For decades, the far-right had been relegated to the fringes of Portuguese society. The military coup on the 25th of April of 1974, which kickstarted the Carnation Revolution, overthrew a 48-year-long fascist dictatorship. Most of the electorate then stood on the left or centre-left and the far-right parties never managed to reach the Parliament, despite …
For decades, the far-right had been relegated to the fringes of Portuguese society. The military coup on the 25th of April of 1974, which kickstarted the Carnation Revolution, overthrew a 48-year-long fascist dictatorship. Most of the electorate then stood on the left or centre-left and the far-right parties never managed to reach the Parliament, despite various attempts and tactical reorganizations.
Everything changed with the 2019 legislative election. For the first time in decades, a far-right party, the recently created Chega headed by André Ventura, managed to elect a parliamentarian. The political crisis lived by the traditional right-wing parties, CDS-PP and PPD-PSD, a product of the Troika austerity measures they implemented in Portugal, which gave way to the creation of new organizations on the right, like Chega and Iniciativa Liberal.
At the same time, the media attention received by Chega broke the media isolation that other far-right projects had been confronted with in the past. Hate speech (anti-Romanyism, homophobia and transphobia, racism and xenophobia) started to be normalized in Portuguese society on levels never before seen.
With various polls indicating Chega’s electoral growth, draining CDS-PP, the right-wing parties started to normalize Chega. It was then presented as just another party inside the democratic system, despite Chega calling itself “anti-system”. The first concrete example of this normalization came in October 2020, after the regional election in the autonomous region of the Azores.
The socialists (PS) won the election without an absolute majority. To reach a majority and form government, PSD established a parliamentary agreement with Chega for the remainder of the legislature after the latter elected two deputies. This agreement was seen as the first step towards a possible parliamentary agreement on a national level or even a governmental coalition in the next legislature if PSD needs Chega to form a government.
André Ventura and Chega took another important step with the presidential elections of January 2021, earning a disproportionate media coverage compared to other presidential candidates. Ventura came third in the elections, even without moderating his positions. He got 12% of the votes, about half a million overall, and came close to his self-established objective: to come second.
Chega continued to radicalize its discourse, and by the middle of 2021, the polls signalled it had more than 6% of the overall voting intentions. In the regional elections of September 2021, the party elected 19 city councillors and 171 municipal deputies. In the January 2022 snap election, Chega gained 7,18% of the votes and went from one to 12 parliamentarians.
A few months after the elections, Chega started one councillor after another. Currently, only 14 councillors remain. The other five councillors left the party due to political differences or were removed from the party for having established an agreement with other parties without support from Chega’s national leadership. Chega has faced challenges captivating political cadres and stabilizing its internal political life. Since its foundation, the party led by André Ventura has been in permanent internal upheaval. The party’s leadership, the most centralist in the Portuguese political scene, has responded to internal problems with the suppression of the democratic rights of its members and reinforced the powers of the president, Ventura. The president of Chega has the power to nominate all party candidates, regardless of the electoral act, and to coordinate or dissolve all national or regional political bodies of the party. Despite these contradictions and difficulties, everything indicates that, similar to what happens in most European countries, the extreme right is here to stay.
Status of the far-right in the country
Chega’s arrival in Parliament has contributed to the normalization of hate speech in the public sphere and undermined the principles of Portuguese democracy by creating a political climate prone to far-right, racist violence. The party uses a racist, xenophobic, misogynist, homophobic and transphobic rhetoric, while its agenda is deeply populist, centring on a penal, authoritarian and securitarian political program.
In august 2020, more than two dozen militants of the Resistência Nacional far-right group, since demobilized, organized a protest in front of the headquarters of SOS Racismo, the main anti-racist association in Portugal and one of the usual targets of the far-right. Furthermore, racist and xenophobic graffiti appeared in several schools and faculties, on the walls of the headquarters of SOS Racismo and in several refugee centres. In that same month, a community centre in Lisbon was also the target of a planned attack by three individuals, later identified by the centre’s activists as “neonazis”, something unprecedented in the last decades.
