9. 10. 2020

English Version | Lápis-lázuli, uma estória de censura

by Nuno Miguel Dias


"Of censors and madmen, we all have focuses" is a very old popular saying that was censored by the Holy Inquisition. It wasn’t. It's a lie. Fake News. But today it is enough to spread it to exhaustion for the social media algorithm to make it true. Are we looking at a new form of Blue Pencil? Perhaps. And that is why books will always be books.


Without major detours, because the need for them should not exist at 46 years of full democracy, based on individual freedoms and plurality of rights, but apparently fragile and possibly in danger (looking towards an advancing “phenomenon” that in one year ceased to be unimaginable to become terribly believable), it should be noted that this text was written during the third day of a “convention” of a “political party” from which it came, for mere example and among so many offenses to the progress that the last 40 years have produced in the Portuguese mentality, previously gray by the action of a dictatorship of almost half a century, the following “motion”, proposed by an unspeakable member of the Portuguese extreme right, which, until recently, had no expression at all, let alone a stage: “In a country where 80,000 babies are born each year, 25% of this number are abortions. Regarding the Voluntary Termination of Pregnancy, also known as abortion, we propose that all women who have abortions in the National Health Service, for reasons that are not of immediate danger to their health, whose baby does not present malformations or have been victims of rape, the ovaries should be removed as a way of removing the State's duty to repeatedly kill Portuguese not yet born, who have no one on their behalf in the current situation. Just like not imposing this practice on doctors on a recurring basis on the same woman.” This was known because someone decided to scrutinize the various “motions” that were being published on the “official website”, which is a blog on the old Wordpress. And, perhaps for that very reason, they were withdrawn the next day. 

As with the “Political Program” as soon as someone took the trouble to read it and found out that there was a case, explicitly, for the end of the Public School, the National Health Service, immigration and the most basic freedoms. If I took a guess at this (or perhaps because I have already seen something like this happening in the USA and in Brazil, with the rise of Trump and Bolsonaro), I almost guarantee that, in the coming days, the media, members of this “party” and even its “Great Leader” will say that it is fake news or that, at the very least, that “motion” was not accepted by many votes against it, thus proving that the “party” also practices democracy, it is not extremist and I don’t know how many hands full of sand thrown at the eyes of the most unwary, susceptible and, of course, believers (and there are too many of them). Undeniable fact is that, spanning less than a year, the phenomenon that is growing dangerously in Europe and which was believed to be impossible to be seen here, considering how fresh the memories of a dictatorship are, has reached an inconceivable dimension. The ingredients are always the same, from the open attack on democracy (dubbed the “system”) that no longer serves national interests, racism, xenophobia, sexism and contempt for fundamental freedoms (such as sexual identity), including the normalization of ignorance (and subsequent hatred for "intellectuals"), worship of a "leader" and the choice of a "scapegoat" who is the cause of everything bad that happens (gypsies and Social Insertion Income). In the era of social media, there is no need for the workload carried out by the Third Reich, spreading false news, lies and rumors that could be disseminated orally, translating the famous phrase of the Nazi propaganda leader, Joseph Goebbels: “A lie repeated a thousand times becomes the true”. It’s enough to spread a supposed concept like that of the extreme left (nonexistent in Portugal at the parliamentary level, but applied to parties that are manifestly more concerned with workers' rights than with

the interests of large companies that, says neoliberalism, “move the economy”). Then there is the strange over-coverage of the media to a "party" that, notoriously, violates the Constitution of the Portuguese Republic, the cornerstone of our democracy. But that’s another story, that minimum wage amount until a few years ago, the IMF says so and memory does not betray us. The way we got here would be suitable for a treaty. Especially because, going from here, that same treaty would be prohibited by the Censorship or, at least, widely erased by the Blue Pencil. Let's say that we are more or less at the same stage that American feminists were when they demonstrated with “I’m Not Ovary Acting” signs. The United States is currently hysterectomizing migrants in detention centers, as reported by nurse Dawn Wooten, employed at Irwin County Detention Center, to the (actually) independent television station MSNBC. Do the Americans know how to go from being a seemingly ineligible candidate to the current state of affairs? Of course yes. But the algorithm of social networks, that modern Blue Pencil, does not allow us to access such an explanation.

North Korea, People's Republic of China, Russia, Turkmenistan, Iran, Belarus, Turkey, Oman, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates and Eritrea are the current champions of censorship. Where do they apply it? On the Internet, of course. Torrents, pornography, social networks, VPNs and political media are restricted, at different levels, so that their citizens do not have access to what governments consider “dangerous”. It is, therefore, only what this is about. There is nothing and no one that a government fears more than its people. They depend on him as any employee of their boss (in a perspective more in line with neoliberalism) or as any boss of their more specialized employees (in a more leftist perspective or, the trendier “leftopath”). And it's a prerogative (or necessity) of any dictatorship to guarantee the ignorance of its “subjects”. It all started in Ancient Rome, when Serbian Túlio, the sixth king of Rome, created the position of censor, with tasks as important as carrying out the census (creating and updating the lists of citizens and their “classifications”), administering state finances (supervising state buildings and the construction of public works, such as roads and aqueducts) and, finally, maintaining public morality (regimen morum). From then until today, censorship has always soared over our civilization. With special focus on decisive moments. Like Absolutism, this theory of Machiavelli and Thomas Hobbes put in practice by Louis XIV of France, the “King Sun”, who concentrated in itself all powers and everything was worth to maintain them. In some cases, the Divine Right of Kings was applied, that is, its power emanated from God himself and only God could overthrow them. The Inquisition was also adept at applying exemplary censorship and punishment when it failed to maintain morale. There is even the theory that will account for the greatest censorship of all time (or at least, the one with the greatest impact on Western civilization), which would have been the translation of the New Testament, from Aramaic to Latin and from this to Greek, a process in which they will have weighed some values ​​that could not be contradicted and even interpretations that would not be the most correct. In the very particular case of Portugal, and even the Estado Novo, there are some episodes worth noting. Luís Vaz de Camões had to submit Os Lusíadas to the censors of the Santo Ofício, who demanded a discussion verse by verse, at its headquarters, the Monastery of S. Domingos. In 1567, the Chronicle Of The Happy King D. Manuel, by Damião de Gois, was already printed. But it was only put up for sale in 1572, because Bishop D. António Pinheiro had to “amend an error on a page.” The unique and newly famed Franciscan Father António Vieira, was imprisoned by the Inquisition for two long years, for defending the New Christians in his works and criticizing the Dominicans of the Holy Office. António José da Silva, known as “The Jew”, was involved in several processes, having been arrested and tortured in 1729. With his mother. In 1737 he was arrested again, this time not only with his mother, but also with his wife and daughter, and ended up being beheaded and burned in a “auto-da-fé” at Terreiro do Trigo. The wife and mother were not lucky enough to be cut first and were burned alive instead.

Interestingly, the last “auto-da-fé” held in Portugal included Francisco Xavier de Oliveira, condemned by the Holy Office in 1761, but he managed to escape, exiling in Holland. As a terrible revenge for his bloodthirsty executioners, all works and even images were burned in Portugal. We understand that, for as long as there is a record, and in a broader sense, the reason behind the use of the Blue Pencil is the maintenance of a certain status quo, so that the thinking of a certain group is not "defiled" and, therefore, its behavior is not changed. The most common idea is that of censorship by governments and religious institutions, so that they can maintain certain powers. But in fact there are too many centers of influence and interest groups, the so-called lobbies, that exercise much more than their influence, their absolute power. Look at what happened to the Templars, accused of heresy and burned at the stake in front of Notre Damme on Friday the 13th (yes, superstition comes from there), through collaboration between the French King and the Pope. Or mention the much more up-to-date and swampy case of the media that are, after all, owned by large economic groups, with editorial criteria that are not very transparent and that serve a very specific agenda. The very paradoxical Internet, which was born full of dreams of free thought, is now responsible for most of the misinformation that plagues us. In such a way that whoever wants to carry out a coup d'etat does not need to raise a single weapon. It is enough to publish exhaustively (sometimes for years) content about the current corruption, videos of violent aggressions by ethnic minorities and, simultaneously, cry out for the pain of the security forces, “forgotten by the State” or by the very fashionable “system”. Food for thought, right? I'm glad. It is often what is lacking.

The Blue Pencil works very well when applied to social media. But it is in the arts that it takes the form of a cancer, with metastases in Cinema, Music and, mainly, Literature, the mother of all of them. If censorship were applied to literature today, there would be no problem. 40% of the Portuguese reads less than one book per year. Incredibly, during the term of the Salazar Dictatorship, Portugal had the highest incidence of illiteracy in Europe (and the highest infant mortality rate and the lowest average life expectancy and so on) and yet, the more than 900 books that were banned during the 41 years of its existence, according to the researcher José Brandão, represent the non-access to the most basic culture, to so many and very rich literary currents and, therefore, to the total ignorance in relation to a world that, outside (and beyond the Colonies dome where censorship and PIDE were much less incisive), continued to rotate – a lot. But maybe that was what made it, for example, Portuguese neorealism in one of the greatest treasures of our literature. Instead of poetizing the condition of poverty (endemic in Salazar's Portugal) as a form of human dignity (for that there were the Estado Novo textbooks, avid propagandists), they reported all the ugliness of the peasants' miserable lives and all the tragedies that orbited them in the light of the ideological principles of Marxism, always pointing the finger at the prevailing cacique, represented by landlords or bosses. It was the story itself that was beautiful, so beautiful that it is responsible for the resurgence of a love of the Portuguese for their people in the more rural areas, so often forgotten and ostracized, and for the awareness of an urgent class struggle. Soeiro Pereira Gomes, with Esteiros, and Alves Redol, with Gaibéus, open this chain. Peasants opposed to the Lords of the Land and Workers opposed to the Bosses, the unjust mechanisms of a society that was rotten, with literary inspiration coming from the works of Máximo Gorki (the master portraying the Soviet world) or even Jorge Amado (Capitães Da Areia, also prohibited by censorship, is the “soul brother” of Esteiros), were exposed by writers such as Carlos de Oliveira with Uma Abelha Na Chuva, Manuel da Fonseca with Seara De Vento, Mário Dionísio with O Dia Cinzento, and Fernando Namora with Domingo À Tarde and, later, José Cardoso Pires with O Anjo Ancorado, Bastardos do Sol by Urbano Tavares Rodrigues, A Nau de Quixibá by Alexandre Pinheiro Torres or the brilliant Podem chamar-me Eurídice by Orlando da Costa. With neorealism, extensive descriptions of spaces give way to direct speech to give voice to the oppressed. And the authors do it so expertly that they often escape the supposedly sharp eye of the censor, unable to read, between the lines, the broadest sense. This was the case with Esteiros by Soeiro Pereira Gomes, first published in 1941 but that only on its fifth edition, by order of 20 June 1966 by censor Francisco Salgado, it is noted: “I believe that this book should have been banned [sic] when it came out, but now it must be ignored, since the ban [sic] now, only served its propaganda in our midst”. But it was not only Portuguese neorealism that suffered at the hands of the Blue Pencil. With a recent reissue (April 2019), the Anthology Of Portuguese Erotic And Satirical Poetry, with illustrations by Cruzeiro Seixas, was especially punished. Natália Correia, whose works had been successively forbidden, accepted the invitation of the also persecuted by PIDE Fernando Ribeiro de Mello, editor of Afrodite, to organize this anthology. Censor Joaquim Palhares' in the report 7677 removed it from circulation “(...) We believe that this work intends to be the communist contribution to the Bocagean celebrations that are being carried out”, and its various stakeholders were tried in Plenary Court in a case that dragged on for several years. 

Almeida Faria's case is symptomatic because it is late. He wrote his first novel, Rumor Branco, at only 19 years old, published in 1962 by Portugália with a preface by Virgílio Ferreira and which earned him the Revelation Prize “Romance of the Year” by the Portuguese Society of Writers. In 1965, the same publisher released his second novel, Paixão, where he fiercely criticizes the injustices he witnessed in his Alentejo, which earned him a mention of the “revolutionary rewards” by censor Estevão Martins, in Report 8037, but that did not result in a traffic ban. However, as a student at Law School in Lisbon, that same grade earned him an hour-long public humiliation during a class taught by Marcelo Caetano, himself. The shame was such that Almeida Faria abandoned that place, having entered the Philosophy course at the Faculty of Letters. In Portuguese literature, the prohibitions, some resulting in prison and torture, and in addition to the names mentioned above, fell on Aquilino Ribeiro, José Régio, Maria Lamas, Rodrigues

Lapa, Alexandre Cabral, Orlando da Costa, Alexande 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, Raúl Malaquias Marques, Francisco Sá Carneiro, José Vilhena, Jorge Luís Borges, Herberto Helder, Mário Mesquita, Almeida Santos, Sottomayor Cardia, Manuel Alegre, Salgado Zenha, Pacheco Pereira and, course, Álvaro Cunhal and Mário Soares, among others. In the great classics of foreign literature, whose universality is undeniable and makes them essential reading, there are obvious names such as Karl Marx, Lenine, Mao Zedong and Friederich Nietzsche, but also Martin Luther King, Jorge Amado, D.H. Lawrence, Vladimir Nabokov and many, many more. 

In conclusion, those who think that all this has passed are wrong. The question is "How is it possible to still have books banned in 2020"? The answer is Opus Dei. The Index Librorum Prohibitorum, or "Index of Prohibited Books", was a list of publications considered heretical, anticlerical or impudent and prohibited by the Catholic Church. It started with Pope Paul IV in 1559 and its last edition was published in 1948. But it was only abolished in 1966 by John Paul VI. But the Portuguese Opus Dei still has a list of 79 books. Among those, twelve are of the only Nobel Prize for Portuguese Language Literature, José Saramago. Caim, Evangelho Segundo Jesus Cristo, Manual de Pintura e Caligrafia e Memorial do Convento are all at the “serious” level. A Viagem do Elefante, O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis e Ensaio Sobre A Cegueira are others whose reading will incur in a “penalty” such as confessing its reading at the parish priest. Not that they don't appear as really serious. The “really serious” are Eça de Queirós with his A Relíquia, O Crime do Padre Amaro and O Primo Basílio, Lídia Jorge with A Costa dos Murmúrios and O Dia dos Prodígios, José Cardoso Pires, Virgílio Ferreira, António Lobo Antunes, Fernando Pessoa, Camilo Castelo Branco and many others, in an institution where nothing seems to be missing except reason. Is it sad? "It is what it is”, will say the most accommodated. And they can say it as they wish, because everyone has the Freedom of Speech they deserve.