The problem of immigration is a trap set up by history. Until now, France was used to colonizing a part of the world and, today, the third world is coming to us. (Pierre Messmer, 1974)
We are here because you were there. (Political slogan ascribed to A. Sivanandan, 1980s)
Was migration from the former colonies a Third World invasion, a pernicious ‘trap’ set up for Europeans by ‘history’ itself? France's prime minister Pierre Messmer suggested as much at a time when Europe's economically leading countries were banning immigration in the wake of the oil crisis. Or was migration a choice made by historical actors from the Global South but ‘caused’ by the prior actions of European soldiers, traders, missionaries and settlers who had initiated a violent history of imperial entanglements? This is what anti-racist thinker and activist A. Sivanandan asserted during the Thatcher years in Britain. Messmer framed immigration as a ‘problem’, and the hurt pride, repressed guilt and racist fears of the ex-coloniser permeate his words. By contrast, the slogan ascribed to A. Sivanandan and used to this day by activists across Europe puts the formerly colonised centre stage. It claims their right to live in and belong to the continent's post-imperial societies, a right derived not least from a shared if unequal history that they recall, inhabit and require white Europeans to acknowledge.Footnote 1
A sudden invasion or a long entanglement – for all their differences, these representations point to a shared awareness that Europe, in the second half of the twentieth century, became an immigration continent with substantial migrations gains. To be sure, people from outside of Europe had arrived for centuries already. But even if one in ten inhabitants of Lisbon in the sixteenth century was Black,Footnote 2 in later periods and across the continent their numbers had always been minor, especially in comparison with the outward mobility of Europeans. From the fifteenth through the mid-twentieth century, more than sixty-five million Europeans left their continent. Nine-tenths of them left after 1800,Footnote 3 and especially from 1830 through 1950, when first Western, then Northern and finally Eastern and Southern Europeans emigrated en masse to the Americas. Fewer Western Europeans travelled to Asia, Africa and Oceania as colonial settlers, and still fewer went to plantation and trade colonies as soldiers, administrators, businessmen or in other roles.Footnote 4 Around 1970, however, just a decade after the high point of decolonisation, there were, for the first time, more people coming into than leaving Europe.Footnote 5 The outward movement had slowed down, while conversely, beginning already in the 1940s, ever more people arrived from Africa, the Caribbean and Asia. They came in search of work, education, career or family reunion, or because they were fleeing poverty, famine, violent conflict or persecution. From the perspective of many residents in former imperial metropoles, this meant that empire was coming home like a boomerang – and thus was more ostensibly present in their lives than ever before. This unexpected, and for many undesired, homecoming turned the second half of the twentieth century into a transformative period in the continent's history.
Using the much-neglected case of Portugal to zoom in on the sea change that post-imperial migrations indicated and contributed to, this article advances three related arguments. Firstly, building on the work of a number of scholars, I argue that decolonisation and migrations from the (former) colonies triggered and moulded a specifically post-imperial nation-building.Footnote 6 I substantiate this claim by surveying how these migrations affected citizenship, the welfare state and public memories. The focus here is not primarily on how migrants contributed to the rebuilding of Western Europe – which of course they did, on multiple material and socio-cultural levels. Rather, the focus is mostly on how Portugal and other receiving societies, in reaction to post-imperial migrations, redrew the boundaries of their national communities. This rebuilding of nations after empire was, as I demonstrate, shot through with ethno-nationalist homogenisations and racist exclusions.
