Racism in Portugal: Wikis


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Racism in Portugal is not widespread and the phenomenon has low visibility. Portugal has been for centuries an ethnic homogeneous country with non-significant populations belonging to other races and cultures. An anti-discrimination law was published on 28 August 1999. It prohibits discriminatory practices based on race, colour, nationality and ethnic origin. According to the Portuguese Constitution, also discriminatory practices based on sex, race, language, origin territory, religion, political and ideological convictions, instruction level, economical situation, social condition or sexual orientation are prohibited.



The Portuguese people are a southwestern European population, predominantly Mediterranean and Atlantic European. The earliest modern humans inhabiting Portugal are believed to have been Paleolithic peoples that may have arrived in the Iberian Peninsula as early as 35,000-40,000 years ago. The Neolithic colonization of Europe from Western Asia and the Middle East beginning around 10,000 years ago reached Iberia, as most of the rest of the continent although, according to the demic diffusion model, its impact was most in the southern and eastern regions of the European continent.[1][2]

Starting in the 3rd millennium BC as well as in the Bronze Age, the first wave of migrations into Iberia of speakers of Indo-European languages occurred. These were later (7th and 5th Centuries BC) followed by others that can be identified as Celts. Eventually urban cultures developed in southern Iberia, such as Tartessos, influenced by the Phoenician colonization of coastal Mediterranean Iberia, with strong competition from the Greek colonization.

Copper engraving intitled "Die Inquisition in Portugall" (The Inquisition in Portugal), by Jean David Zunner from the work "Description de L'Univers, Contenant les Differents Systemes de Monde, Les Cartes Generales & Particulieres de la Geographie Ancienne & Moderne" by Alain Manesson Mallet, Frankfurt, 1685.

The Romans were an important influence on Portuguese culture, considering the Portuguese language itself derives from Latin. Other influences included the Phoenicians/Carthaginians (small semi-permanent commercial coastal establishments in the south before 200 BC), the Vandals (Silingi and Hasdingi) and the Sarmatian Alans (both migrated to North Africa, while some were partially integrated by the Visigoths and Suevi), and the Visigoths and Suevi (including the Buri, permanently established in the early 5th century), along with, in the period of the Al-Andalus, minor numbers of Arabs, Berbers, Saqaliba and Jews who also settled in what is today Portuguese territory. The Muslim Moors, mainly Arab and Berber people in origin, and the Christian Mozarabs, were assimilated by the newly-founded Kingdom of Portugal in the 12th and 13th centruries, after the conquest of the southern lands, including Lisbon, the Alentejo and the Algarve.

Portugal has been since then an ethnic homogeneous country with very small populations belonging to different races and cultures. Just sporadic foreign persons were visible and they were well treated despite their ethnicity, except during the period of Catholic Inquisition. However, miscegenation happened outside mainland Portugal, among Portuguese males (whites) and black females from Africa. Starting in the 16th century, large scale miscegenation with female Amerindians and black slaves in the Portuguese Empire's South American territories, and also with black natives in Portugal's African territories, was experienced since the beginning of the Portuguese Age of Discovery. This major wave of open miscegenation throughout the Portuguese Empire was coined Lusotropicalism.

Like the other countries of the southern Mediterranean, Portugal has witnessed a new phenomenon since the 1974 Carnation Revolution and the end of the Portuguese overseas empire: beyond the condition of country of emigration, it became at the same time a country of immigration. There was a very large flow of African immigrants, particularly coming from the former Portuguese colonies in Africa (collectively known as PALOP countries). Since the 1980s Portugal has seen a steady increase in foreign residents, and comparing these figures with the data on Portuguese emigration, one can see that in the same period immigration started to exceed emigration.

Immigration to Portugal before 1980 involved different groups (mainly Europeans and South Americans, in particular Brazilian immigrants), and a different socio-economic integration, than the immigrants who came to Portugal after that date (predominantly Africans).

