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The PIDE and Portuguese Society under the Salazar Dictatorship 1945-1974: Fear, Self-Policing, Accommodation.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - secretPOL (The PIDE and Portuguese Society under the Salazar Dictatorship 1945-1974: Fear, Self-Policing, Accommodation.)

Reporting period: 2019-06-17 to 2021-06-16

The Salazar regime was the longest dictatorship in Western Europe in the twentieth century. If the military dictatorship from which it emerged is taken into account, it lasted 48 years, from 1926 to 1974. This research programme centres on the institutional and social mechanisms that contributed to the regime’s longevity. In continuation of my doctoral research on the institutional alliance between the Estado Novo and the Catholic Church, it focuses on the second of the regime’s pillars of support, the political police (PIDE).
The scholarly studies dedicated exclusively to the PIDE are rare. According to the dominant interpretation, the PIDE served two purposes: to repress, forcefully but selectively, any political opposition to the regime; to prevent any such opposition from emerging by fomenting a dissuasive climate of fear in society. Notwithstanding recent innovative research engaged in unraveling the intricacies of the PIDE’s operation on the ground, the political police’s repressive impact on society, in particular the violent persecution of oppositionists, has been heavily emphasised in the subject area. Combined with the continuing prevalence of references to an ill-defined state of “generalized fear” gripping Portuguese society, the established interpretative framework has tended to limit the interrelations between society and the PIDE to a dichotomic opposition between violent repression (or the threat of it) on one side, and “passive victims paralysed by fear” on the other.
This project aims to reconceptualise the relation between society and Salazar’s political police, overcoming the current over-emphasis on processes of top-down repression and instead looking at the PIDE “from below”. It argues that the framework of interaction between society and the PIDE must be apprehended with recourse to a novel analytical prism (focusing on “ordinary citizens” rather than the minority of oppositionists), new research methodologies, and original archival material. It draws on the international historiography of totalitarianism, where a far greater degree of complexity has been introduced in the study of the interrelations between dictatorial states and the societies under their control. It also draws on the international bibliography of accusatory practices and everyday life, which have uncovered the diversity (and ambiguity) of societal responses to dictatorship.
Overall, my research has allowed me to show that the relation between the PIDE and society was far more interactive and multifaceted than has been acknowledged until now. Society adapted to the institutional framework imposed by the regime - including the PIDE -, acting on the opportunities that opened up rather than remaining passive.The Salazarist system was in effect normalised by most Portuguese citizens as part of the structure of everyday life. As such, the action has allowed me to put forward a more complex understanding of the perpetuation of the dictatorial order, rooted in the role of common citizens, and to question the notion of the “people as victim” that currently dominates the collective memory of the PIDE.
My research approach aimed at enabling a comprehensive analysis of the subject by using a diverse set of methodologies.
The first part was preliminary in nature, laying the groundwork for the core of our research. Its aim was to question the main themes in the intertwined development of the historiography and memory of the PIDE since 1974, thus unravelling the process through which the “battle over the memory” of repression has influenced the course of the historiography of the PIDE. This implied studying the cultural representations of the PIDE since 1974 and performing a critical analysis of the main historiographical works in the field. Our conclusion is that the historiography of the PIDE has been marked – out of a multiplicity of factors – by a strong “memorializing bias”.
The second part placed “ordinary citizens” at the centre of the relation between society and the PIDE. By definition, the everyday experience of life under the PIDE for most of the population has left little trace in the archives. Uncovering their relation with the PIDE must consequently pass through the type of “recovery history” allowed by the methodologies of opinion surveying and oral history. I thus conducted a survey of a sample of 400 Portuguese citizens born before 1960, in four different cities. The questionnaire was designed to assess the place of the PIDE in the respondents’ daily life and the “coping strategies” adopted by them. I also carried out a series of 26 interviews in Lisbon, Braga, Viseu, and Faro, so as to complement the survey from a qualitative perspective. Owing to the situation engendered by the current pandemic, however, the treatment of the interviews is currently in the transcription phase.
The third part was devoted to archival research, carried out principally in the PIDE Archives. It focused on the main forms of spontaneous interactions “from below” between society and the PIDE – until now overlooked in spite of their proven heuristic value in the international bibliography. These included letters of denunciation, spontaneous applications, and petitions (over 900 letters in total). Our research shows that the PIDE was functionalised on a large scale as an instrument of private conflict resolution, a substitute for usual channels of interest articulation, and a clientelist sponsor in a society devoid of economic opportunities. When considered in conjunction with the results of the survey and interviews, the archival research merely strengthens the idea of a large-scale process of normalisation of the PIDE by the population.
These research items have so far given rise to the publication of three articles and one book:
-“The PIDE Between Memory and History: Revolutionary Tradition, Historiography, and the Missing Dimension in the Relation Between Society and Salazar’s Political Police”, in e-Journal of Portuguese History (Brown University/University of Porto), 18.1 2020, pp. 17-38.
-“Approaching the PIDE ‘From Below’: Petitions, Spontaneous Applications, and Denunciation Letters to Salazar’s Secret Police in 1964”, in Contemporary European History (Cambridge University Press), 30.3 2021, pp. 398-413.
-With Ana Louceiro, “Everyday Life Under the PIDE: A Quantitative Survey on the Relations Between Ordinary Citizens and Salazar’s Political Police (1955-1974)”, in International Journal of Iberian Studies (Intellect Books), 2021 (forth.).
-“Tenho o prazer de informar o Senhor Director”: Cartas de Portugueses à PIDE (1958-1968) (Lisbon: BookBuilders, forth. 2021).
The dissemination of the research was implemented through papers given at eight conferences and research seminars, and the organisation of an international workshop.
Our research has challenged the established interpretative paradigm in the action field and provided a new interpretation of the relations between society and the PIDE, opening up new research categories, such as processes of accommodation, adaptation, and collaboration among the population. Though the societal implications of a work of History are difficult to assess, the public debate originated by my interviews/articles in the national press suggest it has contributed to promoting the critical questioning of the “anti-fascist memory” of the regime, which had so far retained hegemonic status in the collective memory of the PIDE.
Filming Documentary for ZDF - Portuguese National Archives - 7 Oct. 2020