The Power and Limits of Cultural Myths in Portugal's Search for a Post-Imperial Role

Bruno C. Reis, Pedro A. Oliveira

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Abstract

The central role in Portuguese political culture of the identification of Portugal as a colonizing power legitimized a massive mobilization and violent response to the perceived existential threat of decolonization in the shape of prolonged wars in its main African colonies (1961–1974). If, however, this cultural myth of a Greater Portugal overseas was so powerful, how was decolonization eventually possible? The accumulated human and economic cost of facing three simultaneous, protracted anti-colonial insurgencies eroded this overseas creed and made Catholic and Marxist strands of anti-colonialism increasingly attractive to younger, more internationally connected, Portuguese elites. What also happened, however, this article will argue, was a refashioning of the powerful cultural myth of a special connection between Portugal and tropical Africa. A colonial myth was turned into a post-colonial myth legitimizing decolonization as a mutual and fraternal liberation from the same oppressive regime without a loss of strong ‘natural’ cultural bonds. More widely, the article aims to show that we cannot ignore the importance of cultural factors in international history. Our approach in this article is pluralist and this means that while arguing strongly for taking culture seriously and focusing on it, it does consider other, including more material, dimensions of power.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages23
JournalInternational History Review
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 27 May 2018

Keywords

  • Culture
  • Decolonization
  • Foreign policy
  • Portugal
  • Southern Africa

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