Secondly, the article suggests that to uncover this remaking of Western European nations in the age of decolonisation we must overcome an unhelpful compartmentalisation. The oftentimes separate treatment of white ‘repatriates’ and non-white ‘immigrants’, both from the (former) colonies, in two sets of literatures betrays a questionable racialisation of migration studies.Footnote 7 It has also made it difficult to see how it is precisely race, or the colonial history of white supremacy, that has privileged the settlers-turned-immigrants over the colonised-turned-immigrants. By contradistinction, the umbrella-term ‘post-imperial migrants’ overcomes such compartmentalisation.Footnote 8 It situates in a single analytical field all those who migrated from colonised territories to ‘their’ respective metropoles in an outdrawn process that encompasses the late-imperial years, the moment of independence and the post-imperial decades since. It suggests a relational perspective that highlights differences, commonalities, interactions and racialised hierarchies between those who came (back) to Europe, settling into nations that had to reinvent themselves in the process of decolonisation.Footnote 9
Thirdly, the relational perspective extends not only to different migrant groups but to processes of post-imperial nation-building more broadly. By bringing the literature on France and the United Kingdom into conversation with the Portuguese case, this article reveals similarities.Footnote 10 By showing how developments in the United Kingdom and France at times guided the choices of actors in Portugal, it also suggests that some similarities resulted from observation and transfer. This in turn yields the question of whether mutual borrowing among Europe's colonial powers, which historians have begun to analyse in the last couple of years,Footnote 11 continued beyond the formal end of empire. This article cannot comprehensively answer this question, but it does demonstrate that officials – as well as migrants – in Portugal looked to other European cases to navigate the aftermath of empire.
Why It Matters: Placing Portugal in Context
Portugal's contemporary history enjoys little visibility in the historical profession, where many tend to think of it as enchantingly colourful yet mildly extraneous. But the country's recent past of fascism and democracy, of empire and its ending, of mass emigration and immigration is neither exotic nor exceptional. Instead, it is deeply interwoven with Western European history.Footnote 12 This article shows how Portugal echoes trends observable throughout a region whose inhabitants experienced decolonisation-cum-immigration.Footnote 13 At the same time, however, peculiarities of timing, scale and context make Portugal ideal for a contrasting comparison.Footnote 14
Firstly, consider timing. The Portuguese built Europe's first and last overseas empire. It dates back to the fifteenth century and was dismantled only in 1975. The Portuguese thus experienced post-imperial immigration later than France, Great Britain or the Netherlands, which had become more ethnically diverse already in the 1940s through 1960s.Footnote 15 Once Portugal was forced to decolonise, these earlier cases were on the minds of politicians, international organisations, professional commentators and migrants. Prior experiences influenced the claims they made or the policies they devised, thus revealing a broader European pattern that had gradually emerged in dealing with immigration from the (formerly) colonised world.
Secondly, regarding scale. It is often assumed that immigration to Portugal pales in comparison to other Western European cases. And indeed, minorities from the colonies in France or in the United Kingdom were for a long time more sizeable. However, immigration did catch up after its timid beginnings in the late 1960s. It increased in the 1980s and soared in the 1990s. As a result, in 2014, the National Statistics Institute estimated that 13 per cent of the economically active population had a ‘migratory background’.Footnote 16 Many of them had roots in Portuguese-speaking African countries or in Brazil. While Brazil has been independent since 1822 and dwarfs its former metropole in demographic, economic and political terms, Brazilians in Portugal have been discriminated against as an ethnicised minority.Footnote 17
More importantly still, post-imperial migrations only seem of minor importance in Portugal if we restrict our understanding, as much of the literature has done, to those who came as foreigners and were perceived as non-white.Footnote 18 But the retornados or ‘returnees’, the people who left Angola, Mozambique and other Portuguese (ex-)colonies between 1974 and 1979 and sought refuge in the metropole, were post-imperial migrants, too, even if the overwhelming majority held Portuguese citizenship and were white. Their exact number is unknown, but at least half a million, and possibly as high as 800,000.Footnote 19 This means that with 8.7 million residents as of 31 December 1973, the returnees added between 5 and over 9 per cent to Portugal's population within a very short period. Even in France, where settlers who left Algeria in 1962 numbered a million, their influx to a country of forty-seven million inhabitants led to a demographic increase of ‘only’ 2.2 per cent, i.e. less than half of the effect we see in Portugal.
