Censorship in Portugal - Effect of Censorship On Portuguese Culture

Effect of Censorship On Portuguese Culture

Even Luís de Camões had to submit the text of "Os Lusíadas" to the censorship of the Inquisition, being forced to debate it verse by verse. That which is today considered the greatest poem in Portuguese language went through a phase of abandonment, being ignored and despised, which can also be considered a subtle form of censorship.

Damião de Góis received the Imprimatur for his "Crónica do Felicíssimo Rei D. Manue" in 1567. Five years later, however, it was still waiting for Bishop António Pinheiro to correct an error in one of the pages. Prior censorship gave free rein to censors who could easily exploit any minuscule question they might have with the authors to delay the publication of the work.

Even Father António Viera was jailed by the Inquisition from 1665 to 1667, because he openly supported the works of the New Christians and criticizing actions of the Dominican inquisitors.

More serious were the processes that involved dramatist António José da Silva, known as "O Judeu" (The Jew), who was arrested and tortured together with his mother in 1726. In 1737 he was arrested again, also with his mother, wife and daughter, being decapitated and burned in an auto-da-fé in Lisbon, his wife and mother suffering the same fate.

Francisco Xavier de Oliveira, Cavaleiro de Oliveira was luckier, managing to evade in August 18, 1761, the last auto-da-fé held in Portugal, exiling himself in the Netherlands. His works, however, were apprehended and burned.

Later, during the Estado Novo, Maria Velho da Costa, Maria Teresa Horta and Maria Isabel Barreno were involved in a court case due to the publication of their "Novas cartas portuguesas" (New Portuguese Letters), which allegedly contained pornographic and immoral content and which is today considered no more than a sharp criticism of the Portuguese chauvinism and a commentary on the condition of women in society.

Maria Velho da Costa would, as a reaction to this proceedings write "Ova Ortegrafia" (Ew Rthography) which begins with "(I) ave ecided o ut y riting, hat ay I pare he ork f ho ant o ut e (...) " (letters within brackets added for readability).

Writers fear that their works will end up prohibited, and therefore some things are not worth writing, lest they damn the whole book. Journalists were always the ones that suffered the most from this self-imposed censorship, as there would bear responsibility for any delays in the newspaper, for some ill-pondered or reckless phase. Ferreira de Castro wrote in 1945 "Each of us, when writing, places an imagiary censor on the desk".

Some authors started using metaphors: Dawn for Socialism, Spring for Revolution, Vampire for Policeman, etc., which made some of the works unintentionally poetic, something that is today remembered with some nostalgia (even today, specially in some of the smaller newspapers, we can find an overly elaborated prose in everyday subjects). David Mourão Ferreira wrote in the poem that was later sung by Amália Rodrigues as "Fado de Peniche", "At least you can hear the wind! - At least you can hear the sea!", in a reference to the political prisoners held in the Forte de Peniche (Peniche fortress), not to the fishermen of the town (fisheries and fish canning have been the most important activity in Peniche for decades). The objective of this coded wording was to induce in the audience the suspicion of everything being reported and officially sanctioned by the authorities, and let the second meaning be imagined even where there were none.

It is often told that in a Zeca Afonso concert the censor assigned to monitor the performance unwittingly joined the chorus of singing "You'll end up in the PIDE", being later severely punished for his naivete.

Many other authors were jailed or saw their books impounded, such as Soeiro Pereira Gomes, Aquilino Ribeiro, José Régio, Maria Lamas, Rodrigues Lapa, Urbano Tavares Rodrigues, Alves Redol, Alexandre Cabral, Orlando da Costa, Alexandre O´Neil, Alberto Ferreira, António Borges Coelho, Virgílio Martinho, António José Forte, Alfredo Margarido, Carlos Coutinho, Carlos Loures, Amadeu Lopes Sabino, Fátima Maldonado, Hélia Correia, Raul Malaquias Marques, among others.

Aquilino Ribeiro saw his book Quando os lobos uivam (When the wolves howl) confiscated in 1958. The regime brought a criminal suit against him for alleged offenses against the state, though the suit was later dropped after protests from François Mauriac, Louis Aragon, André Maurois and other foreign writers. Even upon his death, any news about these events was suppressed.

In 1965 the Sociedade Portuguesa de Autores (Portuguese Authors Society) had the audacity to present Angolan writer Luandino Vieira with the Camilo Castelo Branco Award at a time when he was serving a 14-year sentence at Tarrafal camp for terrorism (while fighting for the independence of Angola). As a consequence, the society was shut down by order of the Minister of Education, and its headquarters were vandalized. Jaime Gama, who would become foreign affairs minister in the '90s, wrote about the issue in the "Açores" newspaper and was arrested by the PIDE.

In cinema the regime, besides prohibiting certain movies and scenes, also sought to impede the access of the less literate to certain ideas. According to law 2027 of 1948, when António Ferro was in charge of the Secretariado Nacional de Informação (National Information Secretariat), he forbade the dubbing of foreign movies, not out of any aesthetic concern, but simply because dialog could thus be left untranslated or purposely mistranslated so as to avoid forbidden subjects. Even though censorship ended, today's Portuguese moviegoers still prefer subtitles over dubbing, and in recent years even children's cartoons have been available in subtitled, non-dubbed versions.

Several Portuguese intellectuals have showed how the various forms of censorship have hindered the cultural development of Portugal. Some authors have pointed out that the Portuguese cultural elite has become something of an aristocracy, disconnected from the rest of the population. This is evident by the prevalence of a gap between popular culture and "high culture", with the arraiais (popular gathering with light music and ball dancing), pimba music (based on double-entendre or straightforward sexual slang) and racho folclórico (folk and ethnological dancing and music groups) on one side, and literature, drama and classical music on the other. Portugal has become one of the countries in Europe with the lowest attendances of theater and the lowest rates of book reading. The traditionally bad box-office results of Portuguese cinema, compared to the amount of foreign awards the same movies get, is also pointed out as a result of this gap.

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