Oddly Enough

Portugal dictator, communist make top 10 great list

LISBON (Reuters) - Viewers of a popular television show in Portugal have elected a former right-wing dictator and a communist hardliner to a top 10 list of all-time greats, causing unease in one of western Europe’s youngest democracies.

After collecting about 90,000 votes from viewers of “The Greatest Portuguese” show, local broadcaster RTP recently announced dictator Antonio Salazar and communist Alvaro Cunhal as part of a list of 10 finalists from more than 2,000 names.

The short-list also features Portugal’s first king, D. Afonso Henriques, romantic poet Luis de Camoes and Fernando Pessoa and Aristides de Sousa Mendes -- a diplomat who helped Jews escape Nazi occupied France during World War Two.

“The fact that many Portuguese think Salazar and Cunhal are among the greatest of all time explains why we are the most backward country in Europe,” famous Portuguese author Miguel Sousa Tavares wrote in his weekly column in newspaper Expresso.

“I don’t understand how these two men are part of a list of greatest Portuguese,” said one viewer who called in when the show was being aired on Sunday.

“How can a democratic country survive if people still consider a communist and a fascist a good thing,” he added.

A spokeswoman for RTP declined to comment how many votes Salazar and Cunhal had each received but said the “Greatest Portuguese” show had been one of the most popular programs in recent years.

Salazar was the founder of an authoritarian right-wing regime that controlled Portugal’s economic, social and cultural life from 1933 to 1974, when an almost bloodless military-led coup changed Portugal into a liberal democracy.

Cunhal, on the other hand, was one of the most pro-Soviet communist leaders in Europe and became a major political force when Salazar’s regime fell.

His plans to carry out a counter-revolution and turn Portugal into a single-party communist state after 1974 failed but his Marxist ideals inspired the working class and led to the sweeping nationalisation of the country’s industries.

Salazar died in 1970 after falling from a chair and hitting his head while Cunhal passed away in 2005 -- his funeral attended by more than 250,000 people in Lisbon.

Today, the Iberian country of about 10 million people is one of western Europe’s poorest countries, struggling to remain competitive in the 27-member European Union.

RTP is conducting a final vote to determine who will be elected the greatest Portuguese of all time. It is expected to announce a decision in March.