Two further issues make the Portuguese case interesting. First, the economic context: A sharp rise of (post-)imperial migrations to France or the United Kingdom occurred to generally prosperous countries during a period of breath-taking economic growth to which immigrants’ precarious labour contributed enormously. By contrast, Portugal's economy had been among Europe's weakest for decades when returnees and other migrants from Africa arrived from the 1960s through 1990s. Larger numbers of labour migrants came only after Portugal started receiving transfers from the European Economic Community (EEC), which it joined in 1986. At the time, the Portuguese had only limited experience with immigration. They did have, by contrast, much experience with massive emigration: between 1957 and 1974, some 1.5 million Portuguese had left in search of work abroad.Footnote 20 Most found low-paid jobs in Western Europe, especially France and Switzerland, where they rubbed shoulders with other precarious ‘guest workers’. These not only originated from Italy, Greece and Yugoslavia, but also from Algeria, Morocco and other former colonies. Many Portuguese thus experienced a subaltern status as economic migrants abroad before they received post-imperial migrants in their own country, something that cannot be said about France, the United Kingdom or the Netherlands.
Second, decolonisation impacted political institutions in many European countries, and especially in France, where the Algerian war precipitated the end of the Fourth Republic. Nowhere, however, was this impact as fundamental as in Portugal. Thirteen years of colonial war on three fronts (1961–74) not only led to the independence of all colonies but also to the downfall of the dictatorship in the metropole and its replacement by parliamentary democracy. This transition occurred in a country that prided itself on a five-century-long history of maritime expansion. Before the 1974 Carnation Revolution, Portuguese officials had understood their country as a grand imperial nation, partly to compensate for their marginal position in Europe. This ‘imperial mystique’ was not restricted to the elites and small urban middle classes. Rather, imperial and, after 1951, Lusotropicalist propaganda was disseminated through schools, monuments, exhibitions, radio broadcasts, but also through cinema, music, soccer and beauty pageants.Footnote 21
After 1974, the unique combination of decolonisation and metropolitan revolution made this imperial nationhood obsolete. In this context, Portuguese returnees, Cape Verdean labour migrants or Angolan refugees, as living remnants of the defunct empire, were a reminder that Portugal's place in the world had changed and that the ideas the Portuguese had held about their nation would need to change, too. With their experiences straddling both formerly imperial spaces, i.e. the colonies and the metropole, these migrants ‘served as sites of negotiation for the process of disengagement from empire and for the creation of new national identities’.Footnote 22 This process was similar to, but also different from, other European nations, in that the collapse of the empire, which had dominated national self-images and policy choices to an unusual extent, was abrupt, total, inseparable from metropolitan revolution and not cushioned, as in the United Kingdom or France, by the Commonwealth, the Françafrique or any other neocolonial project. In short, given the similarities with better-researched cases, but also considering specificities of timing, scale and context, Portugal is an excellent place to study what happens ‘when empire comes home’.Footnote 23
Post-imperial Migrations to a Semi-Peripheral Country
Around 1950, only few people from the colonies lived in Portugal. A tiny elite socialised in the House of the Students of the Empire (Casa dos Estudantes do Império) which soon turned into a hotbed of anticolonial intellectuals, while some African sailors and dockers worked in the port of the capital.Footnote 24 The situation changed with the arrival of tens of thousands of Cape Verdean labour migrants beginning in the late 1960s. Replacing Portuguese workers who emigrated or were drafted for the army's colonial war on three African fronts, they worked in construction and public works, literally building modern Portugal and its networks of water supply, electricity, telephone and metro trains, as well as Lisbon's main suburbs.Footnote 25 The advent of Cape Verdeans in the dusk of empire marks the first of three phases of (post-) imperial migrations.
