Former Star of the World Woke up – a Success Story: Portugal

Former Star of the World Woke up – a Success Story: Portugal

Portugal is the westernmost country of Europe, and they have the westernmost point of continental Europe. They have an abundance of both history and geography as well. Even though the country has been struggling with wildfires due to climate change, they are pioneers of responsible production and consumption. They realized its importance after the crisis of 2008 when thousands of people became unemployed, and the problem is still present in the country. However, they started to make a lot of promising efforts, which qualified them as a success story. They are prone to climate change and the constraints of their economy with a high unemployment rate, especially among the youth. Moreover, they are also lacking the necessary workforce, even though there are thousands of immigrants from their former colonies. Many people leave for France and the Benelux for a better salary and a better life. Still, their efforts are really promising, such as banning disposable light bulbs and giving a lot of discounts on energy-saving fluorescent ones instead. They provide excellent light and consume a lot less than their old equivalents. Therefore, electricity bills became a lot less. Besides that, in many public buildings, they installed water-saving faucets, which consume just as much water as required. What does it mean? Water expenses became lower and lower. There is no need to manipulate people with “cutting down on utility costs”. This is where it would have been better to have given discounts on electric cookers and ovens, which is what Portugal did. They did it the right way, to give discounts on energy-saving utensils and make thousands of efforts to promote recycling. Because of this, Portugal recovered a lot after the crisis, they are in a much better economic situation than Greece or Spain. They are former economic superpowers but failed due to their extravagance.

Why is Portugal a former economic superpower? They have a long history of being a trading hub on the Atlantic Ocean. They still have important commercial ports with direct access to the ocean, namely Lisbon and Porto. This area was inhabited by the Romans, they formed the province called Lusitania. Following the fall of the Roman Empire, Germanic tribes (Suebis and Visigoths) invaded the area, and later on, the Moors invaded and remained there for around 4 centuries, until the Reconquista. The Moors (Arabs) left tons of architectural beauties on the Iberian Peninsula and therefore, Portugal. If you have ever been to Lisbon or Sintra, you can see several of them, for example, the Alfama castle. The Christians conquered the country in the 12th century and the kingdom began. The kingdom’s period lasted until 1910 when the monarchy was abolished and a republic was proclaimed. Then a relatively unstable period began because, within 15 years, the country had 45 governments and many coup d’états. This started an infamous dictatorship called Estado Novo (New State) in 1932 and it was even claimed as a fascist one. This was led by António de Oliveira Salazar. His era ended in 1968 when he suffered a serious brain injury at home, so he had to be removed from power. In 1974, a bloodless coup ended the dictatorship (Carnation Revolution), when soldiers with carnations in their guns came into power. That is why this flower symbolizes socialism. Twelve years later, the country joined the EEC, later known as the European Union and introduced the euro in 1999. Let’s take a closer look at their way of becoming a superpower!

