No Kerensky: Mário Soares a pivotal figure in Portugal’s democratic transition


The Portuguese political police, PIDE, took Soares into custody 12 times. Credit: DW

Mário Soares, a pivotal figure in Portugal’s transition from dictatorship to democracy who as prime minister led his long-impoverished country into the European Union, died Saturday. He was 92 years old, The Wall Street Journal reports:

Mr. Soares, a moderate Socialist, was widely admired for his tenacity and ebullient optimism. As prime minister, he staked his career on achieving EU membership for Portugal, seeing it as a path to strengthen the country’s young democracy, modernize its economy and end its international isolation.

“Portugal has a European vocation,” he told DW. “Fascist dictatorships are disappearing in Europe. The Greeks did it as well as the Portuguese. If the country wouldn’t follow that movement, it would be isolated. And that would compromise a rapid growth.”

Soares, who was arrested a dozen times in his fight against Antonio de Oliveira Salazar’s dictatorship, returned from exile in Paris after the 1974 Carnation Revolution, Bloomberg adds:

That year, he was appointed foreign minister in a provisional government and was in charge of negotiating the independence of Portugal’s overseas colonies. A co-founder of the moderate Socialist Party, Soares is also credited with helping counter the Communist Party’s attempt to win more power after the almost bloodless revolution.

“I certainly don’t want to be a Kerensky,” Soares said in a discussion with Henry Kissinger, then U.S. secretary of state, referring to the moderate Russian socialist Alexander Kerensky who had to flee after the Bolsheviks seized power in 1917.

“Neither did Kerensky,” replied Kissinger, who was concerned that the communists would take power, according to an account of the conversation published in 1997 in the Journal of Democracy.

Democracy and free market economics did not necessarily have to go hand in hand, Soares told a meeting at George Washington University:

Before the speech, GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg presented the President’s Medal to both Soares and Carl Gershman, the president of the National Endowment for Democracy. Soares’ speech was the final installment of the “Democratic Invention” series presented by the University and the National Endowment for Democracy.

“I want to emphasize one of the main attributes of democracy – its need for continuous and progressive improvement with a view to perfecting the functioning of democratic institutions,” said Soares. “Democracy is an evolving system, gradually enriched and fine-tuned by the changes occurred in each society that adopts it.”

“It is not legitimate to identify democracy with market economics, nor necessarily establish a link between them. They are entirely different things,” he said. “In Russia, there is a free market economy, but there is not a democracy – there is mafia,” Soares said.

“Democracy should not focus exclusively on its political, legal and institutional requisites,” he said. “It must do more and cannot ignore the basic economic, social and cultural conditions in which the people live.”


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