Myriam Zaluar, (Inflexible Precarious – Portugal) is Taking Action!

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LISBON, Mar 2013 (IPS) – Indignation in Portugal over rampant joblessness and cuts in wages, pensions and unemployment benefits, together with a growing tax burden, has given rise to innovative forms of protest capable of drawing large crowds.

Portugal-smallThe common denominator is non-violence. A mixture of ingenuity, humour and nostalgia for the good old days is the recipe that wide sectors of society are following to express their outrage in the face of the social and economic debacle.

In the conservative government’s year and a half in office, the unemployment rate has climbed from 11 to 16.9 percent, while GDP fell by 3.2 percent in 2012 and one-quarter of the population of 10.6 million are facing poverty and social exclusion.

Painting murals, which was popular three decades ago, is making a comeback.

Hundreds of young people are using paint and the walls of urban buildings across the country as a form of protest against the neoliberal free market policies of the government of Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho. Democracy does not just mean voting every four years, they argue.

One example is Marquês da Fronteira Avenue, one of Lisbon’s main arteries, where dozens of people responded to a call by the Associação de Combate à Precariedade (Association to Combat Job Insecurity) and Precários Inflexíveis (Inflexible Precarious Workers), gathering on Sunday Feb. 24 to paint huge murals about the crisis, in an atmosphere of festive solidarity.

On the murals, the two groups are also calling for people to come out for a demonstration on Saturday Mar. 2, without the involvement of political parties or trade unions.

Another novel form of protest arose in the public galleries of parliament on Feb. 15, when a group of people attending the debates, headed by well-known singer-songwriter Carlos Mendes, spontaneously began to sing “Grândola, Vila Morena,” a symbol of the peaceful Apr. 25, 1974 “carnation revolution” that overthrew the dictatorship that came to power in 1926.

“Grândola, Vila Morena” was used as a signal by a group of leftwing army captains to advance on Lisbon to oust Marcello Caetano, the successor to António de Oliveira Salazar and General Manuel Gomes da Costa. The three rulers were the heads of the longest European dictatorship of the 20th century (1926-1974).

The action in parliament was the result of “a group of activists on the day of the fortnightly plenary debate, who interrupted the prime minister’s speech by singing ‘Grândola’ at the very moment that the government party was making its point,” Mendes told IPS.

“It all took place in the context of actions planned to call people’s attention to the criminal austerity that is being imposed on us,” he said.

Mendes particularly stressed that “there were no insults or strong words; we simply sang, and the head of government had to stop speaking, drowned out by the chorus of voices singing ‘Grândola, Vila Morena’.”

In the two weeks that have passed since the protest in parliament, the prime minister and other government officials have been repeatedly interrupted in public by demonstrators singing the symbolic song, all around the country.

Another creative form of protest emerged three weeks ago, when the tax office began to receive electronic invoices in the name, and with the tax identification number, of Pedro Passos Coelho.

Previously cash register receipts served as automatic tax declarations for shopkeepers. Now the government is attempting to curb undeclared sales by shops and small businesses by providing a small tax rebate to customers who give their names and tax ID number.

But by the end of the third week of February, the tax office web site began to collapse under the flood of thousands of receipts with the prime minister’s name and tax identification number.

The protest operation was coordinated through the Facebook page “as faturas do coelho” (Coelho’s receipts), and now emails and text messages are also circulating the tax identification numbers of Finance Minister Vítor Gaspar, Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Miguel Relvas and Justice Minister Paula Teixeira da Cruz.

The “as faturas do coelho” account is the result of “a much wider movement that goes far beyond a Facebook page,” one of the organizers told IPS.

Its members prefer not to identify themselves individually, because “there is no name behind this page, and therefore we do not make individual statements.”

The spokesperson explained that “the (Facebook) account does not personalise the operation, nor does it credit the inventor with particular merit, but rather credits all the citizens who make this creative protest every day, ultimately contributing also to combating the deficit.

“The Facebook page will continue to contribute humorously, so that the action will continue,” the spokesperson said, adding that cash registers in large shopping centres are becoming jammed by the excessive use of the ministers’ tax identification numbers, as in these malls “one out of every three customers is shopping in the name of the prime minister.”

It is “a movement that is much more representative of Portuguese citizens than the prime minister would have us believe,” the spokesperson said, even though “he is right to say that one tree does not make a forest“.

However we, the people who are up in arms in indignation, are increasingly the forest,” the spokesperson concluded.

© Inter Press Service (2013) — All Rights Reserved

myriam-zaluarFollowing a series of demonstrations against austerity in Portugal, the country’s national police force, known as the Public Security Police (PSP), and the prosecutor general’s office, known as the the Public Ministry (MP), have faced heavy criticism for their decision to bring legal action against several protesters and activists.

Myriam Zaluar, a freelance journalist, teacher, and one of the founders of the movement Precários Inflexíveis (Inflexible Precarious), was indicted on charges of qualified disobedience related to having organized a collective registration of unemployed people at one of the centers of the Institute of Employment and Vocational Training (IEFP, the governmental body responsible for training and employment).

The intention of this symbolic act of protest was to draw attention to unemployment in Portugal [not all the unemployed are registered there and the statistics only show the numbers released by IEFP].

Myriam became known in 2011 for an open-letter she wrote to the Prime Minister, widely shared on social networks, following his recommendation for the unemployed to emigrate.

povo

This time, Myriam wanted to show that the unemployment figures in Portugal are flawed, but police considered her action to be a non-authorized demonstration – although it only involved four direct participants and the distribution of flyers – and thus authorities should had been informed 48 hours before. Myriam rejects the accusation and denies having committed any crime.

The case has raised questions about restrictions on freedom of expression, the definition of demonstration, and police intervention in political matters, as well as sparked a heated discussion online. According to the Movimento Sem Emprego (MSE, Movement Without a Job), the situation is an example of authorities attempting to intimidate citizens in order to stop them from taking to the streets with their demands.

Laura Fortuna Pinto commented on Facebook:

“No matter how many times I read the article, I simply can’t understand the basis of the accusation. But from the four people present at the protest was she the only one being notified? This country is becoming weird!!!”

On the day of the first court hearing – which was postponed in the end – several people staged a demonstration [pt] in support of Myriam that was discussed on social networks and broadcast by traditional media.

Uma das duas pessoas que “já fazem uma manifestação”, Myriam Zaluar foi a julgamento com o apoio de uma centena de pessoas (este foi adiado para 13 de Março devido à arguida não ter sido notificada).

The case of Mariana Avelãs

A similar case is that of Mariana Avelãs, who belongs to the movement Que se Lixe a Troika (Screw Troika). Police filed charges against her following a press conference announcing the September 15 protests in which thousands took to the streets in Portugal and Spain to demonstrate against government austerity measures.

By the end of November, P3 reported:

“According to Mariana Avelãs, that day PSP addressed the 15 members, who had raised a banner for the movement, asking for the identification of one person, but they assured them that “there wouldn’t be any consequences”. (…)

However, (…) “two or three weeks later” she was informed that she “legal action had been brought against her”. The social activist confirmed on November 8 she was charged with organizing an unannounced demonstration. (…)

Mariana Avelãs describes the actions of authorities as an attempt to “criminalize movements” in order to give the impression that they are “terrorists and revolutionaries”.

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