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Lusobelgae A documentary on the Portuguese of Brussels

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of e gues u t r o P sels Brus

2010 / n°1 / e 12

Fernando Pessoa in Brussels What does his statue tell us? On the run for Salazar First generation migrants look back Breaking out into the city Young Portuguese tell their stories Life between two cultures Testimonies The ‘New Portugal’ in Brussels Poets, designers, “Eurocrats” The Alentejo, part of Brussels


The Portuguese of Brussels often don’t know just what to call themselves. The older are still resolutely “Portuguese”, but the younger generations, as well as today’s migrants who come and work for the EU, are not so sure. Are they “Luso-Belgians?” “Europeans of Portuguese descent”, “Belgians with Portuguese roots”? Let’s call them, if only for the sake of this magbook, LUSOBELGAE. Caesar, in his account De Bello Gallico, called the Belgians, the Belgae, the bravest of all Gauls. The quote is still a source of pride among some Belgians -- never mind that the tribe Caesar was referring to had little or nothing to do with present-day Belgians. Like the Belgians, and like any other nation, many Portuguese revel in a glorious history, but in myths in which they were invincible, brave and omniscient as well... So we have that in common – and much more besides...


Maria Josée Massias Figuera, cover star, holding a dried bacalhau. That’s no coincidence.

Despite the fact that today fresh fish is readily available everywhere, the Portuguese hold on to their custom of drying fish, pickling it in brine and conserving it for a long time, to then soak it and prepare it as though it were fresh fish. All very labour intensive, but that doesn’t seem to bother them: the national dish is and remains Bacalhau. You can buy dried and salted bacalhau everywhere in Portuguese Brussels and you can have it in just about any Portuguese restaurant. The custom goes back to the 9th century, when Vikings brought bacalhau with them from their expeditions in the waters between Norway and Greenland, and dried it. In the Middle Ages the Basks also brined the fish, in order to take it with them on their long fishing expeditions. The Portuguese too took bacalhau with them on their many naval adventures.

contenT Prologue Brussels, mosaic without a motif.....................................................4 Part 1 A statue in Brussels....................................................................................7 Part 2 Never again vessels departing..................................................................9 Part 3 What does it mean to be Portuguese?...................................................... 11 Part 4 The Alentejo .............................................................................................30 Epilogue Brussels has to start anew...............................................................50 MAPS Discover Portuguese Brussels in Ixelles and Saint-Gilles ........................50 Suggestions for further reading and viewing..............................................92 3


mosaic without motif

PROLOGUE On Fernando Pessoa Square in Brussels, near Place Flagey, there is a statue of – you guessed it - Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. Engraved on its pedestal are the poet’s famous words in Portuguese, French and Dutch: “Minha pátria é a língua portuguesa”/“My fatherland is the Portuguese language”. A very public statement by a migrant community that is mostly renowned for its silence and invisibility. This intrigued us. What is the Portuguese community trying to say here? We asked around and did some research which ended up taking us on a journey through Portuguese Brussels, and to Portugal.


his magbook is the result of that research. Through words and images, it conjures up Portuguese Brussels: its bars, clubs, restaurants, bookstores, monuments – and especially its people. It will also take you to Portugal, to the region where the roots of many of the Portuguese people in Brussels lie: the Alentejo. This rural and deserted province, as yet almost undiscovered by tourists, stretches from the east of Lisbon to the Spanish border and along a virgin coastline down to the South, where it meets the Algarve. This magbook contains the gist of many hours of conversation with Portuguese people in Brussels, Paris, Lisbon, Aljustrel, São Cristóvão, Campo Maior... We spoke to experts: historians and sociologists. We spoke to official representatives of the Portuguese government, to Portuguese Eurocrats and to Alentejan coffee magnate Rui Nabeiro. The latter being a true businessman “Russian style” and head of Delta Cafés, the preferred brand of Portuguese Brussels, fast on its way to becoming a household name in “native” Brussels bars and restaurants as well. In the Alentejo, a very poor region with high unemployment where many of Brussels’ Portuguese come from, Nabeiro is one of the few who creates employment. Most of all, we spoke to migrants and their families - to those who chose to leave Portugal. And to those who chose not to

Two STATUEs IN BRUSSELS Two statues, a ‘Rue du Portugal’ and lots of Portuguese businesses in Ixelles and Saint-Gilles. Not bad already, but there are even more traces of the Portuguese in Brussels. Like this work in metro-station Botanique, a homage to (again) Fernando Pessoa, made out of azulejo’s, after a design by Jùlio Pomar.


leave. To those who, after a few years in Brussels, chose to return. To those who are quite sure that one day they will return, and to those who are equally sure they never will. To those who are in two minds. And to those who share their time between Brussels and Portugal, enjoying life in both cultures but not – is it any wonder? – without the occasional pangs of saudade... “It’s like having a wife and a mistress” said one Portuguese, “when you’re with one, you long for the other.” And another one said: “You’re not Portuguese, if you’re only Portuguese.” Nonetheless, the idea of returning for good is very much alive within the Portuguese community in Brussels. The simplest way to achieve this, is to return after retirement. Some do. Some people we spoke to also managed to go back and work in Portugal. But this is much harder, especially in the Alentejo. Since the 1974 Carnation Revolution, the country has been battling with its centuries-old economic and agricultural underdevelopment, with the help of EU subsidies as well as of migrants’ remittances. But, in spite of all these efforts, many Portuguese complain that the country’s economy remains weak and its general culture in many ways archaic and oligarchic. Since joining the EU in 1986, Portugal has always lagged behind the other member states. Portugal belongs to the so-called “PIIGS”- countries (an acronym for Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain) who are presently at the centre of the 2010 sovereign debt crisis. (Financial analysts have been using the term PIIGS for a number of years, but after attacks on its supposedly “racist” nature – it singles out the Southern European countries as problematic – some, like the Financial Times, have stopped using it.) When the Portugal of today presents itself as a country of immigration, this calls for qualification, analysts say. There may be a large migration flow from Eastern Europe (especially Ukraine), but this is more about replacing the export of cheap labour with the import of even cheaper labour. Because emigration has always continued, and lately it has even risen. In the new century there is also a trend of immigrants to Portugal re-immigrating, especially to Spain, as shown in studies by Joao Peixoto and Catherine Sabino of the University of Lisbon. What’s more: historically, the country exported only cheap labour. Today, this trend is compounded by an exodus of ambitious graduates who feel that Portugal cannot offer them the jobs and networking opportunities they feel entitled to. A 2005 Eurostat report revealed that Portugal has the highest European level of unemployment among graduates, and in the same year a World Bank Report (“International Migration, Remittances and the Brain Drain”) highlighted the fact that emigration among graduates was almost at 20% – putting Portugal in the unenviable European nr. 1 spot for human capital flight.


QUEIJINHOS DOCES Artisanal pastry, from pâo do ló over queijada de laranja to dulce de almendras.

Brussels, a small world city All these subjects will be looked at. However, this book is essentially not a report on Portugal. It’s a report on contemporary Brussels. There are two ways to write the history of a city. The first, and most traditional way, would be a chronicle of all the major events having taken place within the city walls over the centuries. A second way, practised much less frequently (if at all), studies the different populations that inhabit a city at any given moment. Such an approach would be especially apt for contemporary Brussels, where, according to recent figures by sociologist Jan Hertogen, no more than 32,1% of the inhabitants are of purely Belgian origin amongst 170 other nationalities. The city’s roots are scattered across the world. All in all, with its 1.100.000 inhabitants, Brussels is a “small world city”. What is Brussels today other than its many communities? What does it represent, if not diversity? Adrian Favell, British sociologist and author of a book on “free movers” within Europe, says that in Paris, London or Amsterdam newcomers can only put down roots by kowtowing to the dominant culture. Go to Paris, and they will make a Frenchman out of you; go to Amsterdam, and they

will turn you into a Dutchman. But history has discharged Brussels from its former task of developing and reproducing a Belgian identity. Go to Brussels – and they will leave you alone, or, from another perspective, leave you to your own devices: “In Brussels such a dominant culture does not exist, because the city, politically and culturally, is so divided. This may have its sad sides, but it also creates space: everyone can be themselves, without feeling excluded.” Brussels is a mosaic of communities without a motif. There are many threads in this quilt. So why focus on the Portuguese? Perhaps because up until now, nobody has ever done so. Nobody knows them, the press doesn’t write about them, scholars don’t take notice of them. It almost seems as if they don’t exist. And yet, with their more than 20.000 heads they are the fifth largest migrant community in Brussels. (Officials figures show that in 2008, 16.128 people with the Portuguese nationality lived in the Brussels Capital Region, but sociologist Jan Hertogen puts the actual figure of those of Portuguese descent in that year at 20.981 – which also meshes with the number of Portuguese registered at the embassy). They have their own clubs, restaurants and cultural activities. Their contemporary migration to Belgium started in the 1960s, from the Alentejo. A second wave came in the 1970s and ‘80s, again with many Alentejans and with people from the North. Today, the Portuguese community of Brussels reports a new rise in immigration. In 2008, 2293 Portuguese came to live in Belgium – and most of them will have settled in Brussels.

All Salazar’s fault? Of late, it has become fashionable to talk of Brussels as a “Mediterranean city”. And with reason, in view of the high number of residents of Moroccan, Turkish, Spanish and Italian descent. But there are also the Portuguese, who are the city’s link to the Atlantic Ocean. Not only in a figurative, but also in a quite literal way. The air route between Brussels and Lisbon is heavily flown. There is the yearly return of migrants for the summer holidays, and more and more Portuguese live between both countries. No nationality, says Paris based French-Portuguese sociologist Albano Cordeiro, is as mobile within Europe as the Portuguese. Coming from modest backgrounds, they’ve climbed to the (lower) middle class; they fly to and fro between their houses in Brussels and their houses in Portugal, and feel at home in both places; they are, it would seem, free movers with multiple identities.... And this, adds Cor-deiro, “is the absolute modernity”. It’s remarkable, because Portuguese migrants have come a long way. Not so much geographically – although a 1960s refugee who crosses Spain and the Pyrenees on foot measures space with another yardstick than today’s passengers of RyanAir or TAP... But



AZULEJOS IN BRUSSELS Right near the statue of Fernando Pessoa at Flagey, there is also this remarkable square, with benches set in azulejos, the typical stones from Portugal that were introduced there when the country was under Arab rule. Here with (again) the image of, and also quotes by, Portugal’s most famous poet.

the biggest distance has been in time. French cult-writer and Portugal-lover Dominique de Roux, who spent years in the country in the 1960s and ‘70s as an investigative reporter, noted that the Portugal of the 1960s was really the Europe of the 1860s. Moreover, many of the Portuguese of Brussels come from the Alentejo region, the least developed in the country. The first generation fled poverty, illiteracy, an anachronistic dictator and unwinnable colonial wars in Angola and Mozambique. They were day-labourers, servants on big domains, smugglers... To say that Portuguese migrants were able to move from such disadvantaged positions to “absolute modernity” in only 30 years time can only be true, of course, in certain aspects. A lot more can be said about their present condition. As many Portuguese are the first to point out, the Portuguese community is a very closed one: family-based, confined within itself, not politically active. Ask any Portuguese for the reason behind this, and he’ll have his answer ready: it’s all Salazar’s fault. Salazar – doutor Antonio de Oliveira Salazar (1889-1970) – it was he who repressed trade unions and political parties; it was he who kept people in ignorance with Fatima, Fado & Futebol; it was he who scared the population into subservience through his secret police PIDE, which was not only active in Portugal but also in the diaspora, including Brussels; it was he who prevented Portugal from developing itself intellectually and economically. But the man has been dead for forty years... Isn’t it a bit too convenient, to always unearth this old ghost? The indications compiled in this book suggest otherwise. The Curse Of Salazar is not an excuse, it exists. The long-term consequences of his dictatorship are still tangible, in spite of intra-European mobility and multiple identities. Salazar – not as dead as you might think. So when we explore the history of Portuguese migration in this book, we do so because that history, today, is still alive. Not in books only, but in everyday life. In the blood. Despite the heavy historical hangover they’ve had to battle with and are battling with still, the Portuguese live & work in Brussels. They run stores and restaurants, work on construction sites, work for the EU, run companies, visit clubs and bars, raise their children between Portugal and Brussels and try to pass on their language to them, spread their culture and assimilate other cultures. We evoke this in word and image. But we also invite you to go and find it out for yourself. That’s why we include a map of Portuguese Brussels. Go on a journey, around Place Flagey in Ixelles or around Place Van Meenen in Saint-Gilles. And talk to people. You might find yourself straying further away from home, in space and time, than you had imagined. Consider this magbook your guide on a compelling, complex journey.



A statue in Brussels Why Pessoa?

part 1

“A minha patria e a lingua portuguesa”/”Ma patrie, c’est la langue portugaise”/ “Mijn vaderland is de Portugese taal”. So it says, carved in stone, in three languages, under the statue of Fernando Pessoa, national hero of Portugal and universally admired poet. The statue stands right in the centre of the popular Portuguese enclave around Flagey. But what does Pessoa mean to the Portuguese? Is he a man of the people? Or is this intensely lyrical and intensely neurotic poet of modernity more a typical darling of the worldwide intellectual caste, like the Portuguese Eurocrats living in Brussels? We asked around. As we went along, we wondered more and more whether the statue was an emblem of the Portuguese neighbourhood, or rather a lesson to teach them...



he Pessoa-statue, a work by Portuguese sculptor Irène Vilar, was inaugurated in 1989 on the initiative of the Portuguese-Brussels club Atlântida, a cultural association consisting mainly of E.U. officials, whose aim was to promote Portuguese culture in Brussels. During its first twenty years the statue led an unostentatious existence, standing discretely, actually a bit forlorn, on a small triangular patch adjacent to Place Flagey, which itself was not in too great shape. Recently redesigned, Place Flagey has regained some of its former splendour, and once again became a place to be. With the support of the city of Lisbon, the little adjacent square was also completely remodelled, Portuguese style, with azulejos and two ornamental benches, covered with Pessoa quotes. Both squares were inaugurated in 2008; the small side patch was rechristened Square Fernando Pessoa.

newly created kingdom of Belgium. There are more people from the North in Saint-Gilles, and culinary preferences reflect this, as they centre more on snacks like Torrada and Francesinha, as well as serving the omnipresent all-Portuguese Bacalhau. In Saint-Gilles as well, there is a large choice of Portuguese establishments: restaurants such as Penafidelis, Algarve or Coimbra; wine store Alambique, a Portuguese-Brazilian butcher or the ambitious top-notch wine tasting (and gastronomy) bar Sol Ar. Apart from the last one, all these establishments exude the gregarious, old-fashioned atmosphere of the “typical” (or folkoric?) Portugal praised by tourist brochures: the traditional sardines, chouriço and bacalhau; the azulejos, Fado and countryside feeling; the men at the bar going out of their heads during football matches; the women preparing food in the kitchen.

A piece of Lisbon in Brussels

Living under a bell jar

Much to the gratification of the neighbouring Portuguese. “This is really unique,” says Joaquim Pinto da Silva, an E.U.-civil servant who as founder-president of Atlântida was one of those responsible for the erection of the statue 20 years ago. Pedro Rupio (26), a self-declared “Luso-Belgian” and an elected representative of the CCP, the Conselho das Comunidades Portuguesas, is also quite smitten with Fernando Pessoa Square. His task as a counsellor is not only to represent the Portuguese diaspora in Belgium to the Portuguese government, but also to advance Portuguese culture – what he calls “soft power” – in Belgium. “At first, the statue stood a bit lost on the side,” he says. “But recently they upgraded the square. Now it’s really a piece of Lisbon in Brussels.” The Flagey area is the heart of the Portuguese community of Brussels. There are football-linked gathering places like O Elvas, Os Belenenses and Café Portugal where they eat, drink and watch football. There are bars like Bar Pessoa or O Rio Mondego. There is a plethora of eating houses where you can taste the entire Portuguese kitchen: Bacalhau, Carne Porco Alentejano, Arroz de Tamboril, Cabrito. Then there’s the market stall Miranda dos Leitoes which in weekends provides Brussels with Leitao (roast suckling pig). There are groceries like O Sabores de Portugal. And there is bakery Garcia – world famous in Brussels. The Portuguese live spread all over Brussels, but Flagey is where they come to for leisure, and here is where they come to church, in the Eglise Sainte Croix where father Eugénio Boléo, every Sunday at 12 o’ clock, says Mass in Portuguese. Flagey is the Portuguese city centre. It has been so since the 1960s; later, in the 1980s, a new centre developed in Saint-Gilles, around Place Van Meenen, which boasts its own Portuguese statue: a bust of novelist, playwright and journalist Almeida-Garrett (1799-1854), who also served as the first consul-general to the then

A jolly and jovial atmosphere, for sure. But not to everyone’s liking. Some of its own members roundly criticise the Portuguese migrant community for being frozen in time. Pedro Rupio, for instance, says he would like to see the Portuguese community of Brussels stop deluding themselves into thinking they never actually left their native villages: “The Portuguese diaspora is more like a nation in itself, a kind of archipelago of old village cultures under a bell jar. This is quite clear on Portugal’s national holiday, June 10, when we celebrate on the Van Meenen Square in Saint-Gilles: it’s

Joaquim Pinto da Silva (left) “The clubs, the bars, the football: it all has its place for me. But there’s so much more then that! Here in Brussels, we have Portuguese novelists, poets, scientists...”

Pedro Rupio Pedro is an employee at a bank, the counsellor of the CCP and one of those responsible for Força Luso Decendente. He was born in Belgium. “I speak Portuguese pretty well, complete with an Alentejo accent. But people of my age often only have a passive knowledge of the language: when they speak it, they mix it up with French, turning it into what we call Françugais.”


NEW CHALLENGES ”My degree wasn’t accepted here, so I couldn’t get into the RTBF as a film-maker. So I started another career: I drove all kinds of possible vehicles in Brussels: streetcar, bus, taxi. As a result I know this city like the back of my hand!” Pedro dos Santos in club ‘Os Belenenses’ (right)

village folklore from days gone by. Present-day Portugal is nowhere to be found there. I would like to see this celebration transformed into a showcase for contemporary Portuguese culture – not just tourism and gastronomy, but also literature, architecture, design and art. There is so much more to us than just football and sardines!” Being frozen in time, living under a bell jar, in an imaginary realm: oft-repeated criticisms on migrant communities anywhere. And we certainly often heard them about the Portuguese diaspora, which is very large: an estimated five million worldwide, compared to the almost 11 million people living in Portugal itself. If indeed they are “frozen in time”, what do they make of the complex, avantgarde poet, planted in stone in their midst, as a way of representing them? Pessoa is not exactly symbolic of village life of times gone by in the Alentejo. The man is most often described as aloof, recherché and hautain and with his many “metonyms” – the different names under which he wrote his poems – he did more than anyone else to turn multiple personality disorder into a form of high art. What’s more, he intensely disliked the Alentejo. He passed through it once by train, on his way to Lisbon from Durban (South Africa) where he grew up, and was so repulsed by it, that he had to vent his feelings in an (English-language) sonnet:

Nothing with nothing around it And a few trees in between None of which are very clearly green Where no river or flower pays a visit If there be a hell, I’ve found it For if it ain’t here, where the Devil is it? Fernando Pessoa

Pessoa did not think very much of Brussels either. This came to light in 2009, when Dutch literary scholar Michaël Stoker uncovered papers of his in which the great poet gave a clear-cut opinion on Belgium (and the Netherlands as well): “This type of country adds nothing essential to society. They can cease to exist without civilisation suffering from it.” It would also have made a nice inscription on the statue at Flagey...

It should have been in the middle of Flagey Square! Is he the right man to represent the Portuguese community of Brussels? What do the “Lusobelgae” make of the statue themselves? We asked round the Portuguese clubs around Place Flagey. “What I think about that?” answers Pedro Dos Santos, former film-


technician and taxi-driver, and a regular of Alentejean club Os Belenenses. “That it’s badly placed! This statue is of great importance to the Portuguese community. It should have been in the centre of the Place Flagey!”, he laughs. Pedro Pingo (34) too, who spent his teenage years in Brussels, and then returned to Campo Maior, Portugal, thinks the statue is well-deserved: “I think it’s a good thing for the Portuguese community. It makes them visible, in a positive way. The Portuguese who emigrated to Belgium really deserve it, for they worked hard. It’s a form of recognition and a source of pride. After all, the Portuguese of Brussels are well integrated.” There is an irony here: Pessoa as a symbol for hard work & integration in society? A radical recluse, who worked as a free-

lance translator, so as to support his poetic explorations, which were all-important for him? Joaquim Pinto da Silva, one of those responsible for the statue, didn’t mean it to be in particular an ode to the Portuguese mason or janitor – his hard work and his leisure: football & folklore. Though himself a fixture in the social scene around Flagey, Pinto da Silva feels it is primordial to let Brussels know that there is more to Portuguese culture than that: “The clubs, the bars, the football – it all has its place for me. I love football. It’s just that when the Portuguese community is being written about, it’s always about folklore. The Portuguese in their clubs, they’re all very nice and so on. Everybody knows that by now. But there’s so much more than that! Here in Brus-

sels, we have Portuguese novelists, poets, scientists... Take for instance the novel A Lua De Bruxelas by Amadeu Sabino Lopes, a Portuguese writer living in Brussels. A very well-crafted, subtle novel – I’m currently trying to get it translated into French.” With his bookstore Orfeu, Pinto has organised a cultural event every week for the last 15 years, making it the main Portuguese cultural institution in Brussels: “We’ve already had two Nobel Prize winners visiting us. And not long ago, we had Manoel de Oliveira, the legendary film director. The man is 101 years old, and he spoke for an entire hour, in French. This more highbrow face of Portuguese culture is less well-known with the general public, but it’s certainly as important a part of it as the sardines and the football.”