As we all know, Portugal was very ambitious and wanted to open itself to the world. Many people thought that the Earth was flat, as they saw the ocean at the end of the continent. Pillars of Hercules signified the end of the world in Greek mythology. Nowadays, it is called Gibraltar and it belongs to the UK. However, some ancient Greek scientists doubted whether the Earth was flat when they observed the disappearing ships, and they saw that ships did not disappear all at once. They thought the Earth was round because the ships disappeared step by step. Eratosthenes claimed first that Earth is (approximately) a sphere. However, his works did not remain in full. Turning back to Portugal, they had good connections to Morocco, being its most significant trading partner at that time. Being an offshore trading partner, naval science appeared in Portugal in the first half of the 14th century. They possibly started an expedition in 1336 towards the Canary Islands. Schools were founded in Portugal to educate explorers, the most significant being by Prince Henry the Navigator. The column in Belém, just outside Lisbon commemorates his explorers. They built new ships, the most significant being the Caravel. In 1412, the Prince ordered expansions towards Africa and the Canary Islands. These were successful because they reached Madeira seven years later and started to colonize it. Their ambitions led to further successes: they mapped the African coast. They expanded further westwards when they reached the Azores a few years later and started to colonize it around 1430. In 1436, they arrived in Western Sahara and discovered Rio de Ouro, later on, they arrived in now-modern-day Senegal. During this time, they actively traded with African slaves, like other European powers. In 1456, their boats (led by Alvise Cadamusto, originally Venetian) arrived at Cabo Verde, an archipelago which was uninhabited at that time, and Portugal took slaves there to inhabit it. In 1460, Henry the Navigator died but his results were outstanding: his boats had reached the Sargasso Sea, which is very close to North America. 1471 brought a new milestone for them as they crossed the Equator, led by João de Santarém and Pedro Escobar. The following year, they got very close to North America again: Joao Vaz Corte-Real and Álvaro Martins Homem approached Newfoundland, and they found new opportunities to fish, as they named it Terra Nova do Bacalhau or Land of Cod. Diogo Cao approached Congo in 1482 and two years later, he arrived at Walvis Bay, Namibia. 1488: another milestone, as Bartolomeu Dias rounded the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa. At this time, South Atlantic voyages were made to map the winds. Bartolomeu proved Ptolemy’s theory about the Flat Mountain in South Africa. As we all know, there is an important city located at the southern tip of Africa, namely Cape Town. In the year of America’s discovery by Columbus, they reached the Indian Ocean. In 1494, Portugal signed the Treaty of Tordesillas to share newly discovered lands with Spain; they got the eastern part of the line west of the Azores. This treaty was reauthorized in 1525, in Zaragoza. In 1498, another milestone was passed when Vasco da Gama arrived at Calicut (now Kozhikode) in India. His achievements are sung in Luis de Camoes’ famous book titled, Lusíadas. Two years later, Pedro Álvares Cabral reached the coast of South America where there were plenty of brazil woods (in Latin, its name is Paubrasilia echinata). Therefore, the country was called Brazil. Later on, they started to rent Macau in Southern China, and this city belonged to them until 1999. These discoveries were unique because they added value to our mutually known world at the time. What can we see on the flag of Portugal? Yes, an armillary sphere, resembling the Earth. After all, they reached further than their neighbours. Therefore, their cuisine is probably one of the most interesting ones in Europe.

Unfortunately, the golden age ended very early, because Portugal did not invest much in its economy, they only facilitated trade. Therefore they fell into a recession after the 18th century and could only keep some of their colonies. The 20th century of Portugal was very eventful, as they had political instability. After a serious crisis in 2008, they had to find a way to get back on track. They could, they scrutinised themselves to discover what went wrong. The main reason was the irresponsible consumption of energy, and therefore the irresponsible expansion of benefits. They repealed a lot of their social benefits, and they said: if we do not have any fossil energy source, let’s take advantage of what everyone else has. On the shore of the Atlantic Ocean, the wind provides enough reasons to build wind power stations. Besides that, the interior of the country receives enough sunshine to construct a large solar farm; for some time, they owned the largest one in the world! What does it mean? If you want and are dedicated to a target, you will be able to reach it. They turned towards renewable energy. In the first half of 2010, 70% of all produced energy was renewable. In the north, they started to experiment with wave power, near Póvoa de Varzim. They installed a plant in 2008, but they shut it down and dismantled it very quickly because it turned out to be very expensive. Therefore, electricity became exportable and very affordable. Besides that, they invested heavily into combining renewable energy: a wind-powered turbine pumps water uphill at night and in the daytime lets water downhill to generate electricity. Furthermore, the population is encouraged to install rooftop solar cells to distribute their electricity. Therefore, they only use what they are required to use and do not produce waste energy. What is more, they also made water-saving taps extremely cheap. Dripping taps consume a lot of water. Because of this, many buildings use infra-taps to cut down on using water. This means Portugal could recuperate more or less from the crisis and became a promising success story for everyone suffering the effects of a recession. If you want to become successful, you can. All they need is ambition. They are historically ambitious, so they will be able to get back to being among the stars. Their star gained new light. They just have to keep it that way. However, they still have many problems to cope with, and one is very serious: corruption. They have to make tons of further efforts to reduce it and tell politicians: it is never a good idea to buy people.

– Gergely Lázár

The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of #WAYSWF.

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