History as 'A Louca' ”, published last July by Casa das Letras. The author challenges common sense and less attentive assumptions that D. Maria I would have been a queen without a will and without a government legacy. Harassed by her situation as a woman and by the enmity towards the Marquis de Pombal, Prime Minister who worked closely with her father, D. José, the queen did not have an easy task. The author's perspective introduces the analysis of documents that lead to a critical look at the action of D. Maria I and, also, to a contextualization in the mentality of the time, using external examples. It means that the author is concerned with framing the ruler in time and space without, however, concealing her weaknesses.

This book necessarily takes a look not only at the governance of the kingdom of Portugal and its colonies, but also at a glance at the difficulties that these territories then faced, even in Portugal's dependence on overseas remittances. Written fluently, scientifically correct, but simultaneously accessible to any reader, Mary del Priore's book allows for a variation from what was generally taught about the period of government of Portugal's first queen (not just consort). Likewise, it is still a biography, accompanying all the moments of his life, but always refocusing them on his government function.

The second book, written by Malyn Newitt, author of several books on Portugal and its colonial empire, is entitled “Os Braganças: Rise and Fall of the Reigning Dynasties of Portugal and Brazil, 1640-1910”, and was published in May 2020 by Texto Editora. As the title indicates, it focuses on the dynasty as a whole and on its split between Casa Real Portuguesa and Casa Imperial do Brasil. The book has the merit of being a testimony of Portuguese history in English, because what we read in the Portuguese edition is the translation of an original, published in Great Britain and justified by the author by the few historical studies on Portugal in English.

The author takes up some aspects of the most traditional Portuguese historical tradition, such as, for example, accompanying each of the kings of their respective name, tracing the evolution of the governance of Portugal and Brazil in a chronological line. It is also able to manage the moments of rise and grandeur of the dynasty and the periods of contestation. However, here the contextualization is directed between the patterns that were affirmed in the Iberian Peninsula, presenting the framework in international politics in a less assertive way. Likewise, the mentality of the time appears, at times, as criticized instead of contextualized. The book is well illustrated, which allows the reader to visualize personalities and moments, helping him to fit the historical perspective.


Between history and the future
Although the two views of the History of Portugal are not identical, they represent how non-Portuguese authors see and study the country and how they look at its weaknesses and dependencies. These views allow access to the decentralized interpretation of the national reality and reflect on the evolution of the country during the last monarchical period. Already then, certain characteristics were pointed out to local governance and elites, among them the difficulty in following the country's long-term development strategies and the difficult management that the monarchs themselves had to do to calm down the various sectors of society. The recurrence of certain characteristics or decisions is also mentioned.

Looking at progress and great works today is not much different than what was done previously. Perhaps there is only a lack of debate and a holistic view of the problems, in which localism should only exist if it means resilience for the populations and in which each project must serve several communities. This is just as valid for Arade dredging as for any other local, national or European project. Local intervention must be thought out globally, just as global intervention must also be thought out locally.


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