A small observation from my trip to Portugal:
Portugal is a small country of 10 million people. They are in the throes of an economic recession, though cash streams from their membership in the European Union helps them keep afloat. In Europe, the Euro is stronger than the dollar. A fifty dollar bill nets you 43 Euro. Politically, they endured a long dictatorship (by Salazar) until 1974. The communist party (PCP) holds 7 percent of the parliament seats. The rest of the political parties are mostly leftist and socially democratic, much like the rest of Western Europe.
Political Expression I: Graffiti
Walking through Lisbon and Coimbra, two cities in Portugal that house large universities, I took note of the graffiti. Coimbra had much more politically oriented graffiti than Lisbon, which is no surprise considering University of Coimbra is one of Europe’s oldest and most venerated educational institutions. The academic intelligensia is generally politically active.
While some graffiti tried to be philosophically witty (e.g. “Without the truth, you are the looser [sic]” in Lisbon), some had more overt political overtones. In Lisbon, there was a picture of a missile (which looked like a rocket) with the words “Clinton Go Home” to the left of the picture. This may signify Clinton’s decision to visit Lisbon, though it may be older than that, and it may signify Clinton’s decision to drop some bombs in Yugoslavia during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Other forms of graffiti included a picture of a fist smashing a Nazi swastika (Coimbra) and graffiti advertisements to join the communist party (Lisbon and Coimbra).
Some graffiti addressed the 9/11 attacks and, predictably, the graffiti was not flattering. Portugal’s government has expressed support for Bush and his policies for a while now, but graffiti is not written by government officials or parliamentarians. Two images were disturbing; one said “Just Do It” with a picture of a plane heading towards a building (Coimbra) and another had a picture of two towers on fire with the caption “Burn Baby Burn” (Lisbon). There is obviously a rift between those in government and those with spraypaint.
Political Expression II: Talking to a Portugese Guy on the Plane Towards Home
I talked to a Portugese guy on the plane ride home. He is a medical doctor working in Washington, D.C., and has held various high level medical administrative posts in Portugal. He was educated in Lisbon. I told him how strange it is that the U.S. dollar is so weak against the Euro. He said in a very excited tone “See?!! See?!! Now the shoe’s on the other foot!” or words to that effect. He was obviously gleeful that the dollar is weak and that the Euro is surging (and has been for months). He also mentioned the American media. He said it is very hard to find an article in the mainstream press that says something favorable about the E.U.
While the government is pro-U.S., the people do not seem to be. In a recent poll, Portugal has one of the highest negative reactions to U.S. foreign policy (Germany and France lead the pack).
What can we take from this? Not much, considering I didn’t conduct a systematic study. However, we should be mindful that although some countries’ governments support the U.S., a significant percentage of their people may not. Everybody (except those who profited from illegal sales to Iraq, such as Russia and most of Western Europe) is happy that a dictator fell. Some visit Ceacescu’s grave in Romania. Some long for the strong hand of Communism in Russia. This does not mean that most are pleased with America’s use of brute force in foreign policy. Time will tell whether Bush will be remembered as a hero, a bully, or both.