Propaganda, ideology and cinema in the Estado Novo of Salazar: The conversion of the unbelievers

Luís Reis Torgal (University of Coimbra). "Propaganda, ideology and cinema in the Estado Novo of Salazar: The conversion of the unbelievers," Contemporary Portuguese Political History Research Centre. (Excerpt)

It was António Ferro who introduced the expression ‘politics of the spirit’ (Paul Valéry) to Salazar (that is, the politics of culture or education), and explained the role of propaganda. The expression first appeared in an article in the Diário de Notícias, and reappeared in the famous interview with Salazar published in the same newspaper during 1932 and 1933, and which was released as a book in 1933 (Ferro 1933). It had an enormous influence on the image of the New State and its leader. Salazar was already prime minister (during the transition from the military dictatorship to the ‘constitutional’ New State), and he said some interesting things at the time that characterise his portrait of a ‘fascist’ — the image of a ‘soft’ dictator who, against his own will, uses methods that are typical of violent regimes. When talking about the admiration young people felt for the ‘dynamism of new Italy and new Germany’, he used a language that, formally at least, did not lack a certain irony:

They are right, but the dynamism that gives them such enthusiasm and that I recognise as convenient, is not always made of pure and useful action, but of words and gestures. Between the great reformist measures of a New State — no matter if it is in Italy, Germany or Portugal — there must be intervals and long pauses, especially if it is to be built on strong foundations and with solid material. Mussolini, and now Hitler, fill those intervals, those dead spaces with fiery speeches, processions and rallies, shouting what has been done and what is yet to be done. They are right, because it is a way of entertaining the natural impatience of the people, the demanding gallery of situations of authority and strength that are always waiting for the difficult and dangerous act, a circus act... We will have to follow that path to an intense, consciously organised propaganda; but it is a pity that the truth needs so much noise, so many bells and drums... exactly the same strategies used to divulge a lie. (Ferro 1933; 181).

In the sequence of this idea, when he inaugurates SPN on 26 October 1933, Salazar talks about propaganda trying to ‘prevent the exalted nationalisms that dominate identical services in other countries and theatrical effects to be taken in the international context’. To use his own words, we must concentrate on our simple cause: and our simple cause is the national cause, which is above personal interest. It is the cause of a nation that must inform about what is being done because — as he says in a sentence with a certain Maurrasian flavour — ‘Politically, nothing exists but that which the public believes to exist’ (Salazar vol 1 258-9).