The second phase, the most significant one in terms of post-imperial nation-building, began with the 1974 Carnation Revolution and the independence of all Portuguese colonies by 1975 that followed. At least half a million retornados, overwhelmingly white settlers from Angola and Mozambique, now came to Portugal.Footnote 26 They fled the colonies because they disapproved of the single party, Black majority rule after independence; resented their loss of racial or social privilege and feared a deficit of political representation; dreaded the violence of civil war and the breakdown of basic infrastructures and services in the newly independent states; feared specific threats to their property, livelihood and personal safety; or departed because their lifeworld was waning before their eyes as everyone else from their communities left in a fit of collective panic.Footnote 27 Those associated with the colonial regime formed the vast majority of the migrants: white soldiers, administrators, engineers and settlers; their Black housemaids and servants; Black spouses and ‘mixed-race’ children; but also indigenous soldiers who had fought in Portugal's army, or Cape Verdeans who had previously migrated as manual labourers or low-ranking civil servants to other parts of the empire. By contrast, a minority were not associated with colonial rule. Among them were African opponents of the Mozambique Liberation Front (Frente de Libertação de Moçambique; Frelimo) and the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola; MPLA); Indian and Chinese minorities that fled Frelimo's nationalisation policies or were expelled by the thousands in 1977 because they did not wish to obtain or had renounced their Mozambican nationality;Footnote 28 or the 1,525 East Timorese individuals who reached Portugal in 1976 after a botched independence and guerrilla war against the Indonesian occupation had uprooted thousands.Footnote 29
After the 1974 regime change and decolonisation, Portuguese governments strove to anchor their country in a new geopolitical context. Breaking with Portugal's imperial tradition, they turned to Europe, initiating negotiations that led to the country's adhesion to the EEC in 1986. This inaugurated a period of economic growth – especially via public works in the construction sector – and a third phase of post-imperial migrations. In 1985, Portugal counted roughly 35,000 residents who were nationals of an African country.Footnote 30 Within little more than two decades, their number had more than quadrupled, reaching 148,000 in 2007, before the financial crisis, coming on top of a period of stagnation and recession since the turn of the millennium, hit the country hard in 2008.Footnote 31 In roughly the same period, the number of Brazilian nationals in Portugal skyrocketed from around 3,600 (1980) to around 107,000 (2008), making them the largest community of foreigners in Portugal today, followed by Cape Verdeans (roughly 35,000 or 7.2 per cent).Footnote 32
Parallel to this increase of migrations from a post-imperial space that at the time was being reorganised as the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (Comunidade dos Países de Língua Portuguesa, CPLP, founded in 1996),Footnote 33 there was a new influx from Eastern European countries, especially Ukraine, whose nationals came to form, if only for a brief moment (in 2002, around 62,000 individuals), Portugal's biggest migrant community.Footnote 34 In short, decolonisation, European integration and the end of the Cold War had changed Portugal's place in the world; at the intersection of various migration systems, the country occupied a semi-peripheral position, marked by immigration and emigration alike.Footnote 35 This also meant that post-imperial migrants used the country as a springboard to more prosperous parts of the continent, particularly during the financial and economic crisis (2008–15), when emigration from Portugal soared. Among those who sought better opportunities abroad, especially in the United Kingdom, were many migrants from African countries or Brazil that had been naturalised in Portugal.Footnote 36
Intertwined Histories: Post-imperial Migrations and the Welfare State
With the en masse arrival of returnees in 1975, Portugal's new democratic regime needed to clarify its responsibilities vis-à-vis the incoming migrants. Decolonisation thus became directly instrumental in the rearrangement of the welfare state – a development that started earlier in the United Kingdom and in France.Footnote 37 Yann Scioldo-Zürcher has analysed the integration dispositive that the French state set up for the one million pieds-noirs who arrived from Algeria around the time of the country's independence in 1962.Footnote 38 Debunking these repatriates’ memory politics of victimhood, he demonstrates the French state's willingness to cushion the hardships they faced and to promote their reinsertion. They received extraordinary support in housing, employment, education, health and credit. A host of new laws, the creative adaption of administrative practices to their needs, but most of all the readiness to spend consequential sums for their establishment proved the French state's (racialised) bonds of solidarity and the flexibility of its welfare system in accommodating the settlers-turned-migrants.