If until mid 1980s the population of non-European origin (either Portuguese or foreign nationality) is rare and does not present particular problems of integration into the Portuguese society, revealing a great capacity of adaptation, thanks to its will to assimilate and the notion that they were foreigners, and privileged links with the ethnic communities of origin, after the mid 1980s, the same situation is no longer visible. To this contributes the increase of foreigners in Portugal with minor job qualifications and less economic resources, while with the progressive integration into the European Union a great phase of economic growth started and the demand for labor increased. The 1980s also saw racist attacks against immigrants by skinheads and the far-right National Action Movement, a fringe movement.[3]

Since the 1990s, along with a boom in construction, several new waves of Ukrainian, Brazilian, people from the former Portuguese colonies in Africa and other Africans have settled in the country. Those communities currently make up the largest groups of immigrants in Portugal. Romanians, Moldovan and Chinese also have chosen Portugal as destination. A number of British and Spanish people also have chosen Portugal as destination, with the British community being mostly composed of retired pensioners and the Spaniards composed of professionals (medical doctors, business managers, businesspersons, nurses, etc.).[4] Illegal immigration is a major concern and is often associated by the public opinion with several levels of criminal activity and crime importation, despite second generations with Portuguese Nationality are more violent and tend to have a greater than average percentage of criminals. Although being rare and involving in general very low levels of physical violence, racism is usually related with ethnicity rather than nationality, with black people being the most common target of those kind of criminal behaviour or discrimination, after the Roma people. Members of the Roma people in Portugal are known as Ciganos (Gypsies), and their presence in the country goes back to the second half of the 15th century. Early on, due to their socio-cultural differences and nomadic style of live, the Ciganos were the object of fierce discrimination and persecution.[5] The number of Ciganos in Portugal is about 40,000 to 50,000 spread all over the country.[6] The majority of the Ciganos do not have today a nomad style of life, rather concentrating themselves in the most important urban centers, where from the late 1990s to the 2000s, major public housing (bairros sociais) policies were targeted at them in order to promote social integration.[7][8]. However, this population is still characterised by very low levels of educational qualification, and high unemployment and crime rates. The Ciganos are the ethnic group that the Portuguese most reject and discriminate against, and are also targets for discriminatory practices from the State administration, namely at a local level, finding persistent difficulties in the access to job placement, housing and social services, as well as in the relation to police forces.[9] Daily, the native Portuguese are victims of racism and criminal behavior at the hands of elements belonging to minorities.


Law number 115 of 3 August 1999 introduced the legal recognition of immigrant associations as well as the technical and financial State support for the development of their activities. The High Commissioner gives this recognition for Immigrants and Ethnic Minorities to those associations that wish to be recognised as such, as long as they fulfil the appropriate conditions foreseen in the Law. These recognised associations may have the following rights: to participate in the definition of the immigrants policies; to participate in the legislative processes concerning immigration; to participate in the consultative bodies, in the terms defined by the law; to benefit from the right to public speech on the radio and television. Since the introduction of the law, already 25 immigrant associations have been legally recognised. The associations can be of national, regional or local scope, according to the number of members each association claims to have: that is, the number of associated members will determine if an association can be considered as being of local, regional or national range. An anti-discrimination Law was published on 28 August 1999. It prohibits discriminatory practices based on 'race', colour, nationality and ethnic origin. Article I states that the objective of this law is to prevent and prohibit racial discrimination in all its forms and sanction all acts that violate a person's basic rights or impede the exercise of economic, social or cultural rights for reasons such as nationality, colour, 'race' or ethnic origin. This Law also provides for an Advisory Committee for Equality and Against Racial Discrimination. Presided by the High Commissioner for Immigrants and Ethnic Minorities, the Committee is responsible for promoting studies on equality and racial discrimination, supervising enforcement of the law, and making legislative proposals considered suitable for the prevention of all forms of discrimination.[10] The law number 20, of 6 July 1996, introduced the possibility for immigrants, anti-racist and human rights associations to assist in a legal action against discrimination, together with the victim and the Prosecution, i.e. to formulate an accusation and to introduce evidence into the penal process.

