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Portugal: Eviction Prior to Freedom Day Awakens Squatting Movement

This post is part of our special coverage Europe in Crisis

As the pent-up frustrations of citizens in Portugal keep growing a year since the international “bailout” of the country's public debt, the annual celebration of Freedom Day on April 25, marking the Carnation Revolution that ended a 41-year dictatorship in 1974, gained renewed momentum.

A few days earlier, on April 19, the forceful eviction of a self managed community center in Porto, meant that many would celebrate April 25 in solidarity with those evicted, as well as with others struggling under the ongoing economic crisis.

Illustrating the tension over this new inspiration for marking Freedom Day, the historic Association April 25 (founded by the military who staged the 1974 coup) refused [pt] to participate in the traditional, government organized celebrations this year in protest over national policies and harsh austerity measures that the former soldiers believe go against the democratic ideals of the Carnation Revolution. They, along with many others, participated in unofficial celebrations instead.

A man with carnations, a symbol of Freedom Day (Lisbon, 25/04/2012). Photo by Fernando Mendes copyright Demotix

A man with carnations, a symbol of Freedom Day (Lisbon, 25/04/2012). Photo by Fernando Mendes copyright Demotix

"Don't let yesterday's carnation carve today's revolution". Photo by Filipa Sequeira on Facebook. Porto (25/04/2012)

"Don't let yesterday's carnation carve today's revolution". Photo by Filipa Sequeira on Facebook. Porto (25/04/2012)

Thirty-five percent of youth in Portugal are unemployed despite austerity measures imposed by the European Commission, Central European Bank and International Monetary Fund. And while 26 families a day have their homes repossessed [pt] by the bank, there are thousands of abandoned housing facilities in the major cities of Portugal (see the overview for Lisbon (pdf)).

The Food Bank Against Famine recently announced [pt] that it has reached a critical point concerning its ability to attend to the growing number of families and institutions who need food.

Against this backdrop, the city government's order to evict Es.Col.A (an acronym for self-managed collective space, meaning “school”), where communal meals, recreational activities, and after-school classes were provided for free in a squatted public building of an impoverished neighborhood in Porto, has triggered people's indignation on a national scale.

As João Martins (@jpsmartins) said on Twitter:

@jpsmartins: Eu sei o que responder quando me perguntarem onde estava no 25 de Abril: na #fontinha

@jpsmartins: I know what to say when they ask me where I was on April 25: at #fontinha

Reoccupy march

Despite a government announcement of zero tolerance from the police during Freedom Day demonstrations, supporters of Es.Col.A supported by the Clown Brigade, an improvised sound system, rallied to the Fontinha neighborhood in Porto to reoccupy the building.

Protestors in front of the City Hall, Porto (25/04/2012). Photo by José Ferreira (used with permission)

Protestors singing remixed traditional songs in front of the City Hall, Porto (25/04/2012). Photo by José Ferreira (used with permission)

Around 2,000 people joined the march, as the following video published on YouTube by olhorobot shows:

As the march arrived at Fontinha, citizens took over the school once again:

The opening of the boarded up doors and windows at Es.Col.A. Photo by José Ferreira (used with permission)

The opening of the boarded up doors and windows at Es.Col.A. Photo by José Ferreira (used with permission)

And then the celebrations of April 25 proceeded in the school yard:

Citizen photo reports that summarize the day can be seen in Renato Roque's album on Picasa, on Indymedia's special coverage, on the blogs of Gui Castro Felga, Joana Maltez and José Pacheco Pereira, and all around Facebook.

Photo by Jorge Almeida on Facebook

Photo by Jorge Almeida on Facebook (used with permission)

Void in the aftermath

The next morning, Es.Col.A was boarded up once again. Gui Castro Felga blogged [pt] about what happened:

Photo by Joana Maltez (used with permission)

Photo by Joana Maltez

desafiando claramente todos os ocuparam ontem o es.col.a, a CMP entrou pela escola vazia adentro e rebentou com canalizações, sanitas, arrancou portas e emparedou, já não com chapas, mas com tijolos e cimento, e cortou a água e a luz ao edifício.

clearly defying everyone who occupied es.col.a yesterday, CMP [the City Hall] entered inside the empty school and burst pipes, toilets, pulled out doors and walled them, not with boards this time, but with bricks and cement, and cut off water and light of the building.

Theatre company Visões Úteis (Useful Visions) [pt], located on the same street as Es.Col.A, states on Facebook:

A nossa rua, quando chegam os ocupantes da Escola da Fontinha, enche-se de pessoas a sorrir; ouve-se música e palavras como “sonho”, “cultura” e “comunidade”.

A nossa rua, depois de vir a polícia com os seus tapumes, enche-se de um silêncio baço e temeroso. Como se tivesse levado uma grande descompostura por tocar em algo que não lhe pertence.

When the squatters of Escola Da Fontinha arrive, our street is filled with people smiling; one listens to music and words such as “dream”, “culture” and “community”.
After the police comes with their enclosures, our street is filled with a dull and fearful silence.
As if [the school] had gotten a great scolding for touching something that does not belong.

What if it becomes fashion?

"My heart lives in Fontinha. We occupied Coimbra with Fontinha in our heart". From the Facebook page Jardins de Abril (Gardens of April)

"My heart lives in Fontinha. We occupied Coimbra with Fontinha in our heart". From the Facebook page Jardins de Abril (Gardens of April)

Celebrating the 25 April in solidarity with Es.Col.A, protestors in Coimbra and Lisbon ended up squatting new spaces. In Coimbra, a public garden is being set up in the city center, while in Lisbon, a group of activists occupied an abandoned building in the street of São Lázaro. Their manifesto was published on the blog Spectrum:

Antes emparedado que ocupado parece ser o último argumento de um poder que conseguiu sem grande esforço esvaziar as cidades dos seus próprios habitantes, empurrados para os subúrbios ou mesmo para a rua. São centenas de milhares de fogos vazios, deixados ao abandono. Abandono que também vemos nos olhos de quem fez da rua a sua casa. Cada vez mais olhares de abandono, cada vez mais abandono nos olhares. Decretamos, neste dia que se quer de liberdade, tolerância zero a este processo de requalificação urbana, que à custa da miséria de muitos ergue mansões e hotéis para alguns.

Better walled than occupied seems to be the latest argument of a power that was able to effortlessly drain cities of their own inhabitants, [who have been] pushed to the suburbs or even to the street. There are hundreds of thousands of empty, abandoned homes. Abandonment which is also seen in the eyes of those who have turned the streets into their homes. More and more eyes of abandonment, more and more abandonment in the eyes. We hereby decree, on this day meant for freedom, zero tolerance to this process of urban renewal, which at the expense of the misery of many, puts up mansions and hotels for some.

This post is part of our special coverage Europe in Crisis

Ana Vasquez collaborated in the writing of this post.

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