Scioldo-Zürcher's study provides a pertinent comparison for the Portuguese case. Until the mid-1970s, Portuguese welfare provisions were very limited. The first phase of migrations from the colonies led the authorities to create the Centre for the Support of Overseas Workers (Centro de Apoio aos Trabalhadores Ultramarinos; CATU). Between 1969 and 1973, some 11,000 migrants from Cape Verde relied on the CATU's services, which mostly consisted of orienting them towards the low-skilled labour market.Footnote 39 But beyond this small institution, there was no special provision for Cape Verdean workers. The level of state involvement, however, changed dramatically when the second phase of post-imperial migrations started in 1975. Officials now faced momentous challenges. The returnees, coming to a country with no recent record of substantial immigration, strained an economy that was structurally uncompetitive and suffered additional stress because of the Carnation Revolution and a worldwide recession. Portugal's state apparatus underwent a deep crisis; the political situation was tense, bordering on civil war.Footnote 40 Most returnees felt estranged in Portugal, and many looked with bitterness upon the new regime that they blamed for the loss of their homes. As for the resident population, many met the newcomers with a lack of empathy; with distrust regarding their political leanings or their competition in a tight labour and housing market; with envy because of the state support they received; or with outright hostility because of their privileges in the colonies that metropolitan conscripts had been sent to fight and die for. More generally, migrants and residents perceived each other as problematically different in terms of mentalities and lifestyles.Footnote 41 In short, ‘there seemed to be a recipe for disaster’.Footnote 42
Against this backdrop, the fact that most returnees soon ceased to depend on state subsidies or the material support of family and friends, but instead found housing and jobs and built new lives for themselves, is often rendered as an extraordinary achievement. Within just a few years, the returnees so thoroughly blended into the resident society that they became virtually invisible. Contrary to widespread fears, they failed to disrupt social cohesion and to jeopardise the Carnation Revolution; instead, their arrival boosted the economy, improved interpersonal relations and stabilised democracy. This is the success story of integration, told time and again by scholars, journalists and politicians, among them those who held the highest offices at the peak of the integration effort, prime minister Mário Soares (1976–8) and president Ramalho Eanes (1976–86).Footnote 43
While the success story captures some aspects accurately, it comes with two blind spots. First, not everyone had a smooth integration, as a closer inspection of the provision of state-paid housing demonstrates. Some returnees suffered discriminations because of their citizenship, class, race and gender in a system that organised all support around the male head of household. The state did not prevent these discriminations and sometimes reinforced them. Especially racism, documented in the comments by social workers or state officials, helps explain why not only non-Portuguese but also Portuguese of colour seem to have been overrepresented in locales at the margins of mainstream society where housing conditions were worst.Footnote 44 Second, the established story mostly credits the migrants, their families and their wider networks with their successful reinsertion. Solidarity practices rooted in kinship and neighbourhood relations are highlighted, while the extent of state assistance is downplayed. But like in France a decade earlier – although with less of a budget – the state did create a comprehensive integration dispositive. Its kernel was the IARN, the Institute for the Support of the Return of Nationals (Instituto de Apoio ao Retorno dos Nacionais), which in 1975 came to replace the CATU created for Cape Verdean labour migrants.Footnote 45
In orienting the IARN's policy, António Gonçalves Ribeiro, who was at the helm of the institution, liaised in 1977 with the French government, hoping to learn from its experience. The fact that, fifteen years after Algeria's independence, the French Secretary of State for the Repatriates had not yet been dissolved and that pieds-noirs were overrepresented in many communities in the Parisian region and in southern France struck Gonçalves Ribeiro as a ‘persistence of the phenomenon of the repatriates in French society’ that he wished to avoid in Portugal.Footnote 46 A scholarly article reinforced his conviction that the French had failed to integrate their returnees appropriately.Footnote 47 The supposedly flawed integration of the pieds-noirs soon became a trope in Portugal.Footnote 48 Most commentators do not state clearly why they think the Portuguese integration was superior, but some argue that it was achieved through individual assimilation, while in France integration followed a communitarian logic that strengthened instead of dissolved the social, political and identitary bonds among repatriates. The Portuguese authorities are credited with having rejected the returnees’ claims to indemnification for lost properties, with having sped up their dissolution as an administratively distinct population group and their transfer into the general social security system and with fostering the migrants’ geographical repartition. All these measures are said to have discouraged a strong group identity detrimental to the migrants’ integration.Footnote 49
This is not the place to engage further with these representations of national difference. Instead, let us highlight a similarity: just like its French counterpart, the Portuguese state accorded its settlers-turned-migrants a preferential treatment unavailable to other post-imperial migrants. The returnees were privilegedFootnote 50 – even if their integration was uneven, since people of colour and/or with less socio-cultural capital suffered (more) discrimination. By defining retornados as entitled to the support of special institutions, the state created a group of people governable by an expanding bureaucracy, and it crafted, just as in France,Footnote 51 an ideology of ‘national solidarity’ that officials mobilised to pacify society during a troublesome transition. This approach helped stabilise the nation from a short-term perspective and was instrumental in one of its most consequential mid-term transformations: the breakthrough of the welfare state.
