Hugo Gonçalves, author of a novel about April 25, considers literature a fundamental tool for democracy, but doubts its use and warns of the fragility of freedom and what it took 50 years to conquer.
In his novel “Revolução”, published by Companhia das Letras, the author recalls the entire revolutionary period, from the end of the dictatorship to the beginning of democracy, recalling the lack of freedom, the underground, the struggles and the difficult revolutionary process.
Speaking in an interview with the Lusa news agency about the achievements of those days and the extremist drifts that today threaten to jeopardize the freedom we have achieved, the writer says that this is the “paradox of democracy”: in the age of information there is so much disinformation.
Drawing on a line from Mark Twain, the writer reminds us that “history doesn’t repeat itself, it rhymes”, in other words, that looking at what is happening, not only in Portugal, but in Europe, we can see that the symbols and forms of tyranny are not exactly identical to what happened in the 1930s.
But “there are things that rhyme with the 1930s” and “one of them is the idea of providential leaders who solve everything. The idea of the messianic leader”, who sends out the message that only he can “solve it”, he said, stressing: “That exists now and it existed in the 1930s”.
“Another issue that is very curious is the idea of a new technology that served as propaganda in the 1930s, which was radio, the impact of radio on the rise of totalitarian movements.”
Nowadays, there is the Internet and social networks, which have this function of disinformation, he said.
“Faced with moments when democracies are at their most shaky – because democracies have this problem, sometimes they’re stronger, sometimes they’re less strong” – there’s the idea “of offering super-simplistic choices for very complex problems and, in addition, the idea of the other, of blaming the other, the stranger, the foreigner, who has a different color. All these things are part of this booklet, that history doesn’t repeat itself, but rhymes.”
Another aspect pointed out by the writer is the “daily work” that a democracy requires, and “there are two things that are terrible for democracy”, anger and fear, because “they are the enemies of reason and wisdom”.
“Anger and fear are now part of life, of everyday life. There are many people who are unhappy and angry and there are many people who are afraid and that’s great for radical populist movements, or whatever you want to call them. Then it’s much easier and that’s often the initial appeal of tyrannies, which is the idea of ‘I’ll solve this in one fell swoop’, but life isn’t like that, life is full of doubts,” he said.
In Hugo Gonçalves’ opinion, it will never be possible to achieve a democracy that pleases everyone, that corresponds to what each person imagines, but that’s not why we should stop working for it, because “it takes a long time to achieve what we achieved 50 years after April 25, what we have achieved today, even with all the things that remain to be done”.
Today, freedom is taken for granted and not even thought about, like drinking water or breathing air, the author compares, pointing out that this kind of assimilation happens above all with the younger generations, who “don’t have a sense of what it was like to live before April 25”.
“Freedom takes a long time to gain, but it’s lost in a flash, and sometimes we’re not aware of that and, in the midst of anger and fear, these kinds of very emotional choices can then have an outcome that’s blown up in our faces.”
As the “right to freedom implies the duty to remember”, Hugo Gonçalves believes that both novels, “because novels often allow us to empathize”, and any other type of information, are needed to combat the sentence of repeating the past.
However, he warns of a paradox: “How is it that in the information age, where all the best books are available, newspapers, documents, university theses, we are so uninformed and so susceptible to deception?”
“This is one of the great problems of democracy, because democracy is supposed to provide instruments, a good education system, libraries,” but Portugal has low reading and schooling rates, and the truth is that “clarification is needed” so as not to go “after these peddlers of the temple, who wave these promises around.”
A problem that complements this lack of information and literacy – in the words of Hugo Gonçalves – is the “sort of ‘zombification’ in which people find themselves, attached to their cell phones.
“Everyone is almost in the ‘Matrix’, they’re sucked in by the ‘scroll down’,” he said, admitting, however, that there is no easy solution.
You can’t do it like in the old Soviet Union, where you forced people to go to the opera, because there’s the question of freedom, but you can try to give them tools, except that the same freedom allows them to choose not to use them, he said, arguing that the path of freedom is always preferable.
“All that is democracy has these blind spots, or has these dangers, but the other day I saw this phrase and I really like it, which says – and I hope people remember this – ‘it’s easier to be a fascist in a free society, than to be free in a fascist society’.”