Local political elites and the Revolution: Portalegre 1941-1997



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Local political elites and the Revolution: Portalegre 1941-19971.
Maria Antónia de Figueiredo Pires de Almeida

Introduction.

Who directs local politics? Which social and professional groups directed city and village councils in Portugal? What was their evolution and behaviour for the second half of the twentieth century, during the final years of the Estado Novo and the political transition provided by the Revolution of April 25th, 1974?

To answer these apparently simple questions there is a long work to be done, which includes the research on local administration sources and the memories of the local citizens. Only recently have these studies been of any interest to historians. Integrating a theme called the Social History of the Administration, some thesis have been produced on the subject, specially since the pioneer works of Maria Manuela Rocha and Hélder Fonseca, about Monsaraz and Évora. Their sources include, among others, farming records and accounts of the most important local families. Rui Santos, concerning the elites of Mértola in the XVIIIth century, wrote that they were: “Lords of the land, lords of the village...”. He analysed this group’s engagement and leadership in the City Council and the Misericórdia (a private welfare institution), the two most important local power institutions. On the ISCTE several Masters thesis have been written on this subject: João Manuel Pereira and Venerando António Aspro de Matos (separately) about Torres Vedras, Carla Faustino about Arraiolos, myself about Avis, Ana Paula Teixeira Torres about Oeiras, Teresa Pereira about Lisbon. Yet, none of them studied the second half of the XXth century.

Essentially this type of research is based on the books of acts of the municipalities, on voter’s registers (they provide professional categories until the late sixties), and on a detailed inquiry on local economic and social elites, using sources such as the registers of the Misericórdias and other political power institutions (for example corporate ones, like the Grémios or Casas do Povo). But other sources are very important, especially the ones that are not so formal: people and their memories, houses, graveyards, statues and local monuments, the names of the streets, and so on. A watchful walk on the streets of a small village may reveal a lot more than could be expected. Names that are exposed generally coincide with the ones that show up on the registers and reveal the importance of the families and their local image.

To begin this authentic marathon through the country, I began in Avis and then extended my research to the all district of Portalegre. As a future project I intend to study the rest of the country.



The district of Portalegre.

This district is composed of fifteen municipalities, where there were 152 Mayors (Presidents of the Council) in the period of 1941-1997, including deputy mayors who replaced mayors (but not the temporary ones, who would add more than one third to this number). Of those 152 names, 90 of them presided over city councils from 1941 to 1974; 17 presided over administration committees nominated during the revolutionary period until the first local elections; and 47 were elected between 1976 and 19972.

Finding out their professional categories was not an easy task, just as presenting them in tables was a quite a challenge. Most of them could fit into two or three professions and it was hard to choose which was the main one and which was secondary. This is a problem found in rural areas, where land ownership and even agricultural work can be (and it is quite frequently) associated with other professions. The following criterion was established to build these tables: the main profession was the one that provided the principal source of income. It was considered that a large estates landowner’s main income comes from his agricultural activity, even if he is a lawyer or a doctor (some of them did not practice), while a small farmer with another profession (specially if he has a graduate education) surely earns more money in his profession than he takes from his land. If we are dealing with a shopkeeper with a few small properties, for example, he fits into the category of shopkeeper; a lawyer who teaches in high school is considered a teacher, not a lawyer; notaries are in the graduate’s group, which includes those degrees that are more often found in these districts: Law, Medicine, Pharmacy and Agronomy. However, in these last few years, some mayors came out with different degrees, such as an economist in Fronteira (he was elected on 1993, but was included in the militaries, because he is a retired Major); a sociologist in Portalegre (elected on 1989, he was included in the clerks group, because he was a social worker who obtained his degree afterwards); another sociologist in Avis (elected on 2001, a member of the Communist Party with a political career) and a theologian in Marvão (elected on 1997, included in the clerks group). These last two mayors are out of this paper’s chronological limits. The clerks group includes local public servants, such as local treasury officers, public servants who worked in Lisbon and retired to their home countries (specially after 1975), railroad employees, social workers, accountants, shop assistants and others. Table I summarizes the professional categories of district of Portalegre’s mayors in ten year periods, and shows the clear difference that occurred with the revolution of April 25th, 1974.



Table I:

Mayors: Professional Categories

1941/1950

1951/1960

1961/1970

1970/1974

1974/1976

1977/1979

1980/1989

1990/1997

Totals

%

Large estates Landowners

8

4

6

5










1

24

12.6

Large estates landowners graduated in Medicine, Veterinary, Law or Agronomic Sciences

13

3

2

4

1

1




0

24

12.6

Graduates: Agronomic Sciences, Medicine, Veterinary, Law, Pharmacy

8

9

9

2

3




4

5

40

20.9

Small estates landowners, farmers, tenants

1

2

5

3










0

11

5.8

School teachers

1

1

2

2

2







2

10

5.2

High-school teachers







2

2

1




4

1

10

5.2

Nurses













1










1

0.5

Clerks













2

3

5

7

17

8.9

Shopkeepers

2

1

1




5

2

1

0

12

6.3

Industrialists

1







2

2

2

1

0

8

4.2

Clearing-agents

1

1

1

1










0

4

2.1

Farm workers
















1




0

1

0.5

Bricklayer, locksmith
















1

2

0

3

1.6

Bank clerks




1

1

1




2

3

3

11

5.8

Priests

1













1




0

2

1.0

Agricultural technician

1




1










3

2

7

3.7

Military

3













1

1

2

7

3.7

Table II:

Mayors: Professional Categories (%)

1941-1974

1974-1997

Large estates Landowners

19

1

Large estates landowners graduated in Medicine, Veterinary, Law or Agronomic Sciences

18

3

Graduates: Agronomic Sciences, Medicine, Veterinary, Law, Pharmacy

24

15

Small estates landowners, farmers, tenants

10

0

School teachers

5

5

High-school teachers

4

8

Nurses

0

1

Clerks

0

23

Shopkeepers

4

9

Industrialists

3

6

Clearing-agents

4

0

Farm workers

0

3

Bricklayer, locksmith

0

4

Bank clerks

3

10

Priests

1

1

Agricultural technician

2

6

Military

3

5
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