Transposing emblem by Sebastião Sem

As far as most people can tell, Portugal has yet to be contaminado by one of the populistas that have been popping up throughout Europa. Everyone knows the nomes, so I won’t bother repeating them here; but our cantinho à beira mar plantado – our little corner, planted by the sea – seems to be insulated against the storm of extreme polarização. The underlying razões for this seem difficult to pinpoint, but I’d like to take a shot at it.

Lisbon, Portugal – Passing – Pragmart

Polarização seems anathema to the Portuguese spirit. Once a nation of sailors, explorers and colonizers, we’ve since become a people of brandos costumes – that is to say, mild-mannered customs and traditions, although that oft-used tradução doesn’t quite do the original justiça. These dias, the expression is mostly used as an insulto directed by one Portuguese at all others; it’s shorthand, a quick way of saying that we’re all soft, dopes, easily taken advantage of by the powers that be, totós, sheeple, conformistas. I do agree that we are a people of brandos costumes, but am fervently against the noção that makes us dopes.

Lisbon, Portugal – Over Lisbon – John Sting

I do believe that these brandos costumes are one of the main reasons we seem to be weathering the storm of populism, a safe harbour of “moderateness” in the face of the rising polarização that has hopefully culminou in Brexit and in the eleição of He Who Shall Not Be Named. And unlike some of my countryfolk, I view these brandos costumes as an overwhelmingly positive, and defining, national trait, at least to the extent that such a thing really existe. I also find that the valores a people chooses to identify with are perhaps more interesting than the qualities others assign them; a self-portrait might not be an indicação of verdade absoluta – absolute truth –, but it is certainly revealing of a truth. And this is how we view ourselves: as a people of brandos costumes, desenrascados (another untranslatable word sometimes rendered as “to McGyver something up,” related to the French désemmerdé, i.e. to get oneself out of the shit one is in), hospitaleiros – hospitable and welcoming –, diplomáticos, pragmáticos. Being able to reach compromises is a skill cherished by any true pragmatic, and polarização, which axiomatically requer no compromises whatsoever, has had a hard time trying to lodge itself into Portuguese sociedade. And it seems improvável that a self-described hospitable people would fear the Outro, rather than embrace it.

Porto, Portugal – A snack – John Tecuceanu

Of course, I don’t mean to say polarização cannot be found at all in Portugal. It undoubtedly can. We do have extremist parties on both political wings. There are certainly racistas and xenófobos to be found. But, that being said, the vast majority of people vote for slightly left- or right-of-center parties, and take pride in keeping the Portuguese tradição of hospitalidade alive and well.

Aveiro, Portugal – On the street – Ricardo Resende

A good exemplo of our “brandos costumes” – including the connotation of sheepishness often associated with the term – can be found in the events surrounding the recent yellow vest / gilet jaune protests and the “rise” of the movimento in Portugal. Since the protestos are still fresh in everyone’s minds, I don’t think a refresher is necessary, but suffice it to say that violence was commonplace during the Paris protests, not unlike most protests which have Paris as their backdrop. By contrast, in one of the few protests by coletes amarelos in Portugal, the protesters were calmly (and comically) corralled by police, and dispersed afterwards with little commotion.

Lisbon, Portugal – In the alley – Vita Marija Murenaite

To their crédito, the French do not take any crap whatsoever and they make sure their voices are heard. It is true that Portugal doesn’t share the historical French protest cultura and it takes us a bit longer to reach a feverish pitch. But we aren’t dopes or sheep – we’re the people of the Revolução dos Cravos, the Carnation Revolution, unique, at least as far as I’m aware, for being a revolution where absolutely no blood was shed. Those are our brandos costumes: peaceful, if not timely, revolução. Somewhat amusingly (at least to me), even the Fascist ditadura overthrown by the Revolution was wishy-washy in how it played both the Allies and Axis during the Second World War, maintaining comercial relationships with the Axis powers while simultaneamente allowing Jews to escapar persecution at the hands of the Nazis (and, if you haven’t heard of Arístides de Sousa Mendes, the Portuguese Schindler as he’s often called, I would recommend looking him up) – all the while giving the Allies permission to use the strategically located Azorean islands as air fields. And, while I don’t really want to delve into all of the problemas of Portuguese colonialismo here, I’d argue that this general mild-manneredness of ours has contributed a povo, at least in parte, to the facto that Portugal has somehow managed to maintain amicable relationships with our former colónias.