Characterised by its ‘belated’ emergence, the Portuguese welfare state was weak in the mid-1970s, as compared to a Western and Northern European path seen as ‘typical’. As the returnees’ reception shows – think of the public-private partnership between the IARN and the Portuguese Red Cross – this weakness was cushioned by a welfare society where non-state actors played an important role.Footnote 52 To be sure, the expansion of social policies towards rural populations had already begun in the 1960s. Reacting to the massive emigration of workers to France and other countries, it was a bid to increase the legitimacy of the dictatorship.Footnote 53 But it was the 1974 Carnation Revolution and the social struggles that followed, notably in the field of housing,Footnote 54 that marked the turning-point towards the ‘universalistic welfare state’,Footnote 55 which Portugal's 1976 Constitution enshrined,Footnote 56 and which the bureaucracy for the returnees began to implement. The IARN was the first concerted attempt to address the vulnerability of a segment of the Portuguese population so as to make them, via the state aid provided, invisible.Footnote 57 When the returnees’ integration was deemed complete and the IARN was extinguished in 1981, its services and personnel were integrated into the Ministry of Social Affairs. Many benefits of Portugal's social security system developed from 1977 onwards (that year, the social pension was created as a first universal and non-contributory protection), among them housing or family allowances and medical assistance, were first granted to the returnees before being extended to all Portuguese citizens.Footnote 58 The success story of integration therefore not only fails to account for the hardships and limits of reinsertion. It also blocks from view how the second movement of post-imperial migrations accelerated the new understanding of the nation-state as the guarantor of its citizens’ welfare, an understanding aligned with the Western European model that elites in Portugal wished to espouse – even if they portrayed French policies for the pieds-noirs as a negative example. The very definition of the citizen entitled to welfare, however, changed at the time – and once again, the second phase of post-imperial migrations was crucial in the process.
Tales of (Un-) Belonging: Post-Imperial Migrations and Citizenship
As a legal institution and political practice, citizenship draws a contested and historically shifting line between those who enjoy full rights and belonging within a polity and those who do not. Regarding post-imperial migrations, we might represent the citizenship factor in two ways. Firstly, we can tell a story of citizenship as a ‘postcolonial bonus’,Footnote 59 a preferential treatment that European states have accorded to or upheld for those immigrants who had a connection to them via the history of colonialism. Secondly, we can tell a story of limited access and disenfranchisement, one that many immigrants experienced as a betrayal of earlier promises, and as a ‘postcolonial burden’ they had to carry.Footnote 60 While in tension, these stories, taken together, illuminate the messy change that decolonisation brought for the formerly colonised's citizenship status and for Europe's post-imperial nations.
