Freedom Day no longer embodies what it once stood for, it instead provides a stark warning of democracy’s waning values across the continent, writes Davide Castro.
April 25, 1974, the Carnation Revolution – a date in Portugal where we all take to the streets to celebrate something we no longer have: democracy. How I wish we’d celebrate victories instead of losses. Now it just feels like a distant memory, one that we cherish out of nostalgia for times gone by, including by those who never experienced the transition from dictatorship to democracy.
Our democracy has been disfigured by design. By a system and leaders who needed it in order to obtain power.
But this isn’t exclusive to Portugal. One need only look at the current political situation in Europe to realise that every transition there ever was has been usurped in the name of profit, at the expense of people everywhere.
Yet some insist we’ve never had it better, despite the fact that the far-right has become the third largest political force in Portugal; just as it is in a coalition government in Austria and in Italy; it has risen to power in countries like Brazil, and it ran close to ruling over a country like France. The examples are numerous.
But has this happened by accident, by pure coincidence, or can we explain it through cause and effect? A system of old, archaic and bold for all the wrong reasons, replaced by a dream that never materialised into what it represented.
The emotion and drive of the time were undoubtedly real but we fell for a dream of a better world instead of actually constructing it. And in this new world, a fake world, dominated by forces conspiring against the many, we need no conspiracy theories to explain to us our predicament. It is the very real conspiracies which we must not ignore.
It’s as if we’re stuck in a dream-like-state that we cannot get out of. Because societies built on an unhealthy level of individualism are inhumane societies that don’t take into account the essence of what it means to be human. And this is something that concerns us all, especially those most deprived. Those for whom this system isn’t like living in a dream-like-state, but a nightmare.
We live in a system that tells us to not look up, so that we don’t question those in power, where we’re actively encouraged to strive to become them [the 1%], if only we work hard enough. In doing so, we fail to look down; to acknowledge the existence of others for whom the idea of looking up is simply a ridiculous thought that doesn’t reflect reality. And here lies the struggle: to break away from this dream-like-state so that we remain conscious of class struggle.
Once the bastions of freedom and emancipation, the Left has sadly succumbed to a new form of totalitarianism. One that puts equality over freedom. But we cannot conceive of a progressive society unless we place them on equal footing. Because equality without freedom is simply dictatorship.
If we strive for social equality, we must also strive for economic equality. The enormous failure since the onset of financialised capitalism has been to accept the former and neglect the latter. So we shouldn’t be surprised by the far-right’s rise over the last decades. After all, we’ve been governed by centrist and so-called Left parties, which have been all too happy to manage the system instead of transforming it. Under a system that alienates individuals, that negates possibilities of free exchange, that stifles public spaces, the political situation will only deteriorate.
In 2004, Portuguese Nobel Laureaute, José Saramago wrote that we must question the existing system of ‘democracy’ at every opportunity and added that, if we didn’t, we’d not only lose it forever but also any hope of seeing human rights respected on earth some day.
Fast forward to 2022 and not only have we lost democracy to a system of oligarchy, but we’re seeing human rights trampled on everywhere. And yet, the majority of us still refer to this system as ‘democracy’. Even when the democracy in which we live has been kidnapped, conditioned and amputated. In this system, the power of the citizen in the political sphere is constrained to removing a government that we don’t like and replacing it by another one that we might come to like better.
But the important decisions are made in another sphere. By oligarchs who don’t care about you and I. So, as we acknowledge the alienation of the system that we’ve allowed to consume us, let us begin thinking of ways through which we can fight back. With the far-right rising everywhere, with Establishment leaders’ policies fuelling that rise, the only answer is organisation. Lest we allow the far-right to gain power and repeat the horrors of decades gone by.
Instead of celebrating April 25 out of nostalgia for what it represented, let us fight to break the shackles to which we’ve become accustomed. To get us out of this dream-like-state and achieve a truly free and equal world. We haven’t got much time.
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