Livraria orfeu Miguel Martins (left) presenting his new book in Livraria Orfeu.

All very elitist? The clientele of Orfeu, says Pinto da Silva, includes second generation migrants (mostly graduates) but most of them are E.U. civil servants, who came to Brussels after 1986, when Portugal joined the then European Economic Community. They don’t consider themselves to be migrants, but as people who exercise their right to free mobility within Europe. A Portuguese E.U. official, who wanted to remain anonymous, begs to differ: “They’re here for the same reason as the others: economic ones. That’s why they came here, that’s why they stay here. They don’t come here out of a love for Europe, but because of the difference in salary. Which is for a Portuguese much larger than in the case of, say, a Swede.” The same E.U. official also criticised the presence of Pessoa in Place Flagey. “Choosing Pessoa,” he said, “that’s typical. Pessoa – the Portuguese like to talk about him, but they don’t read him. It’s all very elitist. It all fits in the idea of: we have a culture, so different from the others, so special, and so on and so forth.” Pinto da Silva protests: “We’re certainly not elitist. People say that, yes. And also that we’re “intellectuals”. But what do you expect? We’re talking about books here. Of course that’s intellectual! But what is true, is that it’s normal that people, once they have an important position, step a certain distance from the community. Who – that’s just the way it is – are too much stuck in football and folklore.” Obviously, a number of tensions exist within the Portuguese community of Brussels. A man perfectly placed to give more insight into this, is Paulo Carvalho, editor of the Luso-Jornal, a Portuguese and French-language monthly publication with a print run of 8,000 copies. The gazette, which is distributed to Portuguese addresses in Belgium (bars and restaurants, the E.U... ) is politically neutral, says Carvalho, and “accentuates the positive”. But the reason why Carvalho started this Belgian branch of a publication which already existed in France, was not so positive: “Ten, fifteen years ago,” he says, “the Portuguese community of Brussels was much more tight. Now, it is beginning to fall apart. I want to bring them back together again. In Brussels, there’s roughly two Portuguese communities: the traditional one, and the Eurocrats. The two don’t mix. The Eurocrats don’t go to Saint-Gilles, you find them only in Ixelles.” But the traditional community itself has also changed, says



LUSOJORNAL Pedro Rupio, on the cover of LusoJornal, the newspaper for the Portuguese in Brussels: “Every Portuguese has the right to Portuguese language lessons - it says so in the constitution.”

Carvalho, himself married to an E.U. official, who he followed to Brussels. “They turned into small entrepreneurs. Those who become affluent, forget the hard times they went through, and lose empathy. In the old days, it was more like ‘we’re all in this together, let’s help each other’. Now personal situations are widely different. They can not be so readily found to help new migrants who are still coming to Belgium in large numbers. A small minority of them is young, and they find their way. But the majority is older and come from the North. They come here after their factory was closed down or so.” However, as Carvalho notices, newcomers aren’t what they used to be anymore. “They come to Brussels with certain expectations, certain demands. They’re no longer willing to do just any work. That used to be quite different...”

The return of the Hidden One So, one story the statue tells, is that of tensions and a growing divide within the Portuguese community of Brussels – and how efforts are made to bridge the gap. Another story is told by the statue’s inscription: “My fatherland is the Portuguese language”. It could be interpreted as a sign of nostalgia for Portugal – a nostalgia much in evidence in the surrounding neighbourhood. It could be seen as a manifestation of the Portuguese love for their language, and their desire to pass it on to their children and grandchildren. Language education is an important issue in Portuguese Brussels. Many Portuguese worry about the decline in knowledge of Portuguese among the young, and the rise of a mongrel language halfFrench, half-Portuguese called Françugais. The Portuguese language school used to be right in the cosiness of their own Flagey neighbourhood, but a few years ago it moved away to ‘faraway’ Anderlecht – much to the chagrin of the Portuguese of Flagey, who are determined to get it back. In fact, this was part of the programme on which Pedro Rupio was elected to the CCP. So, a love for their native tongue, the desire to perpetuate it and keep it pure, mixed with a feeling of nostalgia for Portugal: this is probably how many Portuguese of Brussels understand this inscription when they pass by the statue, as they often do. But the inscription could also be taken to denote a nostalgia for something larger than that, a greater loss: Portugal’s lost Empire, and the country’s lost sense of a Historic Mission. This quote by Pessoa, one of his most popular, is also one of his most heavily debated. Some scholars see in it an axiom that epitomizes a specific philosophy of the historic role of Portugal, variously known as Sebastianism or Lusotropicalism. Lusotropicalism was a philosophical notion of Brazilian sociologist Gilberto Freire, adopted by the Salazar-regime, stating that the Portuguese empire was a non-racist and multicultural ensemble, united by one language. A claim that has been heav-


ily criticised, and with reason: there is little evidence to support the idea that Portuguese colonial rule was less racist than average. Sebastianism is a much older cultural phenomenon: it is a mystical-political current that has been flowing through Portuguese history ever since the death at age 24 of King Sebastian in the battle of Alcacer Quibir (Morocco) in 1578. In the aftermath of this calamitous Battle of Three Kings, Portugal lost its independence to Spain. A widespread popular belief held that the king was not dead, but had only fled, and would one day return and free Portugal. Eventually, the longing for the return of the young king, who was given names like O Encoberto (“The Hidden One”) or O Desejado (“The Desired”), transmuted in a mystical belief in salvation: the King, like a Portuguese Messiah, would return and found the Fifth Empire, which would dominate the world.

Defending Christendom On a practical level, Sebastianism manifested itself as the conviction that Portugal is a nation unlike any other, with a global conquering and civilising mission. This persuasion led the Salazarregime to uphold colonial wars well into the 1970s, long after other European powers had ceased to do so. Salazar was convinced that the old colonial powers, after two exhausting world wars, were momentarily punch-drunk and war-weary, but would one day wake up to themselves, and rejoin the struggle for Africa. In the meantime, it was up to Portugal alone to stand strong and “defend Christendom”. Pessoa himself made an important contribution to Sebastianism with his collection of poems A mensagem – the only one to

NO FRANçUGAIS PLEASE Language education is an important issue in Portuguese Brussels. Many Portuguese worry about the decline in knowledge of Portuguese among the young, and the rise of a mongrel language half-French, half-Portuguese called Françugais. Bookstore Orfeu serves as the cultural centre of the Portuguese, where they can find all kind of books in their language.


35 Spreiding van de Portugezen

Répartition des Portugais 1/10/2001

MAP Source: Didier WILLAERT & Patrick DEBOOSERE. Buurtatlas van de bevolking van het Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest bij de aanvang van de 21e eeuw/ Atlas des Quartiers de la population de la Région de Bruxelles-Capitale au début du 21ème siècle. Bruxelles, Ministère de la Région de Bruxelles-Capitale/ Institut Bruxellois de Statistique et d’Analyse, 2005, p. 86

be published during his lifetime. It contained a message (mensagem) by King Sebastian. The supposed “nationalism”, or “imperialism” of Pessoa has been a matter of debate in recent decades, a debate which still rages. Was Pessoa’s only an innocent (mystical-poetical) imperialism, or did it have political overtones? And didn’t Pessoa write appreciative commentaries on Salazar, when he just came to power? Ok, the love cooled down fast, but still... But what Pessoa meant and what his political leanings were, need not occupy us here – we’ll leave that to the scholars to debate. In any case, the final years of the Salazar regime were not the birth of a “fifth empire”. Under the weight of the colonial wars – which devoured half the annual state budget, not to mention the cost in human lives – the regime collapsed, and Portugal followed the rest of Europe on the path of decolonisation and European integration. At first, it tried to attach the former colonies to itself in the form of a Commonwealth, British style, but that failed. Today, all that is left, is the linguistic union with the former colonies.

The bond of language Language is all that members of the former Portuguese world empire have in common now – but even that bond is breaking down more and more, according to the Portuguese EU functionary who wants to remain anonymous, when asked about the statue: “This inscription certainly calls for a qualification. There is a large chasm between the Portuguese of Portugal, and that of the Angolans or Mozambicans. They often simply don’t understand each other. The meaning of the words often is not the same. We don’t know each others history, it isn’t taught at school.” What is true, as will be described later, is that some younger Portuguese, in their efforts to break out of their closed community, first forge contacts with other Portuguese speakers in Brussels: Brazilians, Angolans, Mozambicans, Cape Verdeans. And that they stress the importance of Portuguese language education, not only out of nostalgia, but in order to improve one’s professional chances on the world market, with Brazil now growing into a major economic force and oil producing Angola experiencing an important socio-economic transition. The people behind the statue of Fernando Pessoa certainly want to downplay any suspicion of ‘imperialism’ on the part of the man they chose as their emblem. In 2009, they published a little commemorative book for the statue’s 20th birthday, discussing, among other things, these very issues. The booklet clearly stated that any imperialism of Pessoa was of a purely “poetical-mythical” nature, and entirely without political ends. There is a lot to say for that – here is an example of a message by King Sebastian, through the medium of Fernando Pessoa:


Geographical Distribution of the Portuguese 1/10/2001

My madness, let others take it up. Along with all that went with it. Without madness what is man. But a healthy beast, Postponed corpse that begets? Fernando Pessoa

When asked if the inscription did not at least denote a definite nostalgia, which is exactly what he deplores in the surrounding Portuguese clubs, Pinto da Silva answers: “Perhaps. It was a traditional choice. If it had been entirely up to me, I’d have chosen something more contemporary.”

The bond of poetry So, the Pessoa statue on Fernando Pessoa square does not carry a single message. That would be impossible, for such a lively, diverse microcosm, with differences in mentality, income, region of origin, year of arrival... Also, statues are not erected by “the people”, but by the powerful in society – the microcosm of Portuguese Brussels is no exception to this rule. So that the quote “My fatherland is the Portuguese language” is perhaps less the expression of a shared outlook, held by all, than an ardent wish: that the Portuguese diaspora should always keep Portugal in mind and keep on speaking Portuguese. What the statue does also, is open up wide vistas, on the peculiar history of Portugal, which was so fundamental in shaping the people’s mentality and outlook. Whoever wants to understand the Portuguese, must understand their history. And that is what we’ll try to do in the next chapter, where we look at the history of Portuguese migration to Brussels, in a wider context. In any case, the Portuguese uniformly take pride in their statue. They all have their own reasons for it being there. Be it a testament to the richness and uniqueness of Portuguese culture – especially its literary culture. Or as an ode to the hard work & model behaviour of its migrants, allowing them to raise themselves from poverty, and enriching their new homeland, as well as, through their remittances, their country of origin. Perhaps we can concur with Antonio Cavaco (66), a retired E.U.-official who has lived in Belgium since 1975. In his view, Pessoa is an excellent choice, as the love of poetry, he says, is what unites all Portuguese, of all classes. In fact, he suggests, poetry might have become so important to the Portuguese people exactly because of the historically high degree of illiteracy – allowing the oral tradition to flourish... This would also explain, he continues, the success of Fado, which is essentially poetry put to music. And one last thing. Whatever may be said about him: Pessoa is a truly great poet. He deserves his statue anyway.

Total number of Portuguese: 15.670 Proportion of the total population: 1,6%

Location Quotient # neighbourhoods >3


2,0 - 2,9


1,5 - 1,9


1,0 - 1,4


<1,0 or <200 inhabitants


Bron: NIS, Algemene socio-economische enquête 2001 The “location quotient’ (LQ) shows the part ofINS, a group a certain nationality Source: Enquêteof socio-économique générale 2001 in a given statistical sector, in comparison to the part of that nationality group in Cartogr.Region. : Interface Vrije Universiteit Brussel the total population of Brussels Capital AnDemography, LQ higher than 1 indicates an over-representation of this group in this sector; an LQ lower than 1 indicates that this group is underrepresented. Source: NIS, Enquête 86 socio-économique générale, 2001 Cartography: Interface Demography, Vrije Universiteit Brussel


Never again

vessels departing

part 2

“I’m surprised they didn’t go for Camoes,” says Victor Pereira, French historian of Portuguese migration and himself the son of a Portuguese migrant to Paris, when we tell him about the Pessoa statue in Brussels. “Considering that Camoes has been declared the symbol of Portuguese migration. At least after the 1974 Carnation Revolution. Salazar himself wasn’t so keen on migration – at least not officially.” Nonetheless, between 1958 and 1974, in the latter years of Salazar’s New State – the authoritarian and traditionalist regime installed in 1933 – about one and a half million Portuguese left their country, being the biggest wave of migration in Portugal’s history.

PORTUGUESE DIASPORA French historian Victor Pereira, in Lisbon: “By the train full they left Portugal, entire villages were deserted. It was mind-boggling!”


he largest share of them, about 700.000, settled in France; more than 100.000 went to Germany; the others were spread over Holland, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Switzerland and Belgium – especially Brussels. “By the train full they left Portugal”, says Pereira, “entire villages were deserted. It was mindboggling!” Portugal was left with a decimated work force of just 3 million people, writes historian Tony Judt in his study of European history after 1945, Postwar: “These were dramatic figures for a country whose total population in 1950 had been only eight and one third million.” The main cause driving the mass-migration were the colonial wars. This was true in a direct sense, and in an indirect sense. In a direct sense, because a small number of migrants were political refugees: draft dodgers, deserters or families with children almost of age. “As soon as you turned sixteen, you could be called up for a four years military service,” says Antonio Tomé, the distributor of Rui Nabeiro’s Delta Cafés in Belgium and former president of APEB, Brussels’ main organization for Portuguese migrants. “I was 13 in 1966 and so my parents decided to flee to Brussels.” But it was mostly in an indirect sense that the colonial wars were pushing mass migration. Most migrants did not flee the war, they fled poverty. Which, as the 1960s progressed, more and more came down to the same thing. The wars were very costly: in the mid-sixties they devoured half the state budget. This prevented Portugal from developing an economic policy that would allow the Portuguese to lift themselves out of poverty in Portugal itself. Education, economic stimulus programs: no money for that, only for war. Out of sheer necessity, Salazar had to open the country to for-



fleeing to Brussels Antonio Tomé, the distributor of Rui Nabeiro’s Delta Cafés in Belgium and former president of APEB, Brussels’ main organization for Portuguese migrants. “I was 13 in 1966 and so my parents decided to flee to Brussels before I turned sixteen: the age when you could be called up for a four year military service.”

The departure wasn’t organised yet, you had to find it all out for yourself.” Despite official post 1974 rhetoric, this exodus bears little resemblance to the grandeur of Camoes’ grand poem Os Lusiadas. In the opening verses Camoes asserted that the Portuguese exploits widely surpassed those of the ancient Greek and Roman civilisations:

eign investment – even though that was anathema to his corporatist philosophy, the aim of which was to keep control of the economy in Portuguese hands. And also out of necessity, and against his official policy, he had to allow the poor to leave the country. There was no work for them in Portugal, so better to let them go elsewhere, let them earn their money there, and have them send it back. Ironically, those who fled the regime ended up really supporting it, more than they could have by staying... Migration was good for the Treasury, but Salazar could not officially endorse a policy of emigration, because of the powerful lobby of southern large estate-owners, who needed day labourers on their latifundia and servants on their hunting grounds. As evidenced in an elaborate 2009 study, Salazar: A political Biography, by Felipe Ribeiro de Meneses, the Salazar-regime was not the ruthless tyranny of one person – it was an oligarchy, the rule of a small elite consisting of land-owners, the military and the Church. Far from simply doing what he wanted, Salazar had to carefully manoeuvre just to stay in power, as well as surviving the occasional palace revolution.

A caravel So, in a sense, migrants were sent abroad to hunt for foreign riches, just as the Portuguese navigators had done before them, along the coasts of Africa and India. “What’s really bizarre”, says Pereira, “is the symbol they chose after the 1974 revolution to represent Portuguese 20th century migration: a caravel. I mean come on – I don’t think the Portuguese came to France or Brussels in a caravel, did they?” No, they didn’t... How did they come? Many arrived by train in Paris’ Gare d’Austerlitz, and from there moved on to Brussels, as in France the political refugee status did not exist for the Portuguese. But many came on foot as well. Joachim Galego, a former president of APEB, fled to Brussels in 1969, in the footsteps of his brother-in-law, a political refugee. He himself was an economic refugee, though he thinks the distinction is immaterial: “There was a lot of misery in 1969”, says Mr. Galego. “Everyone who fled for ‘economic’ reasons, at the same time fled for political reasons as well. There was no work, the PIDE was everywhere. I was a mason, there was no future for me. I fled by car, but also crossed parts of the mountains on foot.


Let Fame with wonder name the Greek no more, What lands he saw, what toils at sea he bore; Nor more the Trojan’s wand’ring voyage boast, What storms he brav’d on many a perilous coast.

In many respects this was true. The Portuguese did outshine the ancients in geographical reach (they went as far as India) and in navigation techniques, to name but two examples. But if Camoes’ Os Lusiados eclipsed Homer’s Iliad or Virgils Aeneid, as he himself was pretty confident of, then the story of Portuguese mass-migration in the second part of the twentieth century might be said to surpass both of these, as far as epic qualities are concerned. All the ingredients are present: brutal colonial wars, a corrupt oligarchy, repression by secret police, greed, madness, personal drama’s and stratagems worthy of Machiavelli. Fragments of such a contemporary Lusiados, or rather anti-Lusiados, have been written by several literary authors, like French cult-writer Dominique de Roux in his Le Cinquième Empire, or in various works by Portuguese novelist Antonio Lubo Antunes, such as his anti-colonial novel The Judas Kiss (1979), or his evocation of the Salazar regime: The Inquisitioner’s Manual (1997). But perhaps the real anti-Camoes of the migration is poet and politician Manuel Alegre, with his work O Canto e as Armas (1967). Today Alegre is a popular socialist politician, who as an independent candidate for the Portuguese presidency in 2006 collected 20,7% of the votes. He too has his own statue already, in Coimbra. But in 1969 he was one of the leaders of the communist resistance group FPLN. After being imprisoned for his part in a military uprising in Angola, he lived in exile in Algiers, where he was one of the main voices of resistance radio station Voz da Liberdade. In his works, which circulated in hand-written form in Portugal, he deplored the underdevelopment that caused the exodus:




Não mais Alcácer Quibir E preciso voltar a ter uma raiz Um chão para lavrar Um chão para florir É preciso um país Não mais navios a partir Para o país da ausência É preciso voltar ao ponto de partida É preciso ficar e descobrir A pátria onde foi traída Não só a independencia mas a vida Manuel Alegre (Never again Ksar El Kibir/ We must again have roots/ an earth to work/ an earth to blossom/ Never again vessels departing/ for the countries of absence/ We must come back to the starting point/ we must stay and discover/ the fatherland, where was betrayed/ not only independence/ but life itself.)

Asked by a French TV-journalist in 1969 what the common thread was between his poetical and his political work, Alegre answered: “I try to do as I write and to write as I do. On the level of my poetic language I try to demystify a certain conception of Portugal. The Sebastianist Portugal, the ‘overseas’ Portugal. Yes, we have had the discoveries. The Portuguese navigators acted in such a way that the sea could unite, instead of divide, in the words of the great Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. But there is a time for everything. Once, there was a time to leave. I think that now is the time to return home, it is time to come back. The people that I’ve chosen... they are another people than the people of Mr. Salazar or Mr. Caetano. They are the workers, those who made Portugal, but have never had Portugal. Those of whom Portugal has always been stolen. Those to whom they say today that Portugal could not survive without its colonies... but who are nonetheless compelled to expatriate themselves. You know them well. They are everywhere in Europe. In Paris, in Champigny (at the time a Portuguese bidonville near Paris, editor’s note), Aubervilliers, Nanterre. The ancient lords of the sea, today, they are in the shantytowns of Paris.”

A wide perspective Historians and sociologists of migration generally agree with Manuel Alegre that the great discoveries and post- World War II migrations were two entirely different things, with other factors driving them, and that the attempt to reconcile them by governments, both during and after the Salazar-regime, could be no more than propaganda. However, on a personal, subjective level, this intimate relation to centuries of history, myth or no myth, is also a lived reality, which can serve as a guiding line in one’s behaviour. Portuguese migrants seem to have an easy, natural habitude of taking a very large, centuries-wide perspective on things. On their website ( the Portuguese of Belgium state that Portuguese migration to Belgium began in the late 12th century, when princess Theresa, daughter of Portuguese king Alfonso Henriques, married Philippe of Alsace, count of Flanders. Next, the Portuguese colonies in the ports of Bruges and Antwerp in the 15th and 16th


centuries are considered; when the reader reaches the part on the mass-migration of the 1960s and ‘70s, it seems like just the latest development in a long, ongoing story. A scientific historian might find a lot to argue with in this presentation of things, but then, it’s not without its advantages. It might, for instance, facilitate dealing with other people: Pedro Rupio, when stressing the need of better relations with the Moroccan community in Saint-Gilles, can simply say: “after all, we share eight centuries of history”. In any case, the imagery seems to resonate with many Portuguese. One we spoke to in Brussels, who had fled Portugal in the 1960s on the brink of being arrested by the PIDE, nonetheless became lyrical about the last wave of migration: “The Portuguese go everywhere. The world belongs to us. There is an ancient reason for that. It goes back to the great discoveries.” José Roxo, owner of the newly-opened Iberico-store in Anderlecht, sees himself, and all other Portuguese migrants, as heirs to the great discoverers. “We are all children of the monument to the great discoveries in Belem (Lisbon). Yes, I know it’s been a long time... But there are peoples who defend their history, and peoples who forget it, and lose it. The Portuguese of Portugal do not defend their history: they often are not aware of it. The Portuguese living abroad, on the other hand, often know their history much better. That has to do with nostalgia as well, but often, they do something with it.” A sentimental attachment to the great discoveries remains, even for those who have studied it, and are aware of its darker sides, such as former E.U. official Antonio Cavaco, who is very well-read in Portugal’s great century: “This great past is certainly not a myth. The Portuguese had the ocean as a focal point and Castilia in their back. There was no where else to go really; the European mainland was closed to them. So they left in the direction that they could: the ocean. They did so with scientific interest. The people who left were not all madmen, criminals or swashbucklers. They were serious people among them with a scientific schooling. And yes, they were also brutal people; the great discoveries were made at the cost of a considerable degree of violence. But the essence of the Portuguese grand siècle were the scientific discoveries.” In the end, Cavaco subscribes to the vision of Fernando Pessoa, also quoted above by Manuel Alegre: the Portuguese “have given worlds to the world”.

Illegal migration as a policy tool A typical story of Portuguese migration to Brussels in the 1960s, was told to us by Matias Assado Silveira (77), former vicepresident of club “O Elvas” in Ixelles, now ran by his daughter Maria. Mr. Silveira came to Brussels in 1964, looking for work. He came to Brussels because he already had friends living there. He had been a contrabandista (smuggler) for ten years, smuggling coffee and


Matias Assado Silveira (on the left in the picture), former vicepresident of club O Elvas:“I smuggled bags of 50 kilo on my back, along small roads and wading through rivers.”

cigarettes to Spain. “I smuggled bags of 50 kilo on my back, along small roads and wading through rivers.” A risky business, which he quit after he was caught and put in prison for a while. Now the PIDE knew his name and what he was up to – enough to throw a scare on anyone. Things became too hot for him in Portugal, and he decided to flee. “Portugal in those days was terrible. People worked their fingers to the bone but couldn’t survive. Regular people earned about 17 escudos a day (0,50 euro). And those who had no property didn’t get passports, so they were locked within the borders. Their plight was to work the land from dawn to dusk. The country was not being developed, there was no alternative for agriculture. Only as a contrabandista you could earn some money. For this disastrous situation, Salazar was responsible. He ruined the country. I fled Portugal without anything. It was winter in Belgium and very cold. I didn’t have the right clothes with me. I couldn’t find any work at first. For three, four months it was really really hard and I began to regret my decision to flee, and thought about returning. We had to help ourselves in those days, there were as yet no organizations to help the Portuguese refugees. I did a lot of different jobs, and eventually became a baker in Etterbeek – where I didn’t speak the language (Dutch). After the revolution I wanted to stay in Belgium. I love Belgium. Here I was able to build up my life, here my sorrows disappeared. My wife came over as well, and my children grew up here.” Mr. Silveira was one of the 450.000 migrants who left the land clandestinely. Which was just a little too much to remain unnoticed. This isn’t slipping through the net anymore. Was there a net at all? Marcelo Mathias, Portuguese ambassador in Paris in the 1960s, saw the stream of refugees coming. To him it was simple. Just carry out more efficient punishments against human traffickers and their accomplices: lock them up longer, confiscate their goods,

and the problem would be solved in two to three months. It’s not that the border police simply looked the other way. According to Victor Pereira, traffickers were arrested and networks were rounded up, but there never was a global repression. Pereira concludes that there was a non-official acceptance of clandestine migration, and not only that: illegal immigration, he says, was the “fundamental instrument” of migration politics. Clandestine migration had many advantages. It solved unemployment and worked as a security flap – if you don’t like it, leave it... And it was a source of foreign devices. This is why the clandestine refugees were relatively easily regularised. In order to keep controlling the diaspora from a distance, the Portuguese authorities agreed on conventions with foreign authorities. In 1957, there was a convention with France concerning the standardisation of rights to social security of French and Portuguese workers. Not because social security was so important to the Salazar regime – there was hardly any to speak of in Portugal itself – but in order to prevent Portuguese migrants in France from wanting to obtain French citizenship, as the only means to enjoy the same rights. Thereby running the risk that their ties to Portugal would loosen – and they would no longer send their money. Because that was what was expected of them. An “impressive system was set up” for migrants’ money to remain in Portuguese hands, says Victor Pereira: “In France, the Portuguese banks drove vans straight into the bidonville of Champigny to collect the money. Which was of course very convenient for the migrants. The extreme left resistance group LUAR made attacks on these transports.” This was because LUAR knew perfectly well what the money was for: the colonial wars. Emigration was very profitable: in 1973, 13% of the country’s GNP came from migrants’ remittances. Which is why the regime preferred it when women and children stayed behind in Portugal. The father-migrant then saved the money he earned, sent it back, and after retiring came back to Portugal in order to die in his village. This was the plan – but it fell through: the Portuguese state could not forbid family reunifications, this was too much at odds with their family values doctrine...

An uncertain refugee status Despite this relative laxity on the part of the regime, escaping from the country certainly wasn’t easy for everyone. Some of the political refugees had fled Peniche prison where they had been tortured, says Laurent Borrens, who, as founder of the Belgian Portugal Comittee helped the refugees from the mid-sixties on. “There were cells where the water rose, sometimes up unto your knees. You are always scared: just how high will the water come?” The PIDE employed other techniques as well. Torture with electricity.



Matias Assado Silveira: “I love Belgium!

Confinement in a frigideira/torradeira – a refrigerator/ frying pan: scorching by day, freezing by night. Tortura de sono: keeping prisoners awake with noise for weeks, sometimes months. This technique was particularly preferred: the PIDE studied it scientifically, filming the victims. They had actually picked it up from the 1963 secret CIA manual: Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation, according to Christopher Reed, correspondent for The Guardian in Portugal during the 1970s. Borrens, a biology-student at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, got involved through his contacts with Portuguese fellowstudents: “In France the political refugee status did not exist for the Portuguese, so many of them came to Brussels. A lot of them because of the wars. In order to help them, I founded the Portugal Committee in the late 1960s. In order to show them their way through paperwork, and help them in their contacts with lawyers.” Borrens also helped them found their own organization, the APEB. The Portugal Committee was especially active in the struggle against the extradition of Portuguese: obtaining political refugee status was not easy. “I left Portugal when I was nineteen”, says one, who chooses to remain incognito. “There were no longer any permissions granted to study: everyone had to go into the army. I managed to reach Paris. There, Belgian friends put me on the way to Belgium, where the United Nations granted the status of political refugee to the Portuguese.” The United Nations were very opposed to the colonial wars,



CLUB O ELVAS Around noon, it’s usually quite busy in club ‘O Elvas’. A mix of Portuguese people come here to have lunch: they have a choice between diverse typical fish and meat dishes.

passing several resolutions against them, all of which were ignored by the Salazar government. But despite this support, the position of refugees was a bit sensitive, as they fled Portugal, a NATO-partner in the struggle against communism, while being themselves by and large of communist conviction. “We didn’t get the same status as refugees from Eastern Europe. They got financial support, we didn’t. All we got, was a special passport. As far as surviving was concerned, it was: find help yourself. I didn’t find any work, because I didn’t have real permanent residency status and I didn’t get real permanent residency status, because I had no work. A vicious circle... I found support with the APEB, alongside many deserters.” Those threatened by extradition were helped by the Portugal Committee, says Borrens: “That was a question of exercising pressure, writing letters, to the Belgian authorities or once to the European Commission. Usually with good results – in fact always.” The Portugal Committee was kept very select: there was always the danger of infiltration by the PIDE. The committee always thoroughly checked up on volunteers through their network of Portuguese politicians, trade unions and so on. Today, Borrens asks himself questions about a campaign of the time to free Edouardo Cruzeiro, a conscientious objector who was in a Spanish jail awaiting extradition to Portugal, and possibly facing a death sentence. Borrens suspects an attempt by the PIDE to discredit the Portugal Committee, because there might have been more to this man than just conscientious objections. (If that were so, than they were not the only ones to be fooled: the last letter written to a newspaper by philosopher and public intellectual Bertrand Russell, seven weeks before his death, was to the editor of The Guardian, pleading for the liberation of this same Edouardo Cruzeiro.) In order to avoid being associated with common criminals, the Portugal Committee could be quite strict. Once, tells Borrens, they refused to help a refugee because the man, on his way to Brussels, had stolen a bottle of milk and a bottle of wine. They could accept the theft of a bottle of milk – he had a one year old child with him – but saw no good reason for him to steal a bottle of wine... The APEB was the Portuguese’ own organization in Brussels, and which still exists today. Says former president Antonio Tomé: “The APEB is the oldest and biggest organization of Portuguese in the Benelux. It was founded by refugees in 1966/67. They were people looking for fellow sufferers, to play a game of cards, to discuss, to spend some time together, to find solutions for problems. The organization was able to help a lot of people with work, papers, surviving. Hundreds of Portuguese got their papers through the APEB.” But APEB, which was very close to the communist party PCP, also undertook political action against the Salazar regime, and not without being noticed, according to one former active member who desires to remain anonymous. Actions against the 1971 arrests



Victor Pereira “The Portuguese secret police PIDE was certainly active in Belgium. They provided information and the Belgian police made arrests. The Portuguese embassy served as a link.”

of trade union leaders were so successful, he claims, that the government of Marcello Caetano, who had replaced Salazar as premier after the latter suffered a stroke in 1968, received “a terrible slap”, and Caetano called the head of political police PIDE (Polícia Internacional e de Defesa do Estado) to account. The PIDE then wrote a report on APEB, resulting in a Portuguese government campaign against the Brussels’ organization: “If you visit APEB, you’ll get in trouble with the police, once you’re on holiday in Portugal.”

The pide in Belgium There are many stories about the actions of the PIDE in Belgium, all of them, incidentally, strictly off the record... Stories about infiltration attempts, about a restaurant owner near Midi station who was generally known to be a PIDE-informant, and who died “in suspicious circumstances” in a traffic accident. Stories abound – but is there any proof? Or are they rumours, unfounded fears? We asked Victor Pereira in Lisbon, who probed the PIDE-archives. Was the PIDE active in Belgium? Pereira: “Most certainly so. For instance, the PIDE kept a close eye on the LUAR (Liga de Unidade e Acção Revolucionária), a Marxist-Leninist resistance organization, who travelled to and fro between Belgium and France. From what I’ve seen in the archives, there was a very close co-operation between the PIDE and the Belgian police. the PIDE signalled cases and Belgian National Security exchanged information. In 1967, for instance, there was a hold-up on the Bank of Portugal by LUAR, led by Herminio da Palma Inacio (1922- 2009), the “Portuguese Che Guevarra”, who subsequently fled to France. Portugal asked for his extradition, arguing the attack was not a political act of resistance, but a property crime. France did not extradite him but expelled him, after which he went to Belgium. Another case in which the PIDE and Belgian police worked closely together: the Spanish antiFranco marxist resistance organization FRAP (Frente Revolucionario Antifascista y Patriótico) who had connections among Portuguese students in Leuven. This group smuggled weapons from Czechoslovakia via Belgium to Portugal, aiming to occupy an industrial city in Portugal, from where they could start the revolution from. But they were infiltrated by the PIDE. A PIDE agent came to Brussels, supplied the Belgian National Security with information, and then the Belgian police arrested the Portuguese. The embassy served as a link between the PIDE and National Security.” The files, Pereira says, also confirm that the PIDE indeed did have informers in Brussels. Speaking to the Portuguese of Brussels, another aspect of the relations between the diaspora and Portugal remains unclear: what was the role of the embassy and the consulate? Some have the clear conviction, based on experience, that they were agents of


the regime, and played an active role in 1960s Brussels, giving the message: “don’t get involved with political life in Belgium; this democracy, stay clear of that”. It is said that APEB was the only organization “constructed from nothing” – all the others were religious and football organizations, controlled by the regime. But this is not everyone’s experience: others got the feeling that the embassy, far from wanting to intrude in their lives, was completely indifferent to the migrants: once you left Portugal, you didn’t exist anymore, was their feeling. So what role did the embassy play at that time? Once again, we asked Victor Pereira: “Well, there were three different types of organizations. Indeed, many Portuguese societies were created directly by people close to the regime, via the consulate and the embassy. They wanted to make sure that the Portuguese wouldn’t visit the organizations of the opponents of the regime. A second type were organizations of the opposition, mainly the PCP. These groups were, more or less openly, politically active. Then there was a third type of organization, meant exclusively for leisure purposes: football, folklore, agricultural feasts: that sort of thing. They were officially neutral, but actually controlled by the regime. The idea being to keep the Portuguese busy during their leisure time, so that they wouldn’t occupy themselves with say trade unions.” “Only, the problem with this was, that, while the consulate and the embassy were indeed expected to control the diaspora, they didn’t know how to go about it. The officials came from Portugal and were part of the elite. I’ve read letters on their attempts at organising the diaspora, out of which came a deep contempt for migrants. They simply had to idea how to deal with these people. This was something else than a gala-diner. Plus they couldn’t keep pace with the growth of these organizations. Take the Banque FrancoPortugaise d’Outre-Mer. Their attitude was: ‘Are we supposed to waste our time with this?’ It’s interesting to read their letters, for instance about who to name president of an organization: ‘Very good person. But we’re not going to give the leadership of this organization to a worker, are we?’ So they were not very dynamic in this situation, no.” It would seem, then, that both migrants’ experiences – the embassy as an intrusive agent of Salazar and the embassy that just did not care – could have been founded on reality...

A second 500-year plan for Africa In many ways, the wars and madness of 1960s and 70s’ Portugal, and the accompanying exodus of its people, signalled the end of an 800-year cycle in Portuguese history. Since 1140, the Portuguese had fiercely defended their independence and their exceptional position on the outskirts of Europe, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The country was convinced that, much more than inland

Europe, the Atlantic Ocean was her theatre of action, regardless of what anyone else might think of that. American president John F. Kennedy, an opponent of the colonial wars, used to joke that with their actions the Portuguese had “another 500 year plan for Africa” and they probably did. But the plan fell through. Instead, the regime collapsed in 1974, after a military uprising led by general Spinola. In its first phase, the Revolution was very inclined to the left. Especially in the Alentejo, where agricultural workers occupied the estates where they had worked as day labourers. Many of those spontaneous expropriations became officially recognised by the new government. However, in the 1980s, most of these measures were reversed; this didn’t prove the way for

the future. So that after some hesitation, Portugal decided that there was nothing left to do except become a “normal” European country – in view of the more than problematic economic situation, there really was no other option. In 1986 it joined the European Community and reconstructed its economy, also with the help of migrants’ remittances. The more than dramatic circumstances in which the Portuguese arrived in Brussels have now been largely forgotten by most of the general public – though not, of course, by the migrants themselves... How do the Portuguese, a “regular” European people, live in what is now also their capital, Brussels, today? We’ll look into it in our next chapter.


What does it mean


to be portuguese?


igrants arriving today officially are not migrants at all, but simply Europeans exercising their right to free mobility. But the important fact is that the Portuguese keep leaving their country. Not so much because looking for other shores is a natural reaction for them, but mainly because Portugal is suffering from the global crisis. Wages don’t keep up with the rest of Europe and, as new migrants complain, the oligarchic nature of the country thwarts their ambitions. “Portugal offers few opportunities for young people with ambition,” says young designer Nuno Costa, who recently moved to Brussels. And what became of the members of the first wave of migration from the 1960s and ‘70s? Their lives used to be dedicated, for some, to actively resisting the Salazar regime or, for most, to toiling like galley slaves so as to lift themselves and their families out of poverty. Now the regime has collapsed, and, for the migrants at least, poverty has been vanquished. From “poor huddled masses” the migrants, in one generation, rose to the middle class, often owning a home in Belgium and one in Portugal. Every goal they set themselves, they reached. What now? There is no getting around the fact. If Paris, after Lisbon and Porto, is the “third Portuguese city”, then Brussels offers more the aspect of a string of small Portuguese villages. There isn’t the range of Portuguese cultural activities that Paris has; there isn’t the same level of self–reflection as in the French capital, where magazines, a Portuguese radio station (Radio Alpha) and several cultural organizations hover around the question: what does it mean to be Portuguese in Paris? Not that Portuguese Brussels shows no signs


In joining the European Economic Community in 1986 and in since becoming a tourist destination, Portugal has gained a lot, but it also lost something: its aloof & enigmatic character, resulting from its position sandwiched between arch-enemy Spain and the Ocean, but also carefully cultivated and shielded over the centuries. Its migrants today are no longer refugees from an unknown country from which no news escaped – not, as Salazar once told an English journalist, because “happy countries have no stories”, but rather because the man simply prevented any news from crossing the border...

of cultural life, far from it. There are people active in the creation and dissemination of Portuguese culture: literature, design, wine, food... We spoke to them. And there are also things moving within the traditional worker’s community. The younger generation is trying to force an opening of the community into the world – some gently, some more in your face...

Running out of steam? Around noon, it’s usually quite busy in club “O Elvas”. A mix of Portuguese people come here to have lunch: they have a choice between diverse typical fish and meat dishes. “No haute cuisine, but good fare, like at home,” says one. When RTPi shows football matches, there is a good atmosphere at night as well. In the back-room, there are often meetings, but sometimes Fado concerts and dance evenings as well. From the street side, Club ‘O Elvas’ is hardly identifiable as the place where Portuguese community life takes place. Another assembly point of Portuguese of diverse character is ‘Café Portugal’ on Avenue de la Couronne in Ixelles. When a match is on, everyone here is watching and eating anything from francesinha, arroz de tamboril to cabrito – whatever is served that day. Among the guests you might find Rui Manuel Garcia, the well-known Portuguese pastry chef from across the road, Portuguese masons and other labourers, Joaquim Pinto da Silva, EU civil servant and owner of Livraria Portuguesa Orfeu in the European district the foremost cultural centre of Portuguese Brussels; even a Brazilian journalist. Yet another meeting point: Club O Belenenses. The pattern is much the same: a band of Portuguese hangs out at the counter, eats, watches football, discusses. When the potatoes arrive at the greengrocer Os Sabores de Portugal then Portuguese from all over Brussels flock to the Rue de Vergnies. According to Eugénio Boléo, the priest of the Portuguese parish of Ixelles, only 20% of those attending his mass come from Ixelles, the others live in other parts of Brussels. (Figures indeed show that 16,2% of those of Portuguese descent in the Brussels Capital Region live in Saint-Gilles, and 12,4% in Ixelles. Other more or less important centres are Anderlecht (10,8%), Forest (8,7%), Schaerbeek (8%) 1000 Brussels (7,9%), Uccle (7,9%), Etterbeek (5,8%) and WoluweSaint Lambert (5,4%). The remaining 10 communities have smaller concentrations of Portuguese people). The owner herself is from the region around Porto in the North. In Ixelles it is traditionally people from the south who live there, people from the north tend to live more in Saint-Gilles; she is one of many exceptions to this general rule. Portuguese social life in Brussels seems boisterous enough. Yet, there are indicators that traditional Portuguese community life

Maria de Lourdes Gonzales Silveira, (owner of O Elvas): “We looked for a better future in Belgium, and we found it. But still we think of returning to Campo Maior.”


MORE PORTUGUESE THAN PORTUGAL ITSELF? Eating Cabrito in bar and restaurant O Portugal, while watching Benfica against Porto on the many big screens: the Lusobelgae have brought more than a touch of Portugal with them to Belgium. Among the fans: Rui Garcia, from bakery ‘Garcia’ and Joaquim Pinto da Silva from bookstore ‘Orfeu’.

is somewhat running out of steam. First generation migrants are getting older and don’t go out so much anymore. Or you can find them, not in the reconstructed Portugal of Ixelles and Saint-Gilles, but in Portugal itself – because after retirement they either returned for good, or spend great lengths of the year there. And the young – this is a major complaint within the Portuguese community of Brussels – feel less and less attracted to organised family- and community-based leisure time, in spite of repeated efforts to enthuse them. To them, Portugal has turned into a holiday country, not the country where they build their future. They often don’t speak the language very well, and eat hamburgers and pita’s just as much as bacalhau. A certain loss of energy besets the traditional Portuguese community of Brussels – this is nowhere more evident than in the case of APEB, the Associação dos Portugueses Emigrados na Bélgica. Everyone from within or close to the organization agrees: APEB, at 44 years of age, is not in too great a shape. APEB came into being in 1966 as a very combative organization, which was able to help many Portuguese migrants and which, for years, was the meeting point for all Portuguese in Brussels, who came to eat and drink, to meet other Portuguese and generally find solutions for all kinds of problems, such as legal paperwork. In its four and a half decades long history, the organization has already survived one major cataclysm: the 1974 Revolution. The collapse of Salazar’s New State was all APEB strove for, but it also robbed the organization of its original raison d’être: being a centre of communist resistance against the Salazar regime – the organization, according to some, was in fact directly controlled by the PCP, the Portuguese Communist Party, led by Alvaro Cunhal. Many of its original members were political refugees, who after the revolution took the first opportunity to return to Portugal, and partake in the festivities first and the reconstruction effort second. APEB subsequently survived





Cabrito Assado The position of Portugal at the ocean and its history as a seafaring nation has led to the plentiful use of fish in the Portuguese kitchen. For every day of the year, there is a different recipe for bacalhau; at least that is what being said. But the Portuguese kitchen is not limited to fish. On Sundays, families love to go out and eat Cabrito Assado: goat meat stew. The dish was introduced by the Portuguese, before goat was hardly eaten in Northern Europe.

as a leisure & folklore organization with no political aims anymore; its main activity today is running a folk dance group, led by the new APEB-president (since 2009) Francisco Monho, who declares communism to be nothing more than “an old phantom of the twentieth century” – even though, as Monho realises, the label seems to stick: the Portuguese of Brussels still closely associate APEB with its communist roots. But in reality APEB has long ceased to be a political organization. Today, however, APEB’s social functions too are in jeopardy. It’s not that their dance nights no longer go on until late into the night. They do. Only when they do, the neighbours invariably complain – they are not Portuguese, but a sample of the 170 nationalities of Brussels. These complaints are symptomatic of the trouble APEB is in: they moved from a location near Flagey in Ixelles to Saint-Gilles in the 1980s, but were never really happy there; they lost a part of their clientele in the move, and another part through ongoing construction work. The organization is not being subsidised, so all the revenues have to come from social events – making incessant complaints against these is not just simply irksome, but possibly life-threatening. But there are also internal problems. As someone from within the APEB circle told us, wishing to remain anonymous: “Yes, at this moment, the situation of APEB is critical. Stable, but critical. It began with a few young people with lots of ideas. But today, they don’t come anymore. There is not enough revenue. But the big problem is a lack of personnel – the organization is completely volunteer-based.” The folk dance group, says president Monho (33) still manages to attract the young. But APEB is also in the process of learning to deal with a “new” target group: the retired. Or put otherwise, their original clientele is ageing, and has specific needs. They might be thinking about returning. Only: how to keep on receiving their Belgian pension, once in Portugal? A task for APEB, which after all was set up in 1966 to help the young refugees with their paperwork. Or when they stay, they might finally find the space and time to learn how to use computers and the internet. APEB is currently preparing specific actions for them. But APEB also wants to keep its broad appeal. Members point out that APEB still has its social function. It is not a bar, there is no pressure to consume. At APEB the Portuguese can spend their leisure time en famille, and with children in safe circumstances. There are no drugs at APEB. “Which is important to the mothers...” APEB also wants to get back involved with social issues. “Most young people who stem from migration have problems in school, and need extra lessons” says one. “We could provide that. We know these youngsters, their culture and habits and so on, so we’re best placed to help them.”


Work hard, don’t steal, don’t set fire to cars... and you’ll be perfectly ignored Indeed, the Portuguese community is not spared from typical migration problems. Unemployment isn’t one of them: the Portuguese are hard and reliable workers and known to be so, and have less trouble with racial prejudice than say the Moroccans of Brussels. But problems they have, one of them being schooling. A man well placed to speak about the Portuguese community, its joys and its sorrows, is the priest of Ixelles’ Portuguese parish, father Eugénio Boléo. Through the Emmaus Society, a Christian organization offering support to parents in the education of their children, he is in close and constant contact with many Portuguese families, especially the least favoured. The Emmaus Society also co-operates with APEB. “Some would like to have it appear that all goes very well with the Portuguese of Brussels, but that just isn’t the case,” he says. Through personal experience, Father Boléo knows the condition of the Portuguese well but, as he points out to us, there is a great lack of research, hard facts and figures. But even in the complete absence of the usual stream of statistics, graphs & Excel sheets, father Boléo knows where the problems lie – he would only like to see them confirmed and specified: “How many Portuguese can you find in the better catholic schools of Brussels? I would like to know and it would be interesting to see a scientific study of it. In any case, there’s very few. You see, these schools get a lot of enrolment requests so they can afford to be choosy. They don’t choose on the basis of country of origin, of course – but they do select on a social status level – effectively ruling out the Portuguese, except those privileged few, sons and daughters of EU officials and such. What’s more: just a tiny percentage of Portuguese attend university – probably less than Moroccans. Can we put that down to the parents’ lack of ambition? I don’t think so. It’s more down to the young themselves: once they turn 18, they don’t want to study anymore, all they can think of is go out and work – and earn money. This is one of the big problems of today. But it’s true that Portuguese homes are not very education-friendly surroundings. How many Internet connections are there in Portuguese homes? Again, a scientific study of this would be more than welcome.” But, we suggest, all in all, the Portuguese are well integrated, no? At least, that’s what everybody says... “I wouldn’t know about that”, Boléo answers. “How many marriages - or other amorous liaisons – with Belgians are there? Hardly any – and that’s an important factor in integration. Of course, the Portuguese are well integrated in some aspects. Portuguese cleaning women have a very good reputation – they work hard and don’t steal – and the male workers too are renowned for their skills. They live very frugally, so they can buy a second house in Portugal. But that’s where their am-


RUI GARCIA “I started the patisserie-tearoom out of the thought that Portuguese women in Brussels had no place to go. Men can go to Portuguese clubs and bars, but women had nothing. As the weather is often not brilliant in Belgium, I arranged my tearoom so that you have the impression that you’re somewhere outside in Portugal, with a facade and a fountain.”

bition stops. They don’t participate in the life of the communities, and don’t encourage higher education in their children.” Again, a good overview of the Portuguese community is hard to get; the lack of research that Boléo deplores, is indeed striking. While studies documenting other migrant communities abound, the Portuguese are always overlooked. Migration sociologists point to several reasons for this void. The Portuguese don’t cause trouble, work hard, do not set fire to cars, make no demands and come from a country with a strong Christian – as opposed to Muslim – tradition. “They’re just like us”, is what the native Belgian thinks. And the other migrant’s groups are ‘worse’. There’s no real need for the authorities to be worried about them, so no reason to grant funds for research. Traditional migration sociology, meanwhile, has always been fixated on migration from Maghreb countries, Turkey and recently also Eastern-Europe.

The right to boo the Marseillaise Nonetheless, in France, as both historian Victor Pereira and migration sociologist Albano Cordeiro emphasise, the Portuguese play a specific role in the migration debate – though not one of their own choosing. In France there is a tendency to oppose the “bad” Algerian migrant with the “good” Portuguese one. The Portuguese, in France as well as in Belgium, never get bad press - even when they sometimes try their best to provoke it. An example given by Cordeiro: when in 2005 a crowd of French Algerians booed the Marseillaise before a friendly football match between France and Algeria it caused an outrage in the French press. But, says Cordeiro “never has the Marseillaise been booed as vociferously as before a Rugby match between France and Portugal, in the spring of 2009 during the Rugby world cup in France. And not a word about it in the press. I don’t even know how Portugal managed to qualify – rugby isn’t popular in Portugal – but anyway they did. And although the Portuguese of France couldn’t care less about rugby, they went to the stadium all the same, just to see Portugal play. And boo the national anthem.” Pereira concurs. “I’ve played with the idea of writing a book on all those examples of “bad integration” concerning Portuguese (but also Spanish and other) migrants. Take that young Jew, Ilan Halimi, who was tortured to death by a gang in Paris in 2006. One of the perpetrators was Portuguese. You could make a scandal out of that, putting it into the context of the anti-semitic current than runs through Portuguese history, like it does in other European countries. The inquisition and all of it. Just like they do with Muslims and Muslim history, in cases like this. Or take the rapper Kool Shen, from the group NTM – Nique Ta Mère (F**k your mother, editor’s note), with all their anti-French lyrics. He has a Portuguese



FOOTBALL. NOT POLITICS. The Portuguese don’t vote and don’t make demands in name of their community. But they do watch and also play football. Brussels has its own competition between Portuguese amateur teams.”

grandmother, so you could throw him in as well. I’d love to write a book like that, but of course they’d say I was nuts!” Scholar Graça Dos Santos of the Université de Haute Bretagne in Rennes has conducted research on the image that the Portuguese have in France and concluded that two clichés have stood the test of time. There is the “friendly slave” who, silently and underpaid, goes about doing his work. And then there is “the poet and the dreamer”. Both mental images predate the migration: the title of a 1910 song, from the operette Le jour et la Nuit by Charles Lecocq, was called Les Portugais sont toujours gais: “The Portuguese are always happy”; whereas in 1955 the popular French film Les Lavandières du Portugal (the washerwomen of Portugal) presents a cheaply exotic Portugal that according to Dos Santos furthermore contains many Spanish elements: one of the protagonists is the ‘old hidalgo’ (Spanish nobleman; the Portuguese equivalent is a fidalgo); its characters drink xéres (Spanish sherry). The Salazar regime contributed to the durability of the ‘cheaply exotic’ image of Portugal (though not of course the Hispanic elements...): through the government agency SPN (Secretario de Propaganda Nacional) and later the SIN (Secretario de Informacao Nacional) the New State spread propaganda about a Portuguese people that was ‘pacific, subservient and laborious’. The images of the SIN – illustrations of the great discoveries, pictures of farmers in folklore costume... still leave traces in our collective consciousness, Dos Santos claims.

You don’t vote, you don’t count A relatively low level of schooling is one problem dogging the Portuguese community in its development – although there are many exceptions as well. Another one is their aloofness from politics. In Brussels’ (or Belgian) politics the Portuguese are nowhere to be seen. The Brussels Capital Region parliament is host to deputies


from many different backgrounds: Moroccan, Turkish, Greek... But not a Portuguese among them. In the latest elections of June 2009 many people of different origins spoke out – Brussels-based independent journalist Mehmet Koksal wrote a book about it: Bruxelles 2009, L’Autre Campagne – (“the other campaign”), a documentation of feverish activity by migrants working within the traditional parties, as well as those forming new parties to pursue more hardline policies. Of the Portuguese, not a trace. The Portuguese don’t act together to make demands in the name of their community. This is a general feature of the Portuguese diaspora throughout Europe, says Albano Cordeiro, and is especially striking in France. In the home country of heated political debates and animated street protests, about 800.000 Portuguese live in almost total discretion and seclusion. “Yes, the political je-m’enfoutisme of the Portuguese is abysmal!” Cordeiro says. “It’s the heritage of Salazar. How so? Look, a majority of Portuguese migrants in France, 92%, came from small villages, with a high illiteracy rate. At best, they’d had 3 to 4 years of primary education. It was really a double migration: not only to another country, but also from the countryside to the city. The first associations that were founded, were to help each other, speak Portuguese, have a social life among Portuguese. In the beginning it was all bricolage; they were informal associations, without a legal form. In Portugal, you see, it was seen as suspect to start an organization; you already tread in the political domain, which everybody wanted to avoid. This FEAR of politics...! After the revolution of the 25th April, this fear gradually dissipated and the informal associations were legalised to Associations Loi 1905 (non-profit organizations). But today still, the Portuguese form a relatively autonomous community, which spends its leisure time together. Actually, they spend the weekend in Portugal, only it’s a Portugal in France. In France, at least the Algerians make some noise, express themselves in the public arena, make demands. The Portuguese don’t, so they don’t count for anything.” In Brussels, Pedro Rupio, counsellor of the CCP and thus middle-man between the Portuguese authorities and the Brussels migrants concurs with these conclusions and sets out to do something about it: “It is crucial for the Portuguese community to let its voice be heard. That is why the CCP calls upon all the LusoBelgians here to register for political elections – Belgian, European and Portuguese. Today, of the 40,000 Portuguese in Belgium, only 2,500 are registered voters and only 600 of those actually vote. That is not good enough, because, as we say in Portugal, quem não vota não conta, or ‘he who doesn’t vote, doesn’t count’.” Somebody who was politically active is Maria Fatima Cavaco, who came to Brussels in 1975, and has worked here as a community worker since. She stood as an independent candidate (on a


Parti Socialiste list) in local elections of Woluwe-Saint-Pierre. She became politically active because one party (the liberal party) had been in power there for thirty years, and this, to her, represented a democratic void. To Ms. Cavaco, the experience of dictatorship was not an inhibition, but a motivation. And she has had wide experience of dictatorship, not only having grown up in Salazar’s Portugal but also having lived in Franco’s Spain and in Brazil under the military dictatorship (1964-1984). “As a result, I’ve grown allergic to anything undemocratic. But yes, in Portugal today, the ghost of Salazar is still present. God, Family and Work was the motto, and still is, to a large extent, today. The majority of the population today is still not politically involved. During the revolution, politics were the order of the day, yes. But before and after, such as today, everyone seems to be frozen in indifference.” So in Belgium too, the Portuguese don’t vote. Why not? Cordeiro and Rupio seem to agree it’s all Salazar’s fault. But is it? Not everyone agrees. Malika Ghemmaz wrote a PHD thesis on the political participation of the Portuguese in Belgium, France and Luxembourg in which she denounced this explanation as too easy. She stresses other factors, such as socio-economic differences, or one’s region of origin within Portugal. And she lays great stress on one factor: “being Portuguese, is still being a stranger in your country of residence.” They are also the nationality least likely to adopt Belgian nationality, effectively preventing them from sitting in parliament, though not from voting in local elections... So it seems that nostalgia, the desire to return, puts a break on the political engagement of the Portuguese.

Portugal! Its sun! Its ocean! Its fields! Etcetera etcetera. Nostalgia, saudade, its origins, its finesses is always a good topic of conversation with the Portuguese. What is it, in fact, this thing called saudade? Jose Roxo, owner of the brand new Iberico supermarket in Anderlecht who fled his country in the 1960s answers: “What is saudade? Everything that you miss, everything you love and long for. The thing is: there is saudade amongst the migrants, but there is no saudade in Portugal. Saudade is constructed abroad – it’s the pride and the longing of all Portuguese not living in Portugal. Every member of a diaspora can feel saudade, but the Portuguese have an extra feeling for it, because they leave so much behind: history, culture... Those who choose to leave Portugal today, do so in other circumstances than in the years of dictatorship and colonial wars. Those who leave now, do so because they choose it. This often happens in a context of comfort. But if you have to flee, you are bound to have saudade. I feel saudade every day. That is because my story began ‘in the night’.”



GREAT EXPECTATIONS Manuela Bragança (right): “Before coming to Brussels, I expected the city to be very calm and quiet, a clean, small village somewhere in a lost corner of Europe. I had to kind of adjust this image...”

Among the Portuguese of Brussels saudade, coupled with the idea of a return is very much alive. Nearly every Portuguese we spoke to thinks about returning, talks about returning, has returned already or spends long stretches of the year in Portugal. Manuela Bragança (36) is from Lisbon and followed her husband to Brussels ten years ago. She works for legal advisory firm KPMG in Evere. Even though the speaks French, Dutch and English, and is thus “well integrated”, she doesn’t consider herself a migrant in Brussels – she and her husband never meant to stay and are here only temporarily, for work. “I feel Portuguese, not from Brussels, not even European. Portugal is everything to me: its beauty, its nature, its cuisine, its simple, good people. Portugal changes while we live here, but I keep an intense contact with my family in order to keep up. I also return to Portugal at least twice a year. We can’t wait too long in order to return; we have to think about our daughter, and the longer we wait, the more difficult it will become to convince her to return with us to Portugal. She was born here and since she was a baby, I spoke Portuguese to her, as we’ve always known we wanted to return.” Manuela tells us she does not mix with the Portuguese community of Brussels: “I never sought contact with APEB or the other Portuguese associations in Brussels. Only my hairdresser is Portuguese... I do go out shopping in a Portuguese store, but we don’t visit the Portuguese restaurants or bars. We do occasionally go to bookstore Orfeu, but usually I bring books and CDs with me from Portugal.” Though she says she is happy in Brussels, she has little feeling with the Brussels (or Belgian) culture and


way of life. “I have difficulties getting used to the mentality here. In Portugal, people eat together and then go out together: watch the sea, talk to the neighbours. Here, the shutters go down and people lock themselves up in their fortress. In my first years, I survived thanks to RTP International: the Portuguese television. As soon as we can, we will return to Portugal.” The ones that actually return for good, are only a minority though. “Anyway, what’s the difference”, says Marie-Josée, who is about to close down the Portuguese grocery store she has run for decades near Place Flagey, planning now to open a Portuguese restaurant or take away: “Lots of people from here also move to Spain or Portugal after they retire! Everyone prefers the sun to the rain, don’t they?” Indeed, it would be interesting to see in how much the Portuguese retirement migration pattern differs from that of Northern Europeans of non-southern European descent... But the idea of a return, the longing for it, says Albano Cordeiro, is as strongly present within the Portuguese Diaspora as within any other. And just as with the Turks or Moroccans, the idea usually limits itself to buying a holiday home in one’s country of origin, only to leave it standing empty for the rest of the year: a casa a moscas – house of flies. And talk about it, always talk about it... Pedro Miguel Pingo, who lived in Brussels in his teenage years, has since returned to Portugal, but during his days in Brussels the endless talk about returning seriously got on his nerves: “All these fathers going on about Portugal... Its rivers! Its fields! And on and on and on...” APEB-president Francisco Monho thinks it’s a bit of a pre-

scribed routine. Whether you mean it or not, whether you’re sure or not: you have to join the choir and say you want to return: a simple matter of social pressure – of good manners, really... Some of the Portuguese deliberately shake off this creeping feeling, such as Antonio and Maria Fatima Cavaco – he is a former director-general of several European Commission departments, she is a social worker: “We live here, not in Portugal. So we chose to take part in the civic life here. Lots of Portuguese invest all of their money in a big house in Portugal; we only have a tiny spot near Lisbon. Those Portuguese who went to Africa or Brazil, can let go of their roots more easily; many of those who went to Belgium, France or Luxembourg are still mentally in Portugal.” Mr. Cavaco further claims that saudade, too, was a deliberate instrument of the Salazarregime, to keep the Diaspora tied to the motherland: “Nostalgia is a universal feeling, of course. But Salazar really cultivated it in Portugal. He used Fado, and the feeling of saudade it evokes, to make the Portuguese long for Portugal. The Portuguese are sensitive to this: they were a sea-faring nation, and tragedy was an intrinsic part of their life. After the 25th of April, Fado was seen in a bad light for a while, for being too closely associated with the regime.” In order to prepare the return of the younger generation, which was born and/or grew up in Brussels, Portuguese language education courses were instituted from the 1970s on. Today, Pedro Rupio, as a counsellor of the CCP responsible for the promotion of Portuguese language education, also cites another rationale: learning Portuguese, he tells parents and children, will improve one’s job chances in the Portuguese speaking world. A valid argument, with Brazil an upcoming major force in the world economy and oil producing Angola experiencing an important socio-economic transition that offers many possibilities to skilled people. In all, the Comunidade dos Países de Língua Portuguesa (Community of Portuguese Language Countries) represents 223 million people in four continents. But in his election program, Pedro Rupio also pointed out to parents that sending their children to the language lessons was an act of patriotism, of “unconditional love for the fatherland”... A sense of belonging would seem to play a more important part in Portuguese language lessons, than the desire to play an active role in a globalising economy. This becomes clear from the story of the Portuguese language school. Until recently, the lessons took place in a little school near Flagey; then the lessons moved to Anderlecht, to a “cold school” in a quartier difficile. Even though there are quite a few Portuguese living in Anderlecht, it’s not one of their city centres – it’s “Moroccan territory”. The Portuguese community hasn’t taken well to this move, and Rupio made the return of the language lessons to Ixelles a point in his election program.

Today, the knowledge of Portuguese among the Portuguese of Brussels is in decline. Says Pedro Rupio: “I myself speak Portuguese pretty well, complete with an Alentejo accent. But people of my age often only have a passive knowledge of the language: when they speak it, they mix it up with French, turning it into what we call Françugais. This is a form of Portuguese shot through with mongrel words like pobella for dustbin, after the French poubelle; in Portuguese, we would say caixote de lixo. The number of pupils in the Portuguese language lessons is stable though; the problem is that they often don’t return after the fourth grade. They’re at an age to make their own choices then... Not only that, parents are often content with a limited level of schooling.” It’s not difficult to hear critical voices within the Portuguese community. Some take their distance as individuals or in groups. We have already spoken about how the group of EU officials are thought to tend to keep their distance from traditional community life. But also people from the traditional labour migration sometimes would rather not get involved. Why? Because tastes differ, or because they’re of an independent mind... Ana Maria for instance, Pedro Rupio’s mother, used to spend a lot of time at APEB, until she had enough of it. “In the beginning, it was a jolly little gang of Portuguese being each other. But afterwards, I realised that many people just came to APEB to eat and drink. The men at the bar, the women at tables, exchanging gossip. Just like in typical Alentejo villages from times past. I began to realise that the mentality at APEB was one such as no longer exists in Portugal today: the country mentality where everyone knows everyone, and controls everyone. That’s as good as over in Portugal. But in the Portuguese community in Brussels, this mentality is kept alive in organizations like APEB, who have done much good in the past but who are looking for a new role to fulfil.” “As far as I’m concerned, people can cling to that if it is what they want. But personally, I don’t care much for it. Contemporary women in Portugal would not recognise themselves in the way of life of many Portuguese women here. In Belgium you see that Portuguese women, after having raised their children and worked outside the house also take care of the grandchildren. These women have no life of their own, all their existence is in the service of husband and offspring, the wider family and the community. In Portugal, women of that age don’t automatically serve as unpaid babysitters for their own grandchildren any more, they more and more want to enjoy life. You can see that with many retired people: they make trips and enjoy life. I would like to see the Portuguese community in Brussels undergoing the same evolution, but up until now it is not often the case.”


new wave Nuno Costa: “Brussels turned out to be the best choice to settle professionally.”

The finer things in life (1) wine & design Pedro Rupio, Joaquim Pinto da Silva, Miguel Martins and many others want the press to pay attention to the fact that there is more to Portuguese Brussels than grilled sardines and football. So let’s talk about the finer things in life, like song and dance, wine, design, literature. All those are present in Portuguese Brussels. We spoke to a couple of people who want to bring something else to Brussels. Patricia Pereira Marques runs Sol Ar Bar, a wine bar on Avenue Brugmann 52 in Forest (near Saint-Gilles). She serves many of the fine wines in which Portugal is so rich. Coming from Lisbon, Patricia Pereira Marques has been in Brussels for 19 years. Working for the official Portuguese tourist office in Brussels, Sol Ar is a sideline for her, which she does for inspiration. “I think it’s a good thing to spread another view of Portugal in Brussels. Since the revolution, Portugal has changed a good deal, but you wouldn’t tell by looking at the Portuguese community in Brussels. Portugal is a modern country which more and more cast its eye across its own borders.” This evolution is very clear, certainly since the World Expo of 1998. Patricia Pereira Marques and her colleagues of Sol Ar want to change the image that the Portuguese have in Brussels. “We are a very lively and international community, which brings quality and has ambition. We show this by presenting our culture and our wines here. We created this beautiful meeting place for that reason. The new Portuguese in Brussels are different from the first and second generation migrants. We’re not closed, but on the contrary love to mix with other cultures. We’re the first migrants of that type, who throw themselves into Brussels life. I don’t have much contact with the other Portuguese; most of them came down here for political or economic reasons, in the 1960s or 70s. I came here for my personal development.” In Sol Ar Bar, we spoke to a new migrant from Braga: ambitious young designer Nuno Costa. “I checked out the possibilities in Amsterdam, Berlin and Brussels, and Brussels turned out to be the best choice to settle professionally. There is a large international community here and the city is very central.” Costa dropped in on Patricia Pereira Marques to present his products, and she took him under her wing. Now he helps out in the bar, where his products have found a place. His view on Portugal and its modernity are a bit less upbeat than hers: “The situation in Portugal is very difficult for a young person: a closed society, where it is difficult to take your place, and enormously difficult to get a paid job. Usually, all you get offered is an unpaid internship. Here in Brussels there are many more opportunities for young people, society is more open, and there is more work. “I don’t look for the company of other Portuguese”. Most of all I have contact with other designers here, there is a scene. In Lisbon, design isn’t seen as a real profession, here they take it seriously.”


BAR SOL AR Patricia Pereira Marques (middle): “We are a very lively and international community, which brings quality and has ambition. We show this by presenting our culture and our wines here,”


Miguel Martins (aka Maico): “I shut the door in Lisbon, and opened one in Brussels. I immediately threw myself into the city,”

The finer things in life (2) poetry The Portuguese cultural centre in Brussels is bookstore Orfeu. There, we talk to poet Maico (pen name of Miguel Martins) who is there to present his new collection of poetry As Primeiras Horas, in which both Lisbon and Brussels are very present. Though he makes a point of calling himself in the first place “a person, not necessarily a Portuguese”, Lisbon was always on his mind, when writing his latest poems. The atmosphere, though, is that of Brussels, which means: tristesse. “The two cities figure in the poems; Brussels delivers the texture and the grey colours. This tristesse is contrasted with the light and the green I grew up with in Madeira; the eternal flowers also, and the light that is reflected on the Tejo and the white tiles of Lisbon. I miss these colours and this light here.” “In the 19 years that I’ve been here, I’ve seen Brussels evolve from a village (in comparison to Lisbon at that time, where I lived as a student) where you always found a parking spot and there never were any traffic jams, to a small world city. If you wanted a genuine espresso in a Brussels restaurant, you had a lot of explaining to do. I used to go especially to Flagey to a Portuguese bar to get a decent espresso. And look now: you can taste the entire world in Brussels. Even though the espresso in some Belgian bars sometimes still comes with a large spoon...” Martins has little contact with the traditional Portuguese community in Brussels: “We don’t have the same reference frame and we partake in Belgian society in a completely different manner. Some of them say: ‘it’s not like at home’ and lock themselves up in what they know, their own community. I’ve seen a lot of improvement though in the 19 years that I’ve been living here. The Portuguese more and more have contact with others, like Italians and Spaniards. And Place Flagey is an open space, very inviting to people from everywhere.” Yes, there is movement – also within the traditional community. The young want to see change, and try to achieve this their way. Pedro Rupio in a more assertive, Francisco Monho in a more subtle way. A portrait of these reformers and their approach. One stirs, the other shakes.

Stirring the portuguese Francisco Monho comes from a traditional migrant background, and possesses many of the characteristics of the 2nd generation migrant, though not all, as he is highly educated and has married a Belgian wife. He was born in Brussels. His parents, Sergio and Ana Rosa, came to Belgium right after the 25th of April and immediately found a job as household staff at a castle where they worked for four years. “We came on the 10th of May 1974,” says Sergio, “But my decision to leave the country, had already long been taken.” In the Alentejo, where he came from, there were no chances, no perspectives. “We


didn’t have it in mind to move here permanently. We always had the idea of going back to Portugal. Now, things are different; we have decided to stay here for our children and grandchildren, who are building their lives here.” Francisco is a risk manager for an international firm, dealing with French and Iberian finances; his sister is an architect. “What would they do in Portugal? If everyone would come along, we would move, of course. We have a house in Campo Maior, where we go each year for the holidays.” When he was six years old, Francisco first visited Campo Maior. It looked like a blissful place to him. “But you don’t feel the crisis during the holidays.” Today, he goes to Campo Maior every year for three weeks. In his actions as APEB president, Monho carefully mixes tradition with renewal. He is proud of the folklore meetings APEB still organises, and wants to keep them up, even when the home country stopped doing so. Here, the tradition is still alive, and a good thing too. In Portugal, it’s gone lost. I mean anyone can organise parties with disco music, but what we do is unique!” Still, within that context, Monho strives for renewal. He works at an opening towards other communities and organizations, to which, among APEB regulars, there is quite a lot of resistance. Which in a way is quite comprehensible: as the very point of APEB was always to be “among ourselves”, it must seem paradoxical to some to want to “break it open”. Which is nonetheless what Monho wants, but as he says, “inch by inch”. No question, at this point, of simply inviting the Moroccans over for a night of song and dance, even though some of their organizations share APEB’s location at the Saint-Gilles Maison des Cultures. “I fear things might get out of hand”, Monho says, referring to his own rank and file. “So I rather started with the Brazilians.” Once started on this route, Monho seems to have acquired a definite taste for throwing things open, not only inviting the Cape Verdeans over, but also organising a sumo-wrestling event as well as a Mongolian night. “The Portuguese don’t know the Asians at all”, goes his line of reasoning, “so they can’t be really prejudiced either. But the Cape Verdean night was a lot of fun. At first it was a bit awkward but gradually, the ice broke. That’s the way these things go, you have to take away the fear of the unknown, one step at the time.” From some of the old guard at APEB, Monho gets the most resistance: “you’re young, you don’t know what suffering means - those type of remarks.” In order to get things done, he adopts a naive attitude; pretending not to be aware of age-old friction.


Francisco Munho & his wife Isabelle In his actions as APEB president, Monho carefully mixes tradition with renewal. He is proud of the folklore meetings APEB still organizes, and wants to keep them up, even when the home country stopped doing so. But he also wants to break open the organization to the outside world, be it â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;inch by inchâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;.



Brussels - São Cristóvão Pedro and his mother watching pictures of their relatives in Alentejo – one of them is Augusto Rupio.

Shaking the Portuguese Pedro Rupio is more disposed to tackle the problems of the Portuguese community head-on. Though Pedro is only Portuguese through his mother (his father is Guadeloupean-Vietnamese) he has always felt a strong bond with Portugal and its language. In fact, as a child, he used to force his mother to speak Portuguese to him, instead of the French she spoke to him feeling it would improve his chances in life. In an interview with us, published in the Brussels expat magazine The Bulletin, he said: “I really want us to break with the Portuguese migrants’ tradition of invisibility. We have our part to play in society. The first generation felt no such need. Their decision to keep a low profile probably had a lot to do with being conditioned by the Salazar regime, which they were fleeing. I can understand that. But young Luso-Belgians are coming out of their isolation. We welcome cultural exchange, not only with Belgians, but with all the other migrant communities in Brussels. To give you just one example: not only do we Portuguese have seven centuries of history in common with the Moroccans, we also sit side by side on the school benches in Ixelles and Saint-Gilles. Still, there’s no real interaction. We both live in our own ghettos.” Pedro Rupio, who works at a bank, is also behind an organization of Portuguese in Brussels: Força Luso Decendente. They’re ten people now, many of whom are also active in other organizations, such as APEB, Emmaus... “These organizations don’t often come in contact with one another, let alone that they would get along. But we young don’t care about all these historically grown feuds. The youths of Força organise all kinds of events to draw young Portuguese into social life.“ These historic feuds must have been really sharp, if also sometimes comical. Antonio Cavaco compared the frictions between the two Portuguese networks in Brussels (the one based around APEB and the other around catholic organization Emmaus) to the popular novels of Italian writer Giovannino Guareschi (perhaps most famous in the films starring Fernandel and Gino Cervi) in which the local parish priest, Don Camillo constantly clashes with the communist mayor of the village, Peppone. APEB, after all, is from the south and in origin communist; Emmaus from the North and catholic. But there were tensions more serious than the catholic-communist ones, as becomes clear from the story of the neutral parent’s association that Mr Cavaco and his wife Fatima cofounded, in order to further Portuguese language education. The rule was: ‘no political discussions’: “This wasn’t easy. The wounds of the dictatorship weren’t healed yet. At our table were both those who had been supporters of the regime, and those who had been against it. So of course there were tensions, to say the least. But we managed to do some good work.”


SAUDADE Ana Maria: “With the years, I did develop nostalgic yearnings for Portugal. I started missing the scents of my youth, the eucalyptus and rosemary. Oddly enough, I began feeling like a foreigner in Brussels and now I have made up my mind to go back and live in Portugal.”

Pedro Rupio not only tackles the Diaspora: as an elected representative of the CCP (Conselho das Communidades Portuguesas, an advisory organ on migration to the Portuguese government), he is also very critical of the subsequent Portuguese governments treatment of its very large Diaspora. The Diaspora, says Rupio, has meant a lot for Portugal, not in the last place on a financial level. Indeed – in 1973 the remittances equalled 60% of total exports, while in 1993, they still amounted to 4,5% of GNP. And certain economists, says French investigative reporter Christian Rudel, “don’t hesitate to declare that, in the worst hours of Portugal’s history, the money transfers saved the country from bankruptcy.” And even today, says Rupio, “the 4.5 million Portuguese abroad send 7 million euro a day to Portugal. And that is not all: next to that, we invest in Portugal through tourism, the building of second homes... And what does the Diaspora get in return? 2,5 million a year, as working costs of the CCP. So the migrants are still an important source of income to Portugal, and politicians count on them.” What would happen, we ask him, if the Diaspora were to organise itself, to speak with one voice, politically? He pauses. “I think that would very much frighten the politicians.” Remittances indeed are a delicate subject, confirms Victor Pereira in Lisbon. “Salazar used to always speak about the ‘independence’ of Portugal, and never about money transfers. This when the myth of “Portugal, great country” was over and done with after the Napoleonic invasion (1807) and the loss of Brazil (1822). And Salazar knew very well how it worked: he was a fiscalist and wrote a thesis on transfers between Brazil and Portugal!” After the 1974 revolution, the subject remained a prickly one. “The idea is: ‘We can’t admit after all that we are dependent on the workers of Renault and on cleaning ladies!’ This is a typically Portuguese discourse – they

also have a hard time admitting they’re dependent on EU funds...” But it’s not just about the money. It’s also about recognition. The Portuguese parliament is officially the parliament of all the Portuguese, worldwide. That means: the 10 million Portuguese in Portugal, and the approximately 5 million Portuguese in the Diaspora (according to the Museu da Emigração in Lisbon). But the Diaspora only elects 4 deputies out of 230, in two electoral districts: “Europe” and “Outside Europe”. The CCP recently laid down a proposal to get more deputies, for the time being without success. “In any case”, says Rupio, “we must have more weight in Portuguese politics. A little more recognition from our country of origin would not be out of place.” At this moment, the CCP has little money, and is completely based on volunteers. Rupio: “It’s frustrating that subsequent governments didn’t see in non-governmental organizations a huge potential to spread our culture and our civilisation.”

Waiting for the third generation effect As Albano Cordeiro says: the Portuguese migration was a double migration, from one country to another and from the countryside to the city. Moving to the city might look simple – you say “I’ve had enough”, pack your things and go. But in reality, it is a work of generations. To be precise, says Cordeiro, the process takes three generations. The second generation will typically be still strongly attached to the country of origin, emotionally as well as physically – return visits, owning a house there... But then, Cordeiro says, the “third generation effect” sets in. The third generation becomes more detached from the country of origin. They now look at their grandparents as pioneers, those who dared take a decisive step, dramatically influencing the lives of their progeny. And find their roots not so much anymore in their family’s country of origin

– though they may still have great affection for it; they find their roots in this daring step, which made them free & mobile. In this perspective, the Portuguese of Brussels, despite some difficulties, are perfectly on schedule. The three-generation process of turning peasants into townsmen is in full swing. The fortress of Portuguese village life they built for themselves is crumbling, and they’re coming out. The cracks might be small as of yet, but there is no way this process can be reversed. The Portuguese will come out of their trenches but not to become swallowed up by “Belgian” society and culture. The Portuguese in France fear that the specificity of their culture is in danger of being annihilated by the great French machine identitaire; and rightly so. It’s the way of the French, and Cordeiro, a French national himself, is abhorred by the incapacity of the French Republic to manage diversity. “Oh France, that whole idea of La République enervates me terribly. It’s not even a country, France, it’s (articulates) u-ne Na-tion. The French are totally incapable of managing diversity. For new cultural syntheses to exist, they have to be able to grow first. What the French state does, is liquidate them all.” There is no need for such fears in Brussels. A majority of the Portuguese of Brussels, in their lives, have been through many changes. Coming from a remote rural region (whether the Alentejo or the North) to a medium-sized West-European town was already a big step. And then this town, Brussels, has dramatically altered its aspect in the past 20 years. The city, without a dramatic increase in population, has still gone through an enormous transformation, in its social structure and international functions. So that the third generation effect in Brussels, when it finally sets in – in say ten years or so – will be something to behold, for sure. But we’re not there yet. First and second generation migrants are still very attached to their country of origin, which is why we follow them there, in the next chapter.


The Alentejo A visit


Migrants move in clans, in chains, and it is no different with the Portuguese. That is the reason why there are so many Alentejans in Brussels, and relatively few in France. The concentration of people from the Alentejo, so typical for Brussels, gave birth to a unique bond between the Belgian city and the Portuguese region. While not wanting to disregard people from Northern Portugal and their importance to Brussels, there is reason enough for a closer look into this very particular region. It is a part of Brussels, a part of the city’s psychological make-up, linked to it by mental and physical chains.

Rolling hills, tranquility, cork oaks, olive trees & wine... The Alentejo landscape is pleasant enough. Little or nothing disturbs its tranquility. There is hardly any industry; mass tourism has not yet discovered the region and the original population has migrated. 64,8% of the work force is employed in the service sector, 24% in industry and 11,2% in agriculture. One sees rolling hills and large plains with maize and rice fields, cork oaks, olive and eucalyptus trees. In between the hills, now and then there is a village or a small town. The people, in fact, were replaced by trees: working the land in the Alentejo never was very profitable – but growing trees is... Traditionally, the landscape was dominated by cork oaks. The Alentejo is the world leader in the cork industry, and has been for centuries; today this industry employs 60.000 people, supplying half the world’s cork. A more recent addition to the landscape are the eucalyptus trees, now planted in large amounts, for the paperand pulp industry, one of the most important economic sectors in Portugal. Traditionally, the Alentejo is also a wine region. Half of all Portuguese wines sold are produced in the Alentejo. Cork oaks, wine, gastronomy, repose: the strong points of the Alentejo. Less pleasant is its social reality. The net monthly average wage in the Alentejo in 2009 was 711€, while a Beja trade union announced in 2008 that half of the working population in the Alentejo in fact earns less than 600€ per month – well under the average wage in Portugal (804€ per month), and not much above the minimum wage regulated by law (475€ per month). The recent drain of mass-migration in the 1960s and 70s did not do the region any good either. The Alentejo is Portugal’s most depopulated region: 7,1% – about 760.000 people live on more than one third of the land. It’s the oldest population of the country: 6,2% of all 18 to 24 year olds live in the Alentejo, as opposed to 9,3% of all of those 65 or older.

Easy money, destitution & symbolic violence The Alentejo never was a prosperous region. Its hardships go back at least to the 13th century Reconquista, when Portuguese warlords reclaimed the country from its Arab invaders. After chasing the Moors out, the warlords divided the territory between them. They turned their lands into latifundia, the almost industrial type of landed-estate agriculture found in parts of the Roman empire. In the Roman Empire, the latifundia of Sicily and Northern Africa ran on slave-labour; in mediaeval Portugal the situation was nearly the same: instead of slaves, serfs worked on the latifundia. This type of landed estate was typical of Southern Portugal; in the North a system of small exploitations developed, with cotters and




Symbolic Violence in Alentejo: Paço Ducal de Vila Viçosa.


at the last census, only about 750 remained. This village is dying... We talk to Augusto Rupio, Ana Maria Rupio’s cousin, who is unflinching in his old convictions. Augusto, a former army conscript who has served in India, has emigrated as well, and lived in Switzerland for 10 years: “when things are bad, it’s better to leave than to stay”. But he never had the idea to leave the country indefinitely. After the 25th of April, he came back, hoping and expecting to see the resurrection of his country. Today, 35 years on, he’s deeply disappointed in the “revolution”. He says: “what we need is a new 25th of april!”.

They could humbly bow their heads to the local landlord – who did everything in his power to make them do so. Victor Pereira points out that the Alentejo is filled with monumental architecture and statues, designed to impress and oppress. “Incredible, all this symbolic violence in the Alentejo”, he says. “All these statues, in front of which the farmers were supposed to kneel.” Another possible reaction: resistance. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the Alentejo has been a stronghold for communism. But the heyday of communist resistance came in the wake of the 1974 revolution: between April 1974 and December 1975, about 900.000 hectares of agricultural land were occupied in the name of Land Reform. In the first instance many of the collectivisations were vindicated by the revolutionary government (though 32% of the occupations were immediately ruled illegal), but in the late seventies a revisionist process set in, taking back the land from collective farms through various measures. This culminated in the revisionist agrarian law of 1988. By 1990 the size of the area ran by collective farms was down to 10% of what it was in the mid seventies.

“What we need is a new 25th of april!” Today Portugal is dominated by centrist politics: a battle between the centre left PS and the centre right PPD-PSD. But, as Le Monde reporter Marie-Claude Decamps found out on a trip across the Alentejo during the February 2005 general elections, many of its towns and villages still turn out a majority vote for the Communist party, and look back on the Carnation Revolution, of which

© Veerle Devos

sharecroppers; a system closer to the Western-European model. As a result, the Catholic Church had a hard time trying to establish itself in Southern Portugal – latifundia with large dispossessed masses are unfamiliar surroundings to the priesthood, though it is said that the cultural influence of the nearby Moorish AIgarve also played a part in the relative failure of the Christianisation of Southern Portugal. In any case, the cultural divide between north and south has lasted until today in Portugal – with echoes in Brussels, as seen in the previous chapter. There was typically only work at the great latifundia for one half of the year. The rest of the time, day labourers had to try and survive in other ways. The great landowners never really invested in agriculture, and let several agricultural revolutions simply pass them by. Rather, they chased one form after another of easy money: spices from India, slaves from Africa, and – most convenient of all – gold and silver from Brazil. According to French investigative journalist Christian Rudel, a connoisseur of the Iberian peninsula and South-America, this played a trick on the country. Why develop a progressive industrial and agricultural policy, when you could just get the gold straight from America and simply coin it? The result: in 1900, the Alentejo was economically and socially still in the Middle Ages, and today, in Portugal, the region is still looked down upon by other Portuguese as backward. Or, as the Alentejano film maker and migrant to France Manuel Madeira puts it: “The Alentejans are to the Portuguese what the Belgians are to the French: ‘village idiots’.” There were two different reactions to this by the population.

the Alentejo was really the heartland, with a mix of nostalgia, pride and bitterness. In Couço, communist mayor Diamantino Damaio spoke to Decamps about the “dark years”: “the land owned by six big families, infant mortality, poverty so desperate that people had to scrape the bark from cork oaks to survive, toiling from dawn till dusk, illiteracy, suppression and murder by the secret police.” In the “Greatest Portuguese” television show in 2007, to the dismay and embarrassment of many, Salazar came first, although it must be said that his great foe, Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) leader Alvaro Cunhal came second. This points to a great communist sentiment which still exists in Portugal today and especially in the Alentejo. But there is a decline: communism is literally dying out... We visit São Cristóvão, a hamlet in Central Alentejo, about 80 kilometers from Lisbon. This is where Ana Maria, mother of Pedro Rupio, came from. Today, São Cristóvão is still a communist stronghold. During the elections of June 2009, the communist PCP got 49,65% of the votes, the other half was shared by the socialdemocrats of the PS (14,29%) and then the centre-right PPD-PSD (33,49%). In 1991, just under a thousand people lived here; in 2001,

© Veerle Devos

“It’s better to emigrate than to stay when things are bad.”


Joao Sousa Costa: “All the time of the Belgians, the mines always turned a profit. They exploited the mine in a very good way.”

A Belgian mine in the Alentejo A new 25th of April, perhaps... But the 25th of April, by general consent, did not see the manna of heaven descend over the Alentejo. Communist sympathisers will say that the Revolution was betrayed by the PCP – who condemned many of the collectivisations as “anarchic” for not being controlled by the trade unions, i.e. by themselves. Others would have it that the increased state interference in the second part of the seventies led to mismanagement and inefficiency. Another factor certainly was that in the revolutionary climate of the seventies, with the Portuguese no longer the docile underpaid work force they were before, several multinationals left the country. The problems with the unsuccessful revolution are exemplified by the story of another Alentejo communist stronghold, the mining town of Aljustrel, more to the South in the Baixo Alentejo. The village São João de Negrilhos, the part of Aljustrel where many (ex-) miners live, votes exclusively left-wing, without exception... Though moderation is setting in. The communist PCP was traditionally the strongest party in São João, but in June 2009 the social democrats of the PS became the biggest party with 49,63/% of the votes, followed by the PCP with 48,04%. (The remaining 2,33% voted none of the above or void.)


It’s from Aljustrel that in the Sixties the first wave of migrations came to Belgium. But this claim remains to be investigated. What’s certain is that the Belgian presence in Aljustrel served as a link: “The Portuguese advised many Portuguese to leave. About a hundred of them left, in order to avoid conscription,” says Joao Sousa Costa (63), former head-accountant of the mine. Were they the first Portuguese labourers to come to Belgium? In any case, there always was a strong link between Belgium and Portugal in mining, says engineer Antonio Cavaco, who moved with his father to the Congolese mining region of Katanga in 1955. Belgian banks, he says, had large interests in the Portuguese mining sector (and electricity) even before the 1960s, leading to an exchange of personnel between Portugal and the Belgian Congo, but initially only of highly skilled workers. The link of Aljustrel to Belgium was a pyrite mine, which until the Carnation revolution in 1974 was exploited by a Belgian company, owned by the de Barsy family. The de Barsy’s did not start the mine, it was already active during Roman times – then the city was called Metallum Vispascense or Vipasca. We talk to former head-accountant Joao Sousa Costa, who worked for the mining company from 1965 to 1996, through all the troubles and take-overs. In his view, things began going downhill after the nationalisation of the mine in the wake of the 25th of April 1974. Sousa Costa, a former PS-candidate for the local elections, says that nationalisation and the accompanying Saneamento (“Cleansing”) led mainly to mismanagement, economic decline and all the accompanying misery for the local population. Mr. Sousa Costa led a true Luso-Belgian life. He was born in Paris in a family with Aljustrel roots, but when he was three years old his family took him to the Belgian Congo, where he lived for 13 years. “But we had to leave in 1963 when the Conference of Adis Abeba agreed to sanctions against Portuguese colonial rule. As a result, there were no perspectives anymore for the Portuguese in Congo. So I went to Belgium, to study in Liege. Looking for work, I went to Brussels, Rue Ducal 37, knocking on the door of André de Barsy. Then I got a telegram: could I go to Lisbon to see Jacques Louis, the mine director?” Thereby ending up again in ancestral Aljustrel, where he now lives with his Belgian wife. Sousa Costa: “At the time of the Belgians, the mines always turned a profit. They exploited the mine in a very good way. They made use of all the components of pyrite; 45% sulphur, about 43 % iron, and also lead, silver, gold and copper. One third of the profits went to Belgium.” The 1960s saw a large increase in foreign investment in Portugal – out of bare necessity, as foreign investment (and consequently ownership of companies) was really anathema to Salazar’s corporatist philosophy. But there was no way around it. It was


© Veerle Devos

the flipside of migration. Migration is cheap labour moving to capital; foreign investment is capital moving to cheap labour. In the 1960s, the regime had no other choice. The Belgians, at least according to Sousa Costa, may have done a wonderful job running the mine, but then, the profits of course were theirs as well. Nonetheless, in Aljustrel there seem to be no bad memories, or bad blood, towards the de Barsy’s – like that which exists against the big Portuguese families that owned the Alentejo and ran it into the ground. In fact, there are not many memories of Belgians in Aljustrel at all – there never was a real Belgian colony here, just a few people in key positions. In the local bar Café O Século XXI many of those present have links to Belgium; several of them have worked for a while in the mines of Liège. Perhaps it’s just politeness, but one gets the impression that the Belgians are remembered here more as well-doers. One story is that they wanted to pay the miners more, but the governor of Beja prevented it: the miners would earn more than the farmers, which wouldn’t help his position in this agricultural region. The Belgians also built houses for miners in this village, two ex-miners at the Sao Joao bus-stop tell us: “It’s the mining company that built the houses. This allowed me, like many miners, to buy my own house.”

Decline After the revolution, the mine was nationalised. From one day to the next, the State became 90% owner and changed the name


Pyrite “The Belgians made use of all the components of pyrite; 45% sulphur, about 43 % iron, and also lead, silver, gold and copper.”

to Pirite Alentejano. “At first, the Belgians stayed on, but then all links were broken in what we call here the Saneamento: the great purging of all elements of the Salazar-regime. Director Du Bois returned to Belgium. Since the Revolution, the company has made no more profit,” says Sousa Costa. “The losses were compensated by the Portuguese state. Now they’re going down to 350 meters deep. The Belgians never did that; it was too expensive. The mine was on the road to bankruptcy; in order to prevent this, the company was put into administration by the court. There was a huge mountain of debts. In 1993, the mine was closed, due to a lack of minerals and funds. 9 years later it was reopened, but it is again having a hard time.” “The mine has been operational for centuries, ever since the Romans. Remains have been found of cemeteries and houses of miners from Roman times. You can see all this in the museum.” And this is one possible way out of the present predicament. Mining heritage is one of the development areas in Alentejo tourism. Which is why Aljustrel, along with a couple of other Alentejan mining towns along the ‘Iberian Pyritous Strip’, such as Grandola or Mertola, is trying to acquire the status of Unesco World Heritage and obtain EU funds for the revitalisation of the area. However, this might prove to be no more than clutching at a straw – tourism in the Alentejo, as yet, is not a flourishing industry, even though in Portugal as a whole tourism is the third most important economic sector. But 85% of incoming international tourism goes to

the regions of Lisbon, the Algarve and Madeira. The Alentejo only gets 1,7% – and this despite the immediate vicinity of those regions and its own assets: gastronomy, nature, picturesque villages and especially a long, virgin coastline. Only 175.000 international travellers found their way to the Alentejo in 2008 – from a Portuguese total of 13,5 million. Not only are they few, they also stay less time: only 1,5 nights on average, as compared to a national average of 2,5 nights. The British, great lovers of Portugal and with 7.300.000 overnight stays the most important market country, yearly spend no more than 18.000 nights in the region: not quite 0,5%... Might this change after the popular novelist Monica Ali wrote the novel Alentejo Blue (2006)? Hardly likely: the novel does not paint an attractive picture of the region. In short, the international drawing power of the Alentejo is, alas, close to zero. In 2006, the Portuguese national tourist office proposed a plan to augment the number of overnight stays by 175% by 2015; unfortunately, since then numbers have only decreased.

Campo Maior Campo Maior is the town of many Portuguese living in Brussels. Here is where they come in the summer: here is where their family lives. We spoke to them. Who made which choices, and why? Campo Maior, right near the Spanish border in the Alto Alentejo is a town of about 8.000 inhabitants. An old fortress town, overlooking the plains which stretch to the Spanish border. What


Ex-miners gather in a local bar Among them a mine widow, José Suares who worked twenty years in the deep and twenty years on ground level, and the mine’s former head-accountant João Sousa Costa.


sets Campo Maior apart from the villages we visited is that there is actually something like an economy here. This is not a ghost town like São Cristóvão, not a village where they have a dream of expansion through tourism, like in Aljustrel. Campo Maior is economically dominated by two companies. One is Hutchinson, a French multinational rubber products producer. The other is Delta Cafés, the coffee roasting and packaging company of local hero Rui Nabeiro (78), a successful entrepreneur with his job in coffee and also his hobby, viniculture. This leads to a rare sight in the Alentejo: a prestigious work of modern architecture, the Adega of “Alentejo Wines”, from the hand of leading Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza Vieira. And especially: a life-size statue of Rui Nabeiro in his own town. What are the bonds between Brussels and Campo Maior, its most important, though officious, Portuguese twin town? There is the annual return for the holidays. But there are also those who return to work there. In the 1960s, there was no real choice, and in any case the margin of choice was really small. “Ce n’est plus dans son village/ qu’il peut gagner son pain,” French-American popular singer Joe Dassin sang in a lament to the fate of the Portuguese migrants in their bidonvilles (“Le Portugais”). Today, there is a choice. Thanks to the relative affluence in Campo Maior, provided for by Hutchinson and especially Delta Cafés, some Portuguese are able to return to their native village, and they do so. We spoke to some of them. But we begin with one who never left in the first place.




“Our life is here” 1974, immediately after the revolution, Sergio and Ana Rosa Munho chose to leave, while Antonio, a cousin of Ana Rosa, decided to stay and work the land. Thus began their parallel lives. Francisco and Ana Rosa built up what they call a good life of relative ease in Brussels; while Antonio, in Portugal, fought the odds, enduring many hardships. In Brussels, Francisco’s children are now a risk manager for an international firm and an architect; in Portugal, Antonio’s children have taken over his butcher-farmer business, as well as working in a flour factory. One side of the family was, for better or worse, thrown into the maelstrom of modernity and change; the other pursued a traditional path. Over the years, the families were constantly in touch by phone, and met during the summer in Portugal, on which occasions their different fates were the subject of a friendly joust. “You’re rich, they joke”, says Sergio, “and then I say ‘I’m not rich!” But it’s all in good humour. Antonio (62) takes us on a visit to the family farm, now run by his son Joao, who works on the 125 acre maize field. He is busy sowing – the maize is used as food for the cows, of which Joao has about thirty. The farm also grows olives, for their oil. His is a diversified, non-specialised and non-industrialised business – save for the tractor. Antonio has retired, but still helps out on the farm and in the accompanying butcher’s store, run by his daughter Isabella. His father was a butcher-farmer, his grandfather was a butcher-farmer, and now his son follows in the family line. It’s not been an easy task, he says, and still is not today: “If I had to pay the members of my family, I would have to close the shop. Here in Portugal you can’t make a living with that. Life has been very hard here for a long time, until it started getting better at the end of the last century. Now, for six years or so, things have been going downhill again, as a result of political decisions affecting our economy and especially agriculture, like for instance joining the EU.” In the 36 years that his family has been there, Antonio visited Brussels only once, for a week in 2006. “I remember the Grande Place, Manneken Pis, the Atomium. It was a nice stay.” But Brussels to him is in the first place something else. “Brussels is also the seat of the European Union, which has been so detrimental for Portuguese agriculture. Before Europe we were free to plant what we wanted, but that’s all in the past now. Europe forces us to invest, but there’s no return: we can’t handle the competition. And then there’s endless red tape as well. I myself am the only remaining butcher in Campo Maior – the supermarket has taken over this role.” Indeed – the 2003 reform of the E.U.’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is, according to critics, in fact designed to put an end to Antonio’s style of traditional subsistence agriculture. EU food safety regulations contain lots of restriction for non-industri-


Antonio Travasso a contrabande during the dictatorship – he smuggled coffee to Spain – is a nephew of Ana Rosa, the mother of Francisco Monho, APEB’s present president in Brussels. Location: the butcher store of his daughter Isabella and also the farm of his son Joao. “I remember the Grande Place, Manneken Pis, the Atomium. It was a nice stay. But Brussels is also the seat of the EU, which is so detrimental to Portuguese agriculture.”


joaquim Galego AND Francisco Pingo Joaquim: “My children and grandchildren still live in Brussels. I returned after 33 years.”His good friend Francisco:“I’m the same as I was when I left. I had nothing then, and I have nothing now!”

In “rich Europe”, Raposo wrote, the flight from the countryside took place in the nineteenth century; in Portugal it wasn’t until the 1960s- and 70s that Alentejans ‘colonised’ the southern edge and eastern suburbs of Lisbon. And another thing: while in countries such as England and Holland compulsory education began in the nineteenth century, in Portugal his grandmother’s generation was illiterate; that of his parents had four years of primary school, while his generation has masters and PHDs. This is, he says, in some ways like an American Dream, Portuguese style: grandchildren of illiterates reaching the top. But on the other hand, this means that “our justacquired sophistication” has clay feet. And this is why the migrants’ return bothers the Portuguese. Because they bring back the old Portugal, that everyone wants to forget with them, “in their ice box, between their minis and bifanas.” They bring home the fact that Portuguese European sophistication is a recent skin, with which one is unsure yet.

al subsistence farmers, while offering very little in return in the way of subsidies. It is expected that European rules will eventually ring the death-knell of traditional subsistence agriculture, which in Portugal today is still good for 32% of all Portuguese farms, compared to 4% in Belgium, or 7% in France. (In Eastern-Europe, between 50 and 80% of all farms still fall in this category). In Portugal in general, agriculture is not in great shape. As a result of low levels of investment, fertilisers and machinery, crop yields per hectare are just one third of the E.U. average. Consequently, the 12,5% of people working in agriculture account for only 2,8% of GDP (2006 figures); whereas, in comparison, the 2,0% agricultural part of GDP in France is managed by 4% of the working population. Despite its high level of employment in agriculture, Portugal has to import half of its food. What’s more, the average age of farmers is very high

– which doesn’t bode well for the future at all. The Alentejo, specifically, has always had problems with irrigation. During his early years in power, in the late 1920s, Salazar foresaw a great scheme of irrigation – which never materialised. Today, face to face with desertification, there is again a great plan to irrigate the Alentejo. Farming in Portugal, the old-school way – subsistence, family farming: there are enormous odds to beat, and many are throwing in the towel. The Portuguese total farm labour force is decreasing quickly, from almost 850.000 in 1990 to just under 340.000 in 2007. But Antonio and his son Joao soldier on. We ask him why. We get the traditional farmer’s reply: “In this region, there are no other options. Our lives are here. We have land here, and we work further with what we already have. We try to build up something that way.”

Return of the Michels When Sergio and Ana Rosa Monho return to Campo Maior for the holidays, any tension within the family is channelled through humorous jousts. This also happens on a larger scale, when the Belgian Portuguese in Campo Maior are being put down as “the Michels”, explains Francisco Pingo, who moved with his family to Brussels in the 1980s and recently returned. “There are lots of people named Michel among them (as opposed to Miguel, the Portuguese version of this in Brussels popular French name). They speak with a French accent, and speak French to their grand-children. Which to them is perfectly normal, but the natives of Campo Maior take exception to it: they think they’re doing it to impress, or because they feel they’re better than the rest. Or that they want to show they have money. But it’s not like that at all! It’s just how they are.” One such


returnee does indeed speak French to his grandchildren. Joaquim, 75, went back to Campo Maior after 33 years in Brussels, where he was president of APEB. His son, daughter, and grandchildren still live in Brussels. With his wife, he returns to Brussels once or twice a year to visit them; while they come every summer for a few weeks – which is why he bought a five bedroom house in Campo Maior. He notices the change. “My children still speak Portuguese, but my grandchildren are losing the hang of it.” The Michels: you can find these sorts of monikers for migrants all over Portugal. Says Albano Cordeiro: “It’s true that migrants showing off in the villages irritates the local population. They spend a lot of money in discotheques, pick up girls, etcetera. The village rich consider them to be upstarts.” Pedro Pingo, son of Francisco, explains that migrants who return for good (like himself) or just for the summer, are caught between two cultures: “All the returnees speak a sort of Françugais, a type of creole.” Nothing more than village fights, envy in the family, showing off? Not really – there is also a historical dimension and a sharper edge to the conflicts. A case in point: the controversy provoked by Henrique Raposo. In August of 2009, Raposo had a “confession” to make about the “invasion” of Portuguese migrants in this month (i.e. the yearly return for the summer holidays): “It has always bothered me.” So intensely did the return of the migrants annoy him – and along with him, he said, many other Portuguese – that it led him to some serious soul-searching. The conclusion he arrived at: “We reject the emigrants because they remind us of what we want to forget: the historical decay of Portugal. The ‘rural’ ways of the migrant point us to the fact that modernity didn’t arrive in Portugal until my parents’ generation.” (Raposo is in his thirties, editor’s note).


PEDRO PINGO With his wife Anna Christina and their children: “Campo Maior was always presented to us as paradise. This is a mental image not founded in reality, created and perpetuated by homesick Portuguese in Brussels.”

Raposo’s article was met with a flurry of angry reactions in the newspaper’s forum, as well as within the migrant community. CCP-counsellor Pedro Rupio – who feels after all that the Portuguese diaspora ought to get more respect, not less – was not well pleased, especially since, he says, Expresso is supposed to be a quality newspaper, not some kind of tabloid. Victor Pereira points to other factors behind the anti-migrant feelings. “Oh yes”, he says , “criticising the migrants’ taste, or supposed lack thereof, is the tarte à la crème here in Portugal. Their houses, a mixture of the Portuguese style and the style of their land of residence are called ugly, and it is commonly said that they “destroy landscapes”. It is an elitist discourse. Who is it, that criticises? The middle class, and the upper classes. And certainly the great landowners. Before, all they had to do was go down to the market place and pick and choose their day labourers from a horde of slaves. Subsequently they migrated, illegally as well, and came back with a car, and bought a house. Of course this causes spite.”

The Pingo family saga Retirement return or spending one’s holidays in Campo Maior are the most practised forms of return. Returning to the Alentejo to actually work there, is quite another trick. But it can be done. The Pingo family did it. Son Pedro works as an electrician for Delta Cafés; his wife Anna Christina works for Hutchinson. Pedro’s two sisters are self-employed – which is also indirectly made possible by the two multinationals. One sister has a traditional fish store, the other thinks the economic climate created by Delta and Hutchinson sufficiently favourable to try something new in this rural region: a store selling natural health care products. Rachel’s husband, Mario Santos, works for Delta Cafes as a stock controller. The Pingos initially left Portugal relatively late. At age fifty, in the late 1980s, father Francisco put the entire family (himself, his wife, two daughters and a son) in his car and drove to Brussels. “Ah Brussels! Place des Bienfaiteurs, café O Campo Maior at the avenida Rogier, Place Dailly... I started a cleaning company there. We worked for Belgian private organizations, though I only employed Portuguese people. I call Belgium ‘un pecenho grand pays’ – a little great country. No one gets ill treated there; those who want to work, have work and even those who have bad luck, are helped. I am not talking about scroungers here, but about people who are really out of luck.” His son, Pedro, twelve at the time, sees the move to Brussels as of crucial importance to his personal development. “In Belgium, I learned a way of thinking that formed me. I got a lot of hard knocks but I learned a lot from that as well.” Today, Pedro does not seem to feel very much at ease in Campo Maior. He has a hard time dealing with the local mentality. “The problem is that people here



are not educated. The difference with Belgium: there people try and do their best to study and get a good job. Here, people, as soon as they can, start working, no question of going to study.” Again, the shadow of Salazar looms over this question: he never saw a need to favour education – according to French journalist Christian Rudel, because he felt more comfortable ruling over a semi-literate population. Now, as Pedro says, the authorities make a serious effort to bridge the gap. “Fortunately, now there’s compulsory education until 18. That’s good. But the mentality of the population remains the same. ‘Why study when you can go and work straight away?’ There isn’t a widespread recognition of the fact that in order to keep up, you have to evolve.” Pedro married in Campo Maior. His wife Anna Christina was born in Brussels but her family moved back when she was six. They have two children. But nonetheless, he didn’t find peace in Campo Maior. The return, about which the elder in Brussels spoke so passionately, turned out to be more what the French call un pétard mouillé – a damp squib. Says Pedro: “Campo Maior was always presented to us as paradise, but as soon as you come here, you are disillusioned. There’s a mental image not founded in reality, created and perpetuated by homesick Portuguese in Brussels.” Still, he doesn’t think of returning to Brussels; his head is somewhere else still. He dreams of Canada or Australia. Does he know someone there? “No, but I’m sure there’s more possibilities there than here. I’m not afraid. My dad wasn’t afraid when he started a new life at


age 50.” Once a migrant, always a migrant? “I was twelve when I moved to Brussels. For me this was a great and important step which has influenced the course of my life.” His sister Rachel Pingo concurs. “In the mind of emigrants, Portugal is paradise. They only come in the summer, when the sun shines and everyone is relaxed and in good spirits. Which gives a distorted image. This paradise-like Portugal only exists inside their heads. I sometimes miss Belgium, It was good there.” Her husband Mario Santos (38), has the same feeling. “I came to Brussels when I was four. I don’t remember the time before that in Portugal. I am a Belgian, really. When I was 28, I left Brussels, even though I was quite happy there. I still miss Brussels. Or I really miss “the city”, as Campo Maior is really the countryside, a small village with a village mentality.” Like her brother Pedro, Rachel doesn’t spare her criticism for Portugal. It’s the migrant experience that makes Rachel Pingo want to speak out. She not only lived in Brussels for twelve years, but, with her husband, also in Andalusia, Spain where she admired the get-things-done approach of the Spanish. “I can compare, because I have lived abroad. But most Portuguese, having spent all their life in Portugal, do not know any better. It’s been ten years now since I returned. Campo Maior, in those years has changed a lot. But the fatalism will not go away in Portugal. We say that we have good products, but we miss the self-confidence to conquer the world with them. And the authorities keep investing in the wrong

choices: rather nice football stadiums than hospitals or schools. This land still is not making progress. And the eternal silence: even if you don’t agree with the way things are going, you still don’t talk about it. Because this is considered to be “politics” and we don’t get involved with that. This mentality really makes me cringe. Also this protocol everywhere in Portugal: doutor here, doutor there. This shows the chasm between those who decide, and the great mass who are led. That is another thing in which Portugal is behind on the rest of Europe.” Indeed: “doutor” in Portugal is not just a grade, not just a diploma, but almost something akin to a title of nobility. Salazar himself, after all, was a doutor. Dr. Victor Pereira has to explain it time and again to the fellow denizens of his neighbourhood in central Lisbon. “I am Victor, not doutor! Anyway, I don’t fit in with the image of the traditional Portuguese doutor. I have a beard, I don’t wear a suit and tie, I go to work by bicycle or public transport. All quite common in Paris, but here, my colleagues at the University of Lisbon just don’t do that. And yes, nepotism still reigns here. You have that everywhere of course, in France as well. But there is a difference. To have some kind of position in France, you have to be at least minimally clever, whereas here, when you’re the son of ‘somebody’, it doesn’t matter if you’re an imbecile or not.” No such complaints from family father Francesco. While his dramatic decision 20 years ago to drive to Brussels, without meaning to, seems to have permanently unsettled his children, for better

Rachel Pingo and Mario Santos Rachel Pingo and her husband Mario Santos: “I can’t say Brussels is a beautiful city, but it is well organised. I loved living there. Still, I didn’t feel like staying.”

or worse, he appears simply happy to be back. “I am a bairrista: bound to my bairro... (neighbourhood, editor’s note) The idea of migrating was never definitive. I always had in mind to return after retirement. Then one of my daughters moved to Paris, and the other to Campo Maior, where my son Pedro had already settled. There we were, suddenly, in Brussels with an empty nest. So we came back as well. With nothing, really. But when I left I had nothing either, and now at least I have ideas. So, at sixty one, I was back in Campo Maior. I had a small pension from Belgium, and a small one from Portugal. Enough for me and my wife to live from – at least in Portugal. ‘Don’t be bigger than your bed sheet’, is what they say here in Portugal, and that’s how I live my life.”


A WELL DESERVED STATUE? “Campo Maior has changed a lot, thanks to Rui Nabeiro. He has given work to many people in the Alentejo, in all of Europe in fact.”

Rui Nabeiro Finally, we turn our attention to the man of whom it is all about in Campo Mairor: local legend Rui Nabeiro. Salazar is supposed to have remarked that no-one deserves a monument named after him until he has been dead for a hundred years. But in Campo Maior, Portual, coffee magnate Rui Nabeiro (79 and still very much alive) already has his own life-size statue. And rightly so, according to many Campo Maiorans, among whom is Pedro Pingo: “He deserves his statue. He deserves a hundred statues! Thanks to him, Campo Maior is an oasis in the desert. Nabeiro gives work to an enormous amount of people. In Campo Maior alone about 800, in the wider region 3,000. And that’s only directly, how many jobs he has created indirectly is hard to compute. His company changed people in the entire Alentejo. Even though there are those that do not want to work for him, I think he’s a hero.” Nabeiro started his business in 1961 in an old warehouse. A myth about him says that he was a smuggler, but those who should know say he was nothing of the kind. “He never had a bag of coffee on his back. He used to sell to smugglers, that is true”, says Sergio Monho. Delta coffee is popular all over Portugal, and certainly in Portuguese Brussels, where the brand is served in all Portuguese establishments. Nabeiro also has financially supported Portuguese language education in Brussels, and the youngsters of Força Luso Descendente. “Ever since I have always drunk Delta,” Pedro Rupio smiles. In Campo Maior, Nabeiro is everywhere. There is not only his statue. There is also the continuous driving around of the typical red-green Delta Cafés vans. And he is the talk of the town. Everyone has stories to tell about him, each more spectacular than the other. They went to school with him. They smuggled with him. The Portuguese of Brussels are also familiar with Nabeiro. “Nabeiro has succeeded in life, but he has never become self-important. He has remained in the region all his life” says Maria de Lourdes Gonzales Silveira (56), who migrated to Brussels in 1974. “When I left, people in the Alentejo lived off the produce of the land: tomatoes, olives, coffee, sheep. My father was a contrabande and, for Nabeiro, smuggled coffee to Franco’s Spain. And look, today my son in law works



RUI NABERO “I am not a do-gooder, I’m an entrepreneur.”

as a security man for Nabeiro, and also a nephew and a few family friends work for one of his companies.” Gradually, Rui Nabeiro conquered the monopoly of coffee in Campo Maior. “There used to be eight other coffee companies here”, says Francisco Pingo, “but Nabeiro bought them all! He is smart you know: he pays his workers more than the unions demand.” Butcher-farmer Antonio does not know him personally, but only has praise for him. “The man does a lot of good for the region. Without Delta and Nabeiro, many families in Campo Maior would not be able to survive.” We speak to Rui Nabeiro in the educative centre of his company. “I am not a do-gooder”, he says, though he also invests in schools and hospitals in Portugal, and in the countries where he gets his coffee: Angola and East-Timor. “I’m an entrepreneur.” He stresses his bond with the region and absolutely wants his company to remain in local hands, despite many alluring offers to take over his company, from all over the world. “We’re talking about sums of many billions here,” he says. “Can you imagine how strong you have to be to resist that? But I want to keep my company in the region. It belongs to the community, and it should remain that way. If I should sell and the company was relocated, what would happen to the people here? I feel responsible, I built this company along with my fellow Alentejans.” Portugal could be a lot more prosperous”, Nabeiro continues. “Some countries have all the means – financial or natural resources. Portugal hasn’t a lot, but we can work hard. That’s what I’ve done all of my life. I always thought I would get there, even in difficult moments. There have certainly been tough years – everyone always sees the best part, but in fact business has its ups and downs. But by working hard, you can achieve anything. The Alentejo has enormous possibilities, and it’s a beautiful region. But the people have to learn to believe in their own abilities. Now it’s the Spaniards who come and invest here. Which is fine by me. If locals don’t do it, then others are welcome. After all, I can’t be everywhere at the same time!” For his Alentejo Wines, Nabeiro follows a new marketing strategy. The Adega Major, inaugurated in 2007, is one of the most recent works of the éminence grise of Portuguese architecture,



Álvaro Siza Vieira (77). It brings the practice to Portugal, already wide-spread in wine countries such as Spain, France, Italy and the US: “This new trend of coupling wine with prestigious architecture gives an identity to the wine, and the investment pays itself back, through attention and sales. What’s more, it contributes to the sacral character of wine.” With his Alentejo Wines, Nabeiro takes a decidedly modern approach, though he started it out of a feeling of nostalgia, he confesses. “300 years ago this region was the area of wines and olives. The Defesa do Territorio – the round of castles as a defence against the Spaniards – made it possible for every family to have three quarters of a hectare to grow corn and grapes for bread and wine. So much wine was being produced that large stone jars were made to keep it in.” Considering this tradition, it’s not a far-fetched idea of Nabeiro and his Delta Group to invest eight million Euros in the building. “And the Alentejo heritage now has an extra monument, by the most important living Portuguese architect, with great international renown. Siza did everything: the building, the furniture, the lighting. He designed it all in one go, on napkins and such. It’s like a visiting card for the Alentejo. We wanted to create a visionary project in the gorgeous landscape of the Alentejo. The beauty of the minimalist, white building, its contrast with the wild nature in the background.” Thus, Nabeiro has delivered a landmark that might seduce lovers of architecture to rent a car in Lisbon and pay a visit to Campo Maior.


adega major This new landmark by Alvaro Siza Vieira might seduce lovers of architecture to rent a car in Lisbon and pay a visit to Campo Maior. Not only for the architecture but for the wine making process as well.






has to start anew On the 30th of July 1970, three days after the death of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, his successor Marcelo Caetano informed the Portuguese people, through a televised speech, that the dictator had left an “orderly country” behind him, which was “united, conscious, sure about its objectives and able to meet them.” The future looked bright, then...


he truth, according to Salazar-biographer Felipe Ribeiro De Meneses, was somewhat less pleasant. More than 40 years of Salazar had brought little change to Portuguese agriculture and its structural problems. Industry was growing, it was true but not enough to significantly absorb unemployment, and those lucky enough to have a job, were still underpaid. This small industrial growth, furthermore, was largely due to foreign investment, resulting in an increased foreign control over the economy – precisely what Salazar had always wanted to avoid. Salazar’s biggest error of judgement was the colonial wars. The stubbornness with which he pursued them gradually forced him to abandon his most cherished principles: local control over the economy and fiscal orthodoxy. The man who had established his power in the second half of the 1920s and the early 1930s by remedying the chaos of the Republic (1910-1926) through a stern budget policy and an authoritarian regime (a combination of measures more or less affectionately known a a liçao de Salazar, the lesson of Salazar) at his death left his country or at least as much chaos as he had got it out of in the first place. And the clearest symptom of the 1960s and 70s malaise, says De Meneses, was migration: “Men of working age leaving a country at a time of war was not a vote of confidence in the country’s future, or even its present.” Legally and illegally one and a half million Portuguese left the country in the latter years of the New State (between 1958 and 1974): an exodus of Old Testament proportions. Brussels got its share of this exodus. This magbook has presented a portrait of the Portuguese of Brussels through a journey from a statue in Brussels to a statue in the Alentejo; a journey through space, but also through time. These statues talk. The statue at Flagey pointed to the importance of language within the Portuguese diaspora of Brussels, and their nostalgia for the old motherland. It furthermore pointed toward the fact that the Portuguese of Brussels are a diverse group, consisting of many subgroups: economically, socially, mentally and generationally. Another statue, in Campo Maior (Alentejo) told the story of how the serious problems of this region today are far from being solved.

The psychology of migration In this magbook Portuguese in Brussels, Portugal and Paris talked about their migration; what it meant and still means to them. What has it done to their lives? How do they reflect upon the


consequences to themselves, their children and grandchildren, their community? In the social sciences, migration is almost exclusively seen from a sociological and economic point of view. That is, it is seen from the outside. Sociologists and economists draw up maps showing migration patterns; classify countries per type (1st frontier migration country, 2nd frontier migration country); formulate indicators of integration in society (employment levels, school grades, political engagement). This is all very useful work. But what about personal experience? There is attention for it, of course, especially when expressed in remarkable art: novels, poems, music...; and other than that in many books and articles by journalists, which remain impressionistic. But the pattern behind it is almost never revealed. Of course, every personal experience is unique; yet all our uniquenesses resemble each other. And the personal experiences of migrants do follow a set pattern. Migration can be seen as trauma, says psychoanalyst and poet Salman Akhtar, author of Immigration and Identity: Turmoil, Treatment, and Transformation (1999); trauma out of which the development follows a pattern, in the individual and over the generations. Certainly at an early stage, migrants will typically seek out only the company of their countrymen, in meetings that are all about food (a strong physical bond with the motherland) and language: this is the first reaction to the trauma; the stage of “ethnocentric withdrawal”. Akhtar, himself a migrant from India to the United States, developed a treatment for it. The first step to take is to overcome the idealisation, usually of the country of origin, though sometimes, especially with exiles, of their new country. The next step is to find a position of “ambivalence” and “distance” toward both countries – in this phase, Shaktar says, the bonds with the mother country can serve as a ‘teddy bear’, a support on the way to independence. Finally, the migrant will move from the past to the present; he or she will let go of the “paradise lost” in order to engage in the here and now. Which can be a here and now in both the new and the old country... Depending on the gravity of the circumstances, says Akhtar, this process will take generations; the example he cites is the holocaust. Though not of that order, the circumstances in which the Portuguese had to leave their country were certainly, as evidenced in this magbook, quite dramatic, and have all the makings of ‘a serious case’ of traumatism. Which might help to explain why it isn’t

until today that the Portuguese of Brussels are letting go of their “lost paradise” and are coming out of ethnocentric withdrawal. This is certainly the ardent wish of the younger generation. And it explains the older generations’ hostile or in at least reserved reactions to the “openness” the young are advocating – to them, nostalgia is a still a psychological defence strategy. Of course, we should add, there is no reason why the Portuguese of Brussels should let go completely of Portugal, its cuisine, history, poetry, music... Brussels can use this input. But it’s a question of looking for the right distance between both countries, finding a way of living with (and sometimes in) both, without suffering from it. And it would seem that today, after two, three generations, the Portuguese of Brussels are finding this “right distance”. In a certain sense, they’re even “über-Europeans”: no other European people, says Albano Cordeiro, lives between two cultures with the same intensity. The ‘trauma of geographical dislocation’, says Shaktar, never quite heals; but it can turn from a wound into a scar; and you can live very well with a scar. A scar is something characteristic. It’s the little details, says Shaktar, that make migrants, all their life, have a feeling of distance, of something “not right”. He himself is well integrated in the U.S., and considers himself to be ‘100% American and 100% Indian’. But every time he puts a letter in the mailbox, he gets a feeling of alienation: something inside him says that the mailbox ought to be red, like in India, not blue like in the U.S. But once the trauma is overcome, or only present in a mild form, this continual distance can become a force. Migrants are always alert; they observe more acutely. Like Shaktar says: “I didn’t use to live in India. I just lived. Now I live in the United States.” He is always very aware of his surroundings; and when he is oblivious to them for a moment, some detail, some signal – like the wrong colour of a mailbox – will reawaken him. Normality is not a given for the migrant. Every migrant scans and studies his new environment: the social codes, the implicit rules of conduct... This he does to survive: finding work, a house in a good neighbourhood, establishing contact with others. Migrants worldwide are thus in a way all amateur anthropologists: more than the people who were born there and stayed there, they study the conduct of others.

New citizens for a new society This makes migrants an interesting source for societies in transition, such as Brussels today. The Portuguese are an example of a group that will only grow in the near future. What do you retain of your roots, how do you integrate, how to handle your position between two (or more) cultures, how to deal with your own com-

munity which seems frozen in time? As already said in the introduction: only 32,1% of the Brussels population still has (deep) Belgian roots and in the next 10 years the city expects another 150.000 extra people – the part of the population with Belgian roots stretching back several generations (the “Belgo-Belgians”) is expected to further dwindle to 15% by 2020.) Brussels is transforming from the capital of Belgium over the capital of Europe to a small world city, which might be a harbinger of the future of Europe. How does the city deal with that? Is there a plan, to give these people a place to live, an education, transport, a sense of civic duty? Brussels needs such a plan. In view of the magnitude of migration to Brussels, it is not simply a matter of ‘integrating’ migrants into an existing culture. There really is no ‘existing culture’ in Brussels anymore... The city has to start anew, and work with the ‘materials’ present; it has to forge a new culture. At this moment, all that Brussels minister-president Charles Picqué does is solemnly swear that he will leave newcomers in peace: “Brussels”, he says, “is distinguished by a unique quality which has allowed it to earn (and will allow it to retain) its newly found capital status: Brussels is capable of representing all the nations of Europe because it does not represent a single-nation culture, and is, therefore, not tempted by self-righteousness or the desire to impose its culture on others.” That is already a start, but it’s not good enough. An extra effort is needed to create a new society, with new institutions – and new citizens. Brussels has the possibility to grow into a cosmopolitan example to the world. Already a century ago, the city took it upon itself to form a new synthesis of diverse people (at that time Flemings and Walloons) or more broadly, in the terms of the time, of “Latin” and “German” cultures. Today the mission is more complex. Some cities have a museum-cum-study centre of migration; well-known examples are New York’s Ellis Island Immigration Museum, or Paris’ Cité Nationale de l’Histoire de la Migration. In Belgium a museum of this kind will open in Antwerp in the near future. In Brussels, where such institution would be more at home than in any other Belgian town, there are presently no such plans in this direction. Brussels needs such an institution – and it needs much more than that besides. It needs a new kind of education, incorporating the histories of its population (of Moroccan, French, Spanish, Turkish, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, Polish, Congolese, Greek, British, Dutch, American... descent) in a new meaningful, inspiring, empowering and inclusive narrative. This can’t be too difficult; al that needs to be done is to document the historical forces that brought all these people here; the historical forces that turned Brussels into what it is today. The story told in this magbook could be a building stone for this new narrative.











Follow the trace of the Portuguese in Brussels, and you will wind up in often unfamiliar neighbourhoods, all across the city. But the Portuguese presence is most visible in Ixelles around Place Flagey and in Saint-Gilles, around Place Van Meenen. Not that all or most Portuguese still live there: they have gradually spread all over Brussels. But these are still their city centres, their commercial centres: here you will find their groceries, restaurants, bars. For a complete list of all Portuguese establishments in Brussels, see: and Here, you can find a selection for a good day’s walk, of a mainly gastronomic nature.


Clube Alentejano de Desportos de Ixelles ‘O Elvas’

Ever since its origins in 1972, this club is the main meeting point for all the Portuguese of Brussels. They come here mainly for lunch, though you can have diner here as well, around 9 p.m. In the afternoons, the place sometimes fills up with men playing cards and having their aperitif. You have what is served on the day here -- Alentejan cuisine. During the season choco’s and lula’s, dorade, bacalhau, steak. The lady of the house, Maria, prepares Cabrito and Leitao as well, but only to order. Sometimes there are dance nights and Fado events in the room in the back, as well as meetings by the football club, affiliated to club O Elvas. The regulars talk among each other, with at least one eye on the screen, where they show football matches -- the way itPALACE should be... OF JUSTICE Rue Wery 87. Open all days, 12.00-15.30 and 19.0021.30. Closed on Sunday Evenings. Miranda dos Leitoes

In the weekends, there is a market on the recently renovated Place Flagey, with stalls from the four corners of the world. The Portuguese market stall Miranda dos Leitoes is renowned for its Leitao (roast suckling pig) and Bifana (a sort of hamburger with pork steak). You can also have your aperitif here with a good glass of Portuguese wine. Place Flagey, every Saturday

and Sunday, before noon (until 13.00). 3 Bar O Rio Mondego

Open the door, and you are in Coimbra, where the owner came from. At the bar, underneath the tiles,


customers are drinking Portuguese wine out of little glasses, with a Chouriço Assado or some olives to go with it. The mural paintings portray Fernando Masado Soares, a famous Fado singer from Coïmbra. But there are no Fado concerts taking place here anymore: there is a lack of fadistas in Brussels... Rue de la Bras-


Statue & Square Fernando Pessoa

Since 1989 the Portuguese of Ixelles have their own statue, of Portugal’s most celebrated poet Fernando Pessoa. After having stood there almost unnoticed for twenty years, the statue has now found a new splendour, with the renovation of the Place Flagey. A piece of Lisbon in Brussels, including the typical small stones which reflect the light (well, in Lisbon,EUROPEAN that is, PARLIAMENT in Brussels they mainly reflect the grey clouds...) On the right hand side of the statue, more traces of Pessoa: two ornamental banks with azulejos, covered with quotes by the great poet.

serie, 158. Open all days, from 13.00 to 1.00 4 Terramar The Chaussée de Waterloo is home to several Por-

tuguese businesses, but Terramar is the best-known among them. Have some Pasteis de bacalhau as a IN NT TU MO T N EG hors d’oeuvre, then perhaps a Carne Porco AlenteMO D’ EG D I N jano (pork meat with carpet shell clams) and finish R JA with a Molotov -- infamous because of its calories. Sometimes there is live music which, regrettably, is not limited to the Portuguese repertoire -- French and Spanish singalongs are also unleashed upon an unsuspecting audience. But when a Fado singer is on, it’s usually quite good. Chaussée de Waterloo, 498.

de Charleroi, 190. Open from Tuesday to Saturday, from 11.30 until 17.30.


Clube de Futebal ‘Os Belenenses’

In this snackbar, which is filled with nicely polished cups and other football memorabilia, there is always a crowd at the counter, drinking and discussing, with one eye on the screens. Many among them are supporters of Lisbon team FC Os Belenenses. At noon and in the evening, the tables are set for Portuguese families. Rue de Vergnies 36

Since then, his patisserie/tearoom celebrated its 20th birthday, and today you can taste his pasteis de nata everywhere in Brussels: in hotels, at chains like Exki and Le pain Quotidien, in Portuguese restaurants and bars. The tearoom looks like the inner garden of a typical Alentejo house, complete with tiles, a fake swallow and a gently splashing fountain -- as well as the former door to Garcia’s house of birth. Avenue de la Cou-

guese of Brussels flock to this place. This small grocery store sells all the good things from Portugal, going from broa (maize bread), over sausages and cheese, wines and olive oil, to canned food and dried bacalhau. In contrast to most of the Portuguese in Ixelles, the owners are from the Northern Porto region. Rue


Here, in the shadow of the Flagey building, several CINQUANTENAIRE migrant communities have their place of worship, among them the CommunidadeJUBELPARK Catòlica Portuguesa de Ixelles. Father Eugénio Boléo says mass in Portuguese here every Sunday at noon. Among the faithful are Portuguese, Brazilians, Mozambicans and BelgoBelgians.

13 Queijinhos Doces

The name of this tearoom means “sweet little cheeses” and that is no lie: you can taste the best Portuguese sweets here. Artisanal pastry, from pâo do ló over queijada de laranja to dulce de almendras. Good place for breakfast and a coffee break in the afternoon. Rue

PARC LEOPOLD Rui Manuel Garcia Borralho came to Brussels from PARK Lavre (Alentejo) in 1988 and started a modest bakery.

8 Os Sabores de Portugal When the potatoes arrive from Portugal, all the Portu-


12 Eglise Sainte Croix

Avenue de la Coronne, 106 10 Padaria & pastelaria Garcia


Closed Sunday afternoon.

5 Le Petit Forcado Joaquim arrived in Brussels in 1971 as a political refugee, bringing with him his own recipe for Pastel de Nata, a small egg tart pastry served with powdered cinnamon. Formerly, right next door, he used to run the best Portuguese restaurant in Brussels: Le Forcado. Today, this master-patissier runs this one-man business, with the most delicious pasteis de nata of all Brussels. And this is a well-kept secret. Chaussée

ing Portuguese, “Eurocrats “(the European neighbourhood is quite nearby), Brazilians, Angolans as well as Belgo-Belgians. The owners are supporters of FC Sport Lisboa e Benfica (Benfica, for short), one of the three major Portuguese clubs. But feel free to forcefully support other teams if you feel like it -- nobody will mind. There is always a good atmosphere, and a no nonsense cuisine of Arroz de Tamboril, Cabrito or Francesinha -- a sort of croque monsieur with sauce, literally “little French girl”, as it was introduced into Portugal by a migrant who had returned from France.

de la Brasserie, 98 14 Brasserie Caramulo

The owner of this bar (as well as of the restaurant next door) comes from Serra do Caramulo, a beautiful mountainous area not far from Viseu. The Portuguese of Ixelles come here to enjoy the traditional Portuguese kitchen in a jovial, family-like atmosphere. Rue de la Brasserie, 132. Closed Mondays, Tuesday nights and Sunday nights.

ronne, 7 11 Le Bar du Marché

This bar, which is very busy at night, used to be the Portuguese restaurant Le Coin de l’Eglise. The barman is still Portuguese; the pasteis de nata are from Garcia, and after the Portuguese Sunday mass, the outside bar is quiet enough to read your newspaper in -- that is, until 5 p.m., when the live jazz concert kicks off. Rue

de Vergnies, 38 Café Le Portugal

Whenever there’s a match on one of the TV screens, than Le Portugal is full of eating, drinking, and cheer-

Alphonse Dewitte, 12



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10 6 13

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91 B














Place van Meenen In the 1980s a second Brussels-Portuguese centre developed

in Saint-Gilles, with more people from the North. A lot of Portuguese bars and restaurants opened around Place Van Meenen, where the town hall of Saint-Gilles is. Also on this square: another statue referring to the Portuguese presence in Brussels. It might seem microscopic compared to Pessoa’s giant head at Flagey, but it’s there: a bust of novelist, playwright and journalist Almeida-Garrett (1799-1854), who served as the first Portuguese consul-general to the then newly created kingdom of Belgium. The statue celebrates 800 years of diplomatic relations between Portugal and “Belgium”: since the 12th century, there were marriages among the royal and noble families. Penafidelis Owner Aureliano was born in Angola, grew up in Penafiel near Porto and came to Brussels in 1996. Every day, he serves 4 types of Bacalhau, both dried and salted. Bacalhau is the national dish of Portugal, even though the fish is caught in the waters around Norway, Iceland and Canada. Aureliano also serves other Portuguese dishes, such as Caldeirada and Cabrito on Sundays. His speciality: Steak Penafidelis (with bacon, fried eggs and scampi). The restaurant is right across the town hall, which makes that local politicians also come here, as well as Brussels’ minister-president Charles Picqué (also the mayor of Saint-Gilles). Place Maurice

Van Meenen 11, open from 10.00 until midnight, closed on Wednesday. ST-BONIFACE 3 Brasserie Saint-Gilloise The ST-BONIFAAS owner, /who goes by the name of “Hannibal” and

is a Benfica-supporter, came to Brussels 34 years ago, from Viana do Castelo in the north of the country. His popular bar is full of trophies, all of which he won at Rana, a Spanish game with plastic frogs -- hence the frog at the counter. The cat, “Jupi” (named after the Belgian beer brand Jupiler) is more talkative than its boss, who whenever there is a match Porto-Benfica on television shuts the curtains and closes his bar, to avoid “hullabaloo” between the opposing sides. At the corner of Avenue 4

horizon, and 19 years later, she’s still here. In her spare time she runs the wine tasting bar Sol Ar Bar, a Portuguese house of quality with ambition. She serves many of the fine wines in which Portugal is so rich, accompanied by the best that Portugal has to offer in cheese, cold cuts... There are also exhibitions, concerts and gourmet evenings with Portuguese chefs. Sol Ar, says Marques, offers a view, rare in Brussels, on the “other” Portugal: international, self-aware and advanced. Avenue Bruggman 52



(at the border of Saint-Gilles and Forest) Open Thurday-, Friday- and Saturday nights - 5 Alambique Rui Dias Ferreira doesn’t just sell wine, he advocates Portuguese heri-



tage: a personal selection of the best wines of his country, especially from the Douro and the Alentejo regions. In this touchingly seventies-style interior, it is easy to get lost for an hour when asking Rui more about his wines. Avenue des Villas, 5 - www. 6 O Golfinho This is where the Portuguese come to in the morning before go-


ing to work, for their Torrada with a Cafezinho. Later in the day, they return for a Francesinha and other snacks such as bifana and pasteis de bacalhau. Moroccan neighbours come here to play pinball and drink coffee - Delta, of course. The BelgoBelgians are at the counter, drinking beer. Avenue du Parc 1, open from 8.00 7 Coimbra One of the best-known Portuguese restaurants in Brussels, often featured in tourist guides, and where legendary Fado singer Amália Rodrigues once performed. Furbished like traditional restaurants in Portugal, complete with azulejo-covered walls. Here you can taste from all specialities from the Portuguese kitchen, such as fish stews like Caldeirada en Cataplana. Avenue Jean Volders, 54 8 Açougue popular In the trail of the Portuguese, Brazilians too have moved to Saint-Gilles. In this butcher/grocery store, they sell products from Portugal and Brazil: if you’re looking for some pig’s ears or all the ingredients to make a feioda, here is the place. Chaussée d’Alsemberg, 34 9 APEB The Associação dos Portugueses Emigrados na Bélgica (APEB) was founded in 1966 by refugees and grew into Brussels’ (and the Benelux’) main organisation for Portuguese migrants. Today, political discussions are relatively rare, unlike folk dances, singing and parties -- old school, all. APEB welcomes everyone who likes a talk in Portuguese or shows interest in Portuguese culture, and all things related, because APEB likes to invite other Lusophones over to their dance nights: Cape Verdeans, Brazilians or Mosambicans. Consult the site for the program. Rue de




10 3 5

des Villas with Rue Garibaldi, usually open, unless there’s football on TV. Sol Ar bar Patricia Pereira Marques came from Lisbon to Brussels to broaden her

Belgrade, 120 – 10 Villa Pouca Owner Helena followed her sister to Brussels and opened this cor-


ner-snackbar. During lunchtime (until 14.00) you can eat all the regular Portuguese



specialities here -- whatever is served that day. In the evenings Villa Pouca is a bar. The earthenware is typical, as well as the TV screens. Avenue du Parc, 116, Open all days 7.00-23.00 11 Algarve The owners of Algarve are an exception in the Northern-Portuguese

enclave of Saint-Gilles, coming as they do from the most southern region in the EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT country, right near Spain. Which explains the winks towards that country on the menu card, but most of it is Portuguese cuisine. Authentic kitchen and a family atmosphere, sometimes Fado concerts as well. Sundays is still really a holy day here, PARC as it should be: then they serve their personal favourites, like Cozido à Portuguesa (Portuguese stew) or Cabrito. Rue Hotel des Monnaies, 190. Closed on WednesLEOPOLD

day and Saturday noon. 12 Oh Fadista Every Sunday, the scruffy neighbourhood around the Midi Station


cheers up a little with the multicultural Marché du Midi. This is also the time when Oh Fadista is at its best. In its kitschy interior not only Portuguese come to eat, but Africans as well. If you can live with the sight of the Esplanade around this time (looking much like the site of a bomb attack, after the market vendors have left all their trash behind) than you can have chouriça assado here (sausages grilled with alcohol) as well as other Portuguese specialities. Sometimes there are Fado concerts here as well. Around the corner, there is a lovely old-fashioned Spanish-Portuguese store, ask for it. Esplanade de L´Europe, 17. Open every day, from 8.00 until 22.30. 13 Au coin de table Simple and affordable brasserie, good for a plat du jour, spe-

cialised in grilled fish. The neighbourhood Portuguese, Eurocrats and Belgian civil servants come here for lunch over noon. The owners are from Lisbon and opened this restaurant 10 years ago. Rue Berckman, 140. Closed on Saturday afternoon and on Sundays. 14 Le Terminus The speciality here is roasted chicken, made on a grill near the win-

dow, like in Portugal. Depending on the day, there is more or less choice in Portuguese specialities. On Fridays bacalhau is served. Try not to be put of by the poor interior and the desolate surroundings of the Midi-staion: among the Portuguese of Brussels, the roasted chicken here is known to be the best in town. They come here especially on Sundays, after visiting the Marché du Midi, around 1 o’ clock. The owner comes from Rio Major near Lisbon, and started his business 14 years ago. Boulevard Jamar, 7. Open from 9.00 to 23.00.

ANNEX Two points of reference for the Portuguese community fell outside the scope of these maps, but are well worth a visit: Mercado Iberico

This Portuguese supermarket for gourmands in Anderlecht has it all: wine, oil, cheese, cold cuts, football memorabilia, earthen work, a counter full of olives that you can taste from, dried bacalhau, take-away Portuguese dishes (especially rotisserie), vacuum packed pig’s head (complete with ears), sweets, deep-fried octopus. Feels like home to the Portuguese, who come here especially on Sunday afternoons, with their families. But other South-Europeans feel at home here as well: Iberico also offers a selection of other countries’ products: Spain, Italy, Greece. Owner José Roxo opened his first Iberico 17 years ago in Paris; this one, the second branch, was opened a couple of months ago. “I want to create the atmosphere of the real mercado here, where people are allowed to taste, where the service is personal, like in a small shop in the South, and where there is enough space between the shelves to stop and have a talk. A much more southern shopping experience than people are used to in this part of Europe.”Chaussée de Mons 576, 1070 Anderlecht – Livraria Orfeu

In this Portuguese bookstore in the heart of European Brussels they have it all: poetry, novels, history, popular science... as long as there is a link with Portugal and other FLAGEY Lusophone countries, such as Brazil, Cape Verde, Mozambique. Owner Joaquim Pinto da Silva (who came to Brussels as a political refugee and now works for the E.U.) is one of the people behind the statue of Fernando Pessoa at Place Flagey, and has an excellent taste in books. Orfeu is the foremost Portuguese cultural institute in Brussels, with lectures and other events almost every week, and this since 15 years. Most of the books are in Portuguese, but there are those in French, English and Dutch as well. Rue du Taciturne 43, 1000 Brussels. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 11.30-18.30 and Sunday, 10.30-13.00.





Thank you: BRUSSELS AND ENVIRONS: The King Baudouin Foun-

dation and the Pascal Decroos Foundation for supporting this project. The Portuguese Embassy in Brussels and Filip Strubbe (State Archives in Belgium) for providing information. Our cover star Maria Josée Massias Figuera. Those kind enough to grant us interviews, and helping us out in many other ways (in alphabetical order): Eugenio Boléo, Laurent Borrens, Segismundo Lencastre Bragança & Manuela Bragança, Paulo Carvalho, Antonio & Maria Fatima Cavaco, Nuno Costa, Pedro Dos Santos, Rui Dias Ferreira, Patricia Marques, Miguel Martins (‘Maico’), the Munho family (Francesco, Isabelle, Sergio & Ana Rosa), Joaquim Pinto da Silva, Pedro Rupio and his mother Ana Maria, José Roxo, Matias Assado Silveira & his daughter Maria De Lourdes Gonzales Silveira, Antonio Tomé. And several people wishing to remain anonymous.John Kehoe, Grégory Lang, Dimitri Jageneau and Julie Verstraeten - for their linguistic remarks. Delphine Genard for her speedy French translation. Claudine De Pauw and Siegrid Demyttenaere for the lay-out. Karel Blondeel for his knowledge of the Portuguese language and his aptitude with a camera. Walter Bettens for editorial advice. And Edmond Cocquyt for mapping Ixelles and Saint-Gillis. PARIS Albano Cordeiro, Luis de Miranda, Agnes Pellerin,

Daniel Marin, the Instituto Camoes. LISBON José Fernandes - more than the photographer,

Victor Pereira, Alcinda Marin. SAO CRISTOVAO Augusto Rupio & his wife. ALJUSTREL: Antonio & Antonio, Eduardo Joacinto & Maria Francisca Cavaco, Julio Roberto, Joao Sousa Costa, José Suares. CAMPO MAIOR

The Pingo family: Francesco, Rachel & her husband Mario Santos, Pedro & his wife Anna Christina; Joachim Galego, Antonio Travasso, Rui Nabeiro.



Suggestions for further reading & viewing First: specifically on the migration of Portuguese to Brussels, there really is not much further reading to point to. There is only the heady PhD thesis by political scientist Malika Ghemmaz (2008, Université de Lille) on the political integration of Portuguese migrants in Belgium, Luxembourg and France – which also contains a good and up to date overview of the history of Portuguese migration in the second half of the twentieth century. (Available online here – in French: If you master the Portuguese language, however, you might get a glimpse of what it means to be Portuguese in Brussels through literary works produced by Portuguese living in Brussels, such as poet Maico (Miguel Martins) with his As Primeiras Horas or novelist Amadeu Sabino Lopes – even though his A Lua de Bruxelas is set in the 1830s. Both books are available at Livraria Orfeu (Rue du Taciturne, 43 –, where they will be happy to help you further in your search – also as regards classic or contemporary Portuguese literature, by some of the authors quoted in this book: António Lobo Antunes, Manuel Alegre and of course Fernando Pessoa and Luís Vaz de Camões. What follows, are a few reading & viewing tips (both in English and in French) for those new to these matters and who want to know more about some of the issues touched upon in this book. Most of these books, articles and documentaries are easily available – quite a few of them on the Internet, and most of them for free.

In english There is only one English-language academic journal focusing entirely on Portuguese migration (or “the cultures, societies, and history of the Lusophone world”): Portuguese Studies, published in Britain, and available online here: (for subscribers). Many interesting articles, for instance on “Pessoa & the New State”, on Lusotropicalism... It is also interesting to see the story of Portuguese migration in a wider historical context. For this, British historian Tony Judt’s excellent & panoramic Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 (Penguin Press, 2005) is highly recommended. A much praised general English-language introduction to the history of Portugal is offered by José Hermano Saraiva, a best-selling historian in Portugal. His one book in English, Portugal: A Companion History (Carcanet Press, 1998) takes the form of a travel companion to the land, and with its 180 pages, it is a good primer. British journalist Marion Kaplan who has also written travel companion to Portugal: The Portuguese: The Land and Its People (Viking, 1991). Kaplan’s aim is to explain the people through their history, and she does a good


job at that: the book is very readable and quite informative. British journalist Martin Page, in his acclaimed Portugal: The First Global Village (Casa das Letras, 2002) traces the great influence the Portuguese have had worldwide; how they changed the world through trade and language. For a detailed and balanced account of the Salazar years, read Filipe Ribeiro de Meneses’ Salazar: a political biography (published by Enigma Books in 2009). The migration policy of the Salazar regime gets scant attention, but Meneses’ extensive coverage of the colonial wars is very much worth reading. For a passionate, well-informed & very lively eye-witness account of the Carnation Revolution, read Phil Mailer’s Portugal – the impossible revolution? – especially his piercing analysis of the failed land reform in the Alentejo in chapter VI. The book was first published by Solidarity in 1977, republished in 1996 by Black Rose Books (still in print) and is also available for free here: portugal-impossible-revolution-phil-mailer. A very enlightening view on the psycho-dynamics of migration comes from Indian poet & psycho-analyst Salman Akhtar: Immigration and Identity: Turmoil, Treatment, and Transformation, published by Jason Aronson in 1999. Finally: bacalhau (cod) is a fish central to the history and lifestyle of the Portuguese – but it is also true for other peoples as well, like the Basques. In an original work, the history of the cod, and its role in diverse cultures, is traced by Mark Kurlansky: Cod. A Biography of the fish that changed the world (published by Walker in 1997).

In french The Portuguese migration to Belgium has not given rise to a research tradition, this in contrast to France, where there is more and more research into Portuguese migration, especially by scholars who are themselves of Portuguese descent. A great starting point from where to overview this research field is the Parisian-Portuguese magazine Latitudes, Cahiers Lusophones.(http://www. The magazine, which started in 1997, features a wealth of interesting articles, written mainly by academics, but aimed at the general reading public – no jargon. All available for free online. Featuring articles on such subjects as contemporary Alentejan art, Portuguese migration as represented in documentaries or Fado: the voice of rebellion or an instrument of the regime? Highly recommended. A more strictly academic French journal, covering the same issues, and published at the University of Bordeaux, is Lusotopie. interesting themes in different numbers, such as one in 1997 about “Lusotropicalisme”. All available for free online, see

Victor Pereira wrote a PhD thesis on Salazar’s emigration policy. More succinct versions of his interesting views on the subject can be found in many places, for instance here in Cahiers de l’Urmis, of February 2004: In this Portuguese-theme edition of Cahiers de l’Urmis, there are more interesting articles, such as one by Albano Cordeiro on the reasons behind the weak level of political participation of the Portuguese in France: A very readable account of the Portuguese presence in Paris is offered by Agnes Pellerin, in Les Portugais à Paris (Chandeigne, 2009). Her focus, however, is not on the present (very large) Portuguese community living in and around Paris, but on traces of Portuguese literary and cultural life in the French capital over the last few centuries. The works of French investigative reporter Christian Rudel on Portugal are highly recommended, such as his biography of Salazar (Salazar, Mercure de France, 1969) or his general overview Le Portugal (Karthala, 1998). Joaquim Pedro de Oliveira Martins’ Historia de Portugal published in French as Histoire du Portugal by Editions La Différence in 1994, might not be the most up to date history of Portugal (it was published in 1879), but it’s still a literary & historiographical classic, and a good introduction to the history of Portugal and its empire prior to 1834.

Cinq colonnes à la une (1961) CAF91013823/ Cinq colonnes à la une (1965) De nos envoyés spéciaux (1968) Point/Contrepoint (1969) CAF93023747/ Finally, a good recent popular-scientific overview of contemporary Brussels, in all of its perplexing complexity, is Bruxelles! by Eric Corijn & Eefje Vloeberghs (VUB Press, 2009), while the online journal Brussels Studies presents recent academic research into the city, in “a clear and accessible language, free from unnecessary jargon”. All articles are in French, Dutch and English. See www.

Dominique de Roux’ account of the Carnation Revolution, Le Cinquième Empire (1976) is a boldly original work and a cult classic, a mix between a novel, a piece of research journalism, and a mystical-political tract. There are also many interesting French television documentaries on the Portugal of the 1960s and ‘70s available for download at (for the reasonable price of c 4 a piece). Certainly worth a view is a 1969 edition of the French news program Point/ Contrepoint, which is a documentary on the Portuguese migration to France, featuring among others Manuel Alegre and containing footage of the Champigny bidonville at that time. Other interesting downloads are a 1965 reportage by De nos envoyés spéciaux featuring an interview with Marcello Caetano, and two editions of Cinq colonnes à la une, one from 1961 on the rising opposition to Salazar, the other one from 1965 on the war in Angola. Here are the urls to these programmes:


OUR - Office for Urban Reporting

Lusobelgae OUR

is a research centre and production house that investigates into and communicates about 21th century urbanisation.


is a network of historians, journalists, curious people, city freaks.


does research and interviews, and cooperates with local writers, photographers, map makers, etc from everywhere.


realises that the new great 21th century wave of urbanisation will shape the destiny of mankind. Yes, that means YOU as well... Every week, seven million new people arrive in cities worldwide, causing great problems and opening up equally great possibilities. Are we going to spend our lifes in blissful cities, or in hellholes of despair? Research is needed, reports are needed. And perhaps most of all a new poetic of, and intellectual dedication to, urbanisation is needed. A great effort will be necessary; OUR will contribute all it can.

This magbook was realised with the support of the Pascal Decroos Fund for Investigative Journalism, the King Baudouin Foundation and the National Lottery and is part of a broader project, focussing on Brussels as a city in transition.

© Veerle Devos

Contemporary Brussels


Picture left: The Zinneke-parade is a two yearly event, a pageant featuring thousands of Brussels people of al colours, origins and convictions, which attracts 80.000 spectators. It is an attempt to positively define the multicultural quilt that is Brussels. What the Zinneke parade is saying, is: in this town, with its 170 nationalities and 68% of people of recent foreign origin, we are all “zinnekes” (mongrel dogs) AND WE LIKE IT. And that very fact constitutes the core of Brussels’ identity. The Portuguese, with their more than 20.000 heads, are an integral part of it all.

“You’re not Portuguese if you’re only Portuguese” BRUSSELS

is a city undergoing a radical transformation. Today, two thirds of its population are of foreign descent. If you want to understand this city, and what it can become, you have to know its many communities – from the inside. In LUSOBELGAE, for the first time, the PORTUGUESE OF BRUSSELS tell their stories. How they arrived in Brussels in often dramatic circumstances, as refugees from the Portugal of Salazar, sometimes crossing the

Pyrenees on foot.

How they are nowhere at home: living unnoticed here and often snubbed when they return to Portugal. How they are everywhere at home: difficulties aside, they enjoy life in and are enriched by both cultures – though not, of course,

without the occasional pangs of saudade.

How the older generations initially retrenched in a “make belief” Portugal in Ixelles and Saint-Gilles. How the younger generations feel suffocated under the “bell jar” of their own community, and are ready to shatter the glass

and truly engage with the city.

How coming out of their confinement doesn’t mean “become Belgians”. It means first to engage with other Portuguese speakers

living in the city (Brazilians, Angolans, Mozambicans...) and next with Moroccans (“after all, we share eight centuries of history!”).

© Veerle Devos

Brussels has already gone “post Belgium”. Through the cracks, in a thousand places, something new is growing here.

“Living in Brussels as a Portuguese is like having a wife and a mistress: when you’re with one, you long for the other.” Rui Manuel Garcia Borralho, owner of patisserie GARCIA

“The Portuguese community of Brussels is so much more than folklore! We have novelists, poets, scientists...” Joaquin Pinto da Silva, owner of bookstore & cultural centre ORFEU

“I really want us to break with the Portuguese migrants’ tradition of invisibility. We have our part to play in society.” Pedro Rupio, counsellor of the CCP – Conselho das Comunidades Portuguesas

Through words and images, LUSOBELGAE conjures up Portuguese Brussels: its bars, clubs, restaurants, bookstores, monuments – and especially its people, and their history. It will also take you to Portugal, to the region where the roots of many of the portuguese people in brussels lie: the alentejo.

But why don’t you find out for yourself? Use our maps with addresses of portuguese brussels LUSOBELGAE is a production by the Office for Urban Reporting (O.U.R.) Research, interviews and text by historians and journalists Veerle Devos and Kristof Dams (O.U.R.) Pictures by Portuguese-American photographer José Fernandes. Layout

ISBN 978-94-90-94100-0

9 789490 941000


A documentary on the Portuguese in Brussels, who had never been researched before.

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