A famous case of a citizenship bonus is the 1948 British Nationality Act. Defining a ‘Citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies’, it made colonial subjects and British citizens legally indistinguishable. It also afforded broadly identical rights to a second category, the ‘Citizens of Independent Commonwealth Countries’, among them India, Pakistan and Ceylon that had just won their independence from Britain. Citizens of both categories had the right to enter the United Kingdom, settle and work there. They did so until, in an atmosphere of increasingly violent racism, immigration laws in 1962, 1968 and 1971 replaced the free entry policy with a highly restrictive one.Footnote 61 France experimented with imperial citizenship in the French Union (Union Française, 1946) and the French Community (Communauté Française, 1958). Both constitutions included the colonised into the nation and granted them freedom of movement and settlement. But both also denied them full citizenship and locked them in a legal space between nationals and foreigners when they entered the metropole.Footnote 62 This half-hearted expansion of citizenship was a response to pressures from the colonised and the international community in the post-war era. It also betrayed a longer history of tension between France's assimilationist ‘civilising mission’ on the one hand and the racialised (legal) hierarchies of colonial rule and immigration control on the other.Footnote 63 Independence terminated this (incomplete) citizenship. Through a quasi-rule of automatism in international law the colonised now acquired the nationality of their newly independent nations.Footnote 64 As long as it served her interests, however, France unilaterally upheld or bilaterally agreed on preferential treatment for post-imperial migrants in terms of their entry, settlement rights, work regulations, family reunification and access to citizenship.Footnote 65
Like the French, Portugal's imperial citizenship emerged from the mounting pressures the country faced from anticolonial activists and in international fora like the United Nations (UN) after the Second World War. In 1951, a constitutional revision replaced the Portuguese empire and its colonies with what was now presented as a single pluricontinental and multiracial nation. The 1959 Nationality Act bestowed Portuguese nationality upon all born on the nation's soil, irrespective of whether in the metropole or in the overseas territories.Footnote 66 In addition, in 1961, in a short-lived move towards colonial reform, Overseas Minister Adriano Moreira reacted to armed insurrection in Angola by abolishing the much-hated discriminatory legal system of the indigenato.Footnote 67 From 1959/61 onwards, therefore, all born in any part of Portugal had the same citizenship, irrespective of skin colour or education. Citizens’ rights, however, were severely limited under Portugal's dictatorship, be it in the metropole or the colonies. More importantly, the de iure equality among citizens never translated into a de facto equality in the colonies, where racial hierarchy prevailed.Footnote 68
After all its colonies had become independent by 1975, Portugal maintained a citizenship bonus for their residents. Until 2006, migrants from Lusophone countries enjoyed shortcuts to Portuguese nationality, because they had Portuguese ancestry or, if they did not, because a shorter period of residence was required for naturalisation than for non-Lusophone foreigners. Accordingly, around 90 per cent of those who were naturalised until 2006 were from African Countries of Portuguese Official Language (Países Africanos de Língua Oficial Portuguesa; PALOP) or Brazil.Footnote 69 Tellingly, however, privileges were accorded unevenly, thus continuing hierarchies that had granted different populations different rights within the empire. Consider Goa: Today the smallest state within the Republic of India, the territory formed the headquarters of the Portuguese Estado da Índia from the sixteenth century until it was incorporated into independent India in 1961 by force of arms. Portugal condemned this as an annexation of its territory and declared that those born in Goa before 1961 and their offspring would keep the citizenship they had enjoyed since the eighteenth century – a privilege that sharply set them apart from most Africans under Portuguese rule.Footnote 70 In force until today, this privilege allowed a six-digit number of Goans in India to successfully claim Portuguese citizenship, which also facilitates their access to other Western countries.Footnote 71
The ‘citizenship as a bonus’ narrative shows how Portugal strove to uphold a special connection to its former empire, but also how legal distinctions among colonised populations were carried forth beyond independence. The flipside of this narrative, however, is a story of disenfranchisement and racialised exclusion. The second phase of post-imperial migrations is the key moment in this story. Facing the arrival of ever more returnees from the colonies, the government issued Decree-Law 308-A/75 on 24 June 1975. Declaring that independence nullified the ‘Portuguese nationality’ they had held ‘until that date’, it stripped most people from or in the colonies of their citizenship.Footnote 72 A sizeable minority, however, continued to be Portuguese citizens: those born in the metropole; those born in the colonies who had a Portuguese parent or grandparent; the wives, widows and divorced wives of Portuguese men in the colonies; and finally, those who had resided in the metropole for at least five years before 25 April 1974.
Importantly, only citizens qualified for returnee status. