Ana Cruz - Board member of SOS Racismo (Portugal)
2 June 2009
1. How do you assess the level of discrimination in Portugal?
Discrimination is hard to quantify, it’s not a question of one country being more racist than the next. There are cases of racist behaviour everywhere, although their forms of manifestation are often different from place to place. In Portugal we have the myth of Portuguese tropicalism, imposed by the dictatorship about the way that Portuguese people relate to other populations. We are traditionally laid-back and moderate, with a tendency towards miscegenation and therefore non-racism. The result is that this issue was not addressed and remained hidden in the past. Only now do we start to talk about racism, even though it has always existed.
2. What specific challenges do minorities face in Portugal?
On one hand there are aspects related to immigration laws, which are heavily bureaucratized, resource-consuming and unrealistic in the face of Portuguese reality. These leave immigrants in an unprotected situation which often leads to them being exploited. On the other hand, there is permanent mistrust towards that which is different on behalf of the majority, which affects integration in education, healthcare, the job market and housing.
3. How would you assess the national acceptance of cultural diversity acknowledged in Portugal?
Unfortunately, we are not educated from a young age to accept differences. On the contrary, school is seen as having a homogenising effect over different cultures, which has it’s consequences on the self-consciousness of individuals and on acceptance of difference as a positive factor. Currently, difference is seen as an obstacle in schools and as something negative by many people.
4. How have cultural organisations and political groups responded to the challenges of diversity in Portugal?
The issue hasn’t really been addressed by political groups. In fact, for a long time, immigration was exclusively an issue for the police. Cultural associations, on the other hand, especially neighbourhood associations, have had a very important role in promoting diversity and in the attempt to change the image of these neighbourhoods and the general population’s attitude to other peoples.
5. In your view, what specific measures need to be taken at the national level to encourage greater social cohesion?
There is an urgent need for reform in the educational system, to introduce alternative curricula and informal educational methods so as to raise citizens who are conscientious of the benefits of diversity, and who are prepared to learn before they judge.
We must also strive to improve living standards, namely in terms of housing, as relocation programs have given rise to closed, stigmatised, ghettoized, areas with little self-initiative; we must make democracy more participative and representative. There are countless reforms which are put forward during meetings, assemblies and congresses but which are rarely put into practice. Examples of these are the reforms proposed by the National Plan for Inclusion. The statute of socio-cultural mediators, put forward in this plan, has been waiting for ten years to be approved.
6. What contribution can Portugal make to the debate over inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue at the European level?
Portugal, as any other country, can recognise the fact that nationality is unrelated to what is traditionally understood as being Portuguese: being white and Catholic. At a political level, we must start to discuss what Europe is currently and how it has positively evolved towards a society of multiple belongings, both religious and cultural.
7. What role can the media play in promoting diversity in Portugal?
Nowadays the media are one of the main causes of the existence of stereotypes and prejudice. Journalists urgently need to be trained on promoting respect for difference. The way that media transmit “reality” is, for the time being, frightening. There is little interest in discovering what really happens and only in reporting information related to crime.
8. How can the Council of Europe’s ‘Speak Out Against Discrimination’ campaign help in the fight against discrimination in Portugal?
The campaign has helped to place the issue in the order of the day and has brought together organisations that traditionally didn’t work together. Those who fight for human rights must fight against all kinds of discrimination.
9. Looking to the future, what are the prospects for improved community relations in Portugal?
I believe that relations will only get worse if the media continue to report occurrences between individuals as though they were happening between communities. Generalisation has become very common, as if one person could represent a whole community.
However, there have been some interesting projects, mainly promoted by NGOs, which may help raise a future generation of associative leaders who could greatly contribute to improved relations between all. Unfortunately, these projects are still few and always run on very limited budgets.