Porto, Portugal – In the library – Kevin Langlais

Em jeito de conclusão – to wrap things up –, I have to confess I have no idea what has made this moderateness such a defining característica of modern Portugalidade – Portugueseness. I doubt anyone really can, and that’s assuming the question isn’t “wrong” at the outset, assuming there is such a thing as Portugalidade, which is a big ask, if you want my opinion. Maybe it was the football, the fado or Fátima – a synecdoche for catolicismo – that made us this way. I have seen this gentler/dopier natureza being ascribed to, rather poetically, our fiery latin natures being tempered by the cool Atlantic breeze. And who knows, maybe that’s it.

Sebastião Sem


Snapshot 1: Garrao Beach, Portugal – Shadowed – Henrique Macedo (Unsplash)

Snapshot 2: Lisbon, Portugal – Passing – Pragmart (Unsplash)

Snapshot 3: Lisbon, Portugal – Over Lisbon – John Sting (Unsplash)

Snapshot 4: Porto, Portugal – A snack – John Tecuceanu (Unsplash)

Snapshot 5: Aveiro, Portugal – On the street – Ricardo Resende (Unsplash)

Snapshot 6: Lisbon, Portugal – In the alley – Vita Marija Murenaite (Unsplash)

Snapshot 7: Porto, Portugal – In the library – Kevin Langlais (Unsplash)

Cinemblem voiceover: José Soveral




Cinemblem: Perypatetik youtube channel

The Syncretion of Polarization and Extremes

Ahmed, Amina. Growing up with Abuse: A Life of Extremes – Lebanon. April 2019.

Alencar, Joana. Lack of Social Trust – Brazil. January 2019.

Awdejuk, Pawel. Pole-arization – Poland. June 2019.

Baccino, Alejandra. Polarization within Ourselves – South America. January 2019.

Bondarenko, Evgeny. What You Sow Does Not Come To Life Unless It Dies – Ukraine. May 2019.

Cannarella, Daniela. A Past-Present Dicotomia – Italy. June 2019.

Casas, Marilin Guerrero Casas. Balance – Cuba. May 2019.

Cordido, Veronica. Hanging by Extremes – Venezuela. January 2019.

Escandell, Andrea da Silva. The Illogic of Extremes – Uruguay. May 2019.

Hernandez, Jonay Quintero. Extremism Is Now the New Hype? – Spain. February 2019

Israyelyan, Mania. Polarized Within Ourselves – Armenia. June 2019.

Kanunova, Nigina. Role of Polarization in the Life of an Individual and Society – Tajikistan. July 2019.

Montano, Osvaldo. Progress in the Face of Polarization – Bolivia. February 2019.

Protić, Aleksandar. Linguistic Balkanization as a Means of Polarization – The Balkans. June 2019.

Ranaldo, Mary. Social Polarization – Italy. April 2019.

Romano, Mavi. Censorship and Cultural Survival in a World without Gods – Spain. January 2019.

Sariñana, Alejandra Gonzalez. Student Movements – Mexico. March 2019.

Sekulić, Jelena. The Polarizacija of Serbian Culture – Serbia. June 2019.

Sepi, Andreea. A World of Victims and Perpetrators? – Germany and Romania. February 2019.

Sevunts, Nane. The Era To Close – Armenia. March 2019.

Skobic, Alexandar. The Loss of Identity – The Balkans. April 2019.

Sitorus, Rina. Polarization in Politics: All a Cebong or Kampret – Indonesia. March 2019.

Spirito, Julieta. A Thought about Polarized Insecurity – Argentina. April 2019.

Valenzuela, Monica. Adults and Children – Peru. April 2019.

Vuka. Extreme Immunity to Functional Tax and Judicial System – Serbia. March 2019

Wallis, Toni. Walls and Resettlement – South Africa and Angola. February 2019.

Williams, Jazz Carl. Unfinished Episodes – Spain. May 2019.


CW 29 – Uruguay – Lillian Julber
CW 30 – Argentina – Javier Gomez
CW 31 – Turkey – Seyit Ali Dastan
CW 32 – India – Sanjay Ray
CW 33 – Russia – Anastasiya Zakharova
CW 34 – Canada – Maha Husseini
CW 35 – Spain – Virginia Sanmartin Lopez
CW 38 – Turkey – Peren Cakir
CW 37 – Armenia – Hayk Antonyan
CW 38 – Italy – Sara Deiana
Source: The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed

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