Racism and the media

Portugal, as a new country of immigration since after the Carnation Revolution of 1974, has been witnessing the growing importance of all the issues related to the phenomena of racism and xenophobia. A typical feature is the positive complicity expressed and the accepted similarities between Africans and Portuguese as well as the absence of assumed and declared racist attitudes. Existing research has also made visible the role played by the mass media in the reproduction of discourses of antiracism, particularly when the press is dominated by some specific thematization, such is the case regarding the European Year Against Racism. In this case, the issue of racism even deserved being commented by specialists in the different analysed newspapers.[11] This positive role can also be transmitted through advertisement campaigns aiming the fight against racism and the promotion of tolerance or the benifts given to non ethnic Portuguese people.

Racism and violent crime rise

Crime was a major source of discontent, and sentiment that Portugal was becoming increasingly unsafe since the country turned a destination to several thousand emigrants from non-white locations around the globe after 1990, led to the dismissal of Internal Administration Minister Fernando Gomes in the early 2000s on the heels of gang violence that made headlines. Along with the gang crime wave, which involved large groups of non Portuguese youths, many of them descendants of immigrants from the former Portuguese colonies in Africa who live in several neighbourhoods around Lisbon, wreaking havoc on commuter train lines and robbing gasoline (petrol) stations, the country was also shocked by attacks on nightclubs, and a rise of violent crime related with local and international organized crime which includes a number of gangs particularly active in Greater Lisbon and Greater Porto areas. A large proportion of convicts by violent crime are foreigners and many people tend easily to blame immigrants or ethnic minorities, sometimes with a great amount of reason or evidence, for that type of crime which used to be rare before their arrival.[12]


  1. ^ "Estimating the impact of Prehistoric Admixture of the Genome of Europeans". Oxford Journals. http://mbe.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/21/7/1361/T03. Retrieved 2007-04-25.  
  2. ^ "Testing the Choice of Hybrid and Parental Populations". Oxford Journals. http://mbe.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/21/7/1361#F04. Retrieved 2007-04-25.  
  3. ^ European Monitioring Centre om Racism and Xenophobia report on Portugal
  4. ^ EMBAIXADA DE PORTUGAL NO BRASIL: Brasileiros são a maior colónia estrangeira em Portugal
  5. ^ Joel Serrão, Ciganos, in Dicionário de História de Portugal, Lisboa, 2006.
  6. ^ (Portuguese) [1]
  7. ^ (Portuguese) [2]
  8. ^ (Portuguese) [3]
  9. ^ ECRI (2002), Relatório da Comissão Europeia contra o Racismo e a Intolerância - Segundo Relatório sobre Portugal, Estrasburgo, pp. 23-25.; ; See also: European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, Third report on Portugal, 2006.
  10. ^ Baganha, Marques and Fonseca, 2000: 36
  11. ^ Da Costa, Valente, 1998
  12. ^ (Portuguese) Ricardo Dias Felner, "Com o sindicalismo encaminhado, e Coelho promovido para a pasta do Equipamento, o ministro Fernando Gomes acabaria por ser vítima (para além do caso Barrancos, com calendário ciclicamente previsível) da dramatização de um outro fenómeno determinante no MAI: o aumento da criminalidade, violenta, juvenil e grupal, e do sentimento de insegurança. Ainda que tivesse sido António Guterres, na campanha para as legislativas, que lhe deu a primeira vitória, ao apostar no tema da criminalidade, o problema só ganharia visibilidade e dimensão públicas no seu segundo mandato. Mas por más razões. No Verão de 2000, com os assaltos ao comboio da Linha de Cascais e à actriz Lídia Franco, na CREL, despontava a noção de uma tendência, confirmada pelos relatórios de Segurança Interna e por inquéritos de vitimação, ligada a roubos e agressões de rua. Terá sido fatal a Gomes a inexperiência demonstrada relativamente à investigação criminal: no caso Luanda, por exemplo, o ministro anunciou, nos "media", a captura para breve dos autores do crime, quando a investigação estava sob a alçada da Polícia Judiciária (PJ). Dentro do Governo, alguns colegas não lhe terão perdoado as falhas. Durante o seu mandato ficou ainda definida a nova lei orgânica da PJ, que deu à PSP maiores competências na área da investigação criminal." Administração Interna, Público, 6 March 2002

See also



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