These cases led the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) to issue an alert on the “very worrying increase in racist attacks from the far-right in Portugal”, stressing that anti-racist activists “are not safe” and calling for an “urgent response from the Portuguese authorities”.
The biggest concern in Portugal is, without a doubt, Chega, as it has achieved what the far-right had been trying to achieve for decades. Ergue-te! (“Rise!”, former Partido Nacional Renovador, PNR) was completely overtaken electorally by André Ventura’s party, which led to a worsening of its economic capabilities and a significant reduction in cadres and mobilization capacity – many of its militants fled to Chega.
The violent far-right (Portugal Hammerskins and Blood & Honor Portugal) remains residual and, following several police operations, is currently under siege. In 2016, Portugal Hammerskins were responsible for the consecutive beatings of 18 black people, LBGTQ+ people, and communist militants as part of recruitment rituals. The Polícia Judiciária launched yet another anti-terrorist operation against them. No fewer than 27 members, including their leaders, stand accused of crimes of racial, religious or sexual discrimination, serious offences against physical integrity, incitement to violence, aggravated attempted murder, violent harm, possession of a prohibited weapon, theft, drug trafficking and arms trafficking.
Blood & Honor Portugal has avoided participating in violent actions in order not to attract the attention of the authorities, organizing sporadic music shows in Porto and participating in protests against the restrictions derived from the covid-19 pandemic, allying themselves, however, with the neo-fascist and identitarian group Escudo Identitário, which has been losing its capacity to mobilize members since 2020.
One of the most recent concerns is the growing sympathy of Portuguese citizens for accelerationist movements on different platforms and social networks. The Annual Report on Internal Security (RASI) for 2021, published in May 2022 and elaborated by security forces and services, confirms this. It is a national trend that follows that of other countries, such as the United States and Germany. At the same time, the ideological infiltration of the far-right in the security forces (PSP and GNR) is a concern, with several cases of racism and police violence having been made public in recent years, such as when agents of a police station in Alfragide, on the outskirts of Lisbon, tortured five people of colour.
This infiltration, organic or ideological, of the far-right into the security forces is a major concern. Its most visible face is the Movimento Zero (M0), a semi-clandestine organization composed of elements of the Public Security Police (PSP), the National Republican Guard (GNR) and the Prison Guard Corps (CGP). M0 was born in 2015 after several PSP agents were accused and convicted of kidnapping and torturing a group of young black men from the Cova da Moura neighbourhood on the outskirts of Lisbon.
M0 takes inspiration from the “Blue Lives Matter” movement and the Spanish JUSAPOL. The movement organizes itself through social networks, including Telegram, and expresses itself publicly through announcements and statements. One of its main mottos is “For Portugal, for the police”, and, despite advocating for an improvement in the working conditions of the security forces, its main focus is to guarantee that these security forces receive more autonomy and acting power.
This far-right movement takes advantage of bad working conditions in order to recruit new members and promote its hate speech. Its main political objective is the normalization of racism and police violence in society, transforming police officers into victims of a corrupt political system and racialized subjects into suspects and aggressors. All recently convicted police officers are sympathizers or members of the M0 or the far-right party Chega.
Status of antifascists in the country
The Portuguese far-right has always been considered marginal; therefore, there has never been an autonomous anti-fascist movement with a prolonged existence. This does not mean there were no sporadic demonstrations against the extreme right.
Starting in 2019, with the emergence of Chega, radical-left militants came together to create the Frente Unitária Antifascista (FUA) and organized the biggest antifascist demonstration in recent years against a far-right event in August 2019 in Lisbon. However, as a result of internal disagreements, the FUA ended up disappearing, and another, even smaller group emerged: the Rede Unitária Antifascista (RUA). It has no mobilization capacity and does not exceed a few dozen members if so. Militant anti-fascism organized under the Antifa banner is residual in Portugal.
The anti-fascist struggle thus falls on the parties with a parliamentary seat (Bloco de Esquerda, Partido Comunista Português, Livre and PS) in a logic of parliamentary confrontation with Chega. The occasional anti-racist demonstrations or protests for and by migrants, feminists and LGBTI+ have also had an anti-fascist character. The same phenomenon has been observed with the annual demonstrations for the celebration of the 25th of April, which take place all over the country, and which have been attracting more and more young people concerned about the growth of the far-right and the naturalization of hate speech.
Unlike other countries, such as the United Kingdom or Germany, Portugal does not have a tradition of permanently monitoring the far-right. SOS Racismo assumed this role from the early 1990s until 2010 but stopped doing so due to a lack of resources. From then on, this monitoring work has ceased, except for sporadic journalistic reports, which contribute to a state of ignorance in what concerns the far-right (its ideological currents, militants and differences between groups) among the progressive camp.
The military coup on the 25th of April of 1974 shocked supporters of the Estado Novo. Caught by surprise and the Revolution taking the streets, the far-right reorganized itself, creating new parties and movements. They ended up outlawed following the ”silent majority” demonstration on September 28, 1974, and the Spinolist coup attempt on March 11, 1975.
Exile and clandestinity were two of the options for far-right militants, and joining extreme right-wing bombing networks was a solution to continue the political struggle. They joined the ranks of the Exército de Libertação de Portugal (ELP), the Movimento Democrático de Libertação de Portugal (MDLP) and Plano Maria da Fonte. They set Portugal on fire, and the left was their target, mainly the militants and the Partido Comunista Português (PCP) headquarters.
But, with the November 25th 1975 coup, the liberal-democratic regime was consolidated, and the political far-right demobilized, although sporadic terrorist attacks continued for a few more years. The CDS, although permeable to far-right infiltration of militants and Estado Novo cadres, was too moderate in their eyes and Francisco Sá Carneiro’s PPD was seen as too liberal.
Factions of the far-right opted for a new identitarian strategy with the aim of establishing personal and political ties between youth organizations and right-wing intellectuals so that one day an independent political alternative could be created. These factions used the celebrations of national holidays such as the 10th of June, “Day of the Race”, and the 1st of December, “Day of Independence”, to approach one another and create connections as other movements emerged, such as the Movimento de Reconstrução Nacional (MIRN), headed by the former General Kaúlza de Arriaga.
Between 1977 and 1985, Portugal witnessed the reorganization of the far-right, even if it wasn’t able to break its political and electoral isolation. From then on, this political field was fragmented into numerous groups, like the newsroom staff of political-cultural war magazines or small collectives that managed to mobilize a few dozen people in the streets.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the extreme right reorganized itself again with the formation of the Partido Nacional de Renovador (PNR, now Ergue-te!), Portugal Hammerskins and, later, Blood & Honor Portugal. PNR allied itself with Mário Machado, founder of the Frente Nacional and Portugal Hammerskins, and this union was unfortunate for them.
Boneheads acted as the party’s assault troops, and several police operations in 2006 and 2007 demonstrated how the PNR was, in practice, controlled by neo-Nazis, permanently damaging its image with their electorate. The party never managed to elect deputies in the legislative or European elections it ran, nor leave the fringes of Portuguese politics, being overtaken by Chega in 2019.
Having lost its status as the main far-right party, PNR’s leadership renamed it Ergue-te! (“Rise Up!”). The party is currently experiencing a deep crisis of cadres and militancy and facing an unsustainable debt.
Even if it was residual for many decades, the truth is that the Portuguese far-right did not stop establishing international relations with other groups and personalities. Portugal Hammerskins are part of the Hammerskins international network and Blood & Honor in their respective network, having close contacts with the Spanish branch.
The neo-fascist Escudo Identitário has relations with the Hogar Social Madrid, with the Italians from CasaPound, on which the group is based, and with the Ukrainian National Corps, the political arm of the Azov Regiment.
More recently, Chega assumed its international connections as one of its main paths to legitimization. In July 2021, Chega joined the far-right European group Identity and Democracy, although it does not have any MEPs.
During the campaign for the Portuguese presidential elections in 2021, Marine Le Pen, leader of the French União Nacional, landed in Lisbon to show support for her Portuguese counterpart and, later, Matteo Salvini of the Italian Liga, did the same in May 2021. Ventura tried to get closer to the Bolsonaro clan without success so far. In January 2021, the Portuguese far-right party established links with Renan Antônio dos Santos, one of the coordinators of the Movimento Brazil Livre (MBL), responsible for spreading pro-Bolsonaro lies. Antônio dos Santos offered to help Chega on social media campaigns.
In September 2021, Santiago Abascal, leader of the Spanish VOX, participated in one of Chega’s rallies in Lisbon. Despite belonging to the European family of “Identity and Democracy”, Ventura’s party has sought to establish links with all far-right parties with electoral expression in the Global North.
Chega is the only far-right party with seats in the Portuguese parliament, having won 7.1% of the votes (12 deputies) in the January 2022 election. The party’s consolidation in the Portuguese political system took new steps with the municipal elections of September 2021: 19 councillors were elected (some have since left the party), although the goal of becoming the third national political force has failed. The party also elected 171 municipal deputies and 205 parish council members.
Connections between Chega and extra-parliamentary far-right groups are well-known. Former militants of the Escudo Identitário integrated a list for the then newly formed Juventude do Chega (Chega’s Youth), and Movimento Zero had leaders of the party in its organization. In fact, at the November 2019 M0 demonstration, in front of the Assembly of the Republic, André Ventura, wearing the movement’s t-shirt, was carried in arms to give his speech on a scaffold.
In August 2021, the weekly newspaper Expresso, citing judicial sources, reported that members of Portugal Hammerskins had joined André Ventura’s party. The aim is to use its political force as a broader platform to recruit members for the organization.
There are two key far-right publications in Portugal: the publisher Contra-Corrente (which publishes a theory magazine) and the weekly newspaper O Diabo, with a very small circulation. The publisher mainly publishes historical books on fascism and fascist thought, accelerationist ideologues, and essays on the theory of the great replacement and “gender ideology”. The weekly newspaper focuses on narratives that discredit the democratic political regime.
However, more important than these publications, as they have a very limited reach, is the normalization of far-right ideas and narratives in and by traditional media. In addition to the so-called declarative journalism (news without context consisting of mere statements by André Ventura, for example), there has been a certain promotion of Chega, giving it more importance than it often has.
On April 25 this year, as the country celebrated the 48th anniversary of the end of the Estado Novo dictatorship, CNN Portugal interviewed André Ventura during prime time, with Ventura propagating far-right narratives. Another example is the case of a neo-Nazi militant who went to fight in the Russo-Ukrainian war alongside other neo-Nazis: she was presented as a mere volunteer nurse, also by CNN Portugal.
The daily newspaper I and the weekly SOL, which share the same newsroom, are two major promoters of Chega and André Ventura. They regularly publish positive news concerning the party and its leader, with the weekly NOVO opting for the same route.
The 2022 legislative elections guaranteed Chega public funding of 4.55 million euros over the next four years of the legislature, guaranteeing the party sufficient means to develop its party activity. Until then, the party depended on a small public subsidy that it started to receive when it elected one deputy in 2019 and on its ability to raise funds from militants or donors external to the party.
Chega promoted several meetings with renowned Portuguese businessmen from various industries like hospitality and tourism, real estate, agriculture and high finance to convince them to fund the party. Journalistic investigations and audits by the Entidade das Contas dos Partidos do Tribunal Constitucional have shown that the party received significant donations from some of the biggest Portuguese bankers and entrepreneurs, which demonstrates that the racist, authoritarian and economically ultra-liberal ideology of the party led by Ventura has the support of the most relevant sectors of the Portuguese economic elite.
The party is also said to have sought international funding from banks owned by oligarchs close to Vladimir Putin. The Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine ended up thwarting that plan.