Saturday, May 14, 2011

Letters from Portugal: Lisbon at the end of Europe

One of the joys of living in Lisbon at the current moment is getting the ring side view to watch the Europeans slug it out, as the continuing crisis causes the masks of decorum and dignity to slip off their collective faces. Take for example the manner in which the Danish government, forced by its right-wing partners, has decided to reinstitute customs control on its borders. The move does not apparently go against the spirit of the Schengen treaty that allows for passport free movement within the Schengen zone, but it does seem to militate against the spirit of the Treaty. In any case, there are also reports of a desire by France and Italy to see changes to the Schengen agreement itself.

A similar sort of discontent has been brewing in the past couple of weeks between Finland and Portugal. Portugal that held out until the last moment, is now desperate for a financial bailout from its partners in the EU. Finland however, thanks to the protests of the True Finns, another right-wing group, has threatened to not play ball by vetoing the parliamentary vote necessary for Finnish approval to the EU bailout.

For a country that may grind to a halt in June if funds do not flow into its coffers, to be put in a position where one is nakedly dependent on a third party for mercy, is fairly humiliating. The civil society response was not long in the coming, taking the form of a video. First screened at the Estoril Conferences, as a form of mild-mannered and tongue-in-cheek diplomacy, it then careened wildly onto the internet via You-Tube.

To be honest, the video, available on YouTube as ‘What the Finns need to know about Portugal’ is somewhat embarrassing. For despite the novel facts about Portugal that were peppered into the video (did you know there were more mobile phones than people in Portugal) it is awkward to say the least when one boasts about the size of one’s former colonial empire, or that the largest number of Portuguese speakers outside of Portugal live in Paris (leaving unsaid the fact that they immigrated thanks to a lack of opportunity in Portugal), or claims credit for things that one has had either no connection with, or the most tenuous of connections.

The interesting bit about the video for this post colonial Goan living in the former metropole was not the nationalist sentiment it could offend. On the contrary, this video was interesting because it was a direct statement to the Finns, ‘fellow Europeans’; hence all the stuff that a post colonial would find embarrassing or humiliating in fact revealed much about the European imagination. It told us something about how Europeans indicate to each other that theirs, is bigger (if you get my drift) than those of the others’.

A fortnight ago this column pointed out that in turning to Europe Portugal made a choice to be a junior partner in the European formation. The whole drama around the video validates that observation, indicating that indeed, what also informs the EU experiment is racial arrogance, one that is turned inwardly against the Southern (and Eastern) partners, as much as it is against the ‘Third World’. To be the junior partner then, is to be in a humiliating position, a position that one can get out of, by attempting a humiliation of others. But only just.

And yes, you absolutely MUST watch the video!

(A version of this blog was first published in the Herald dated 15 May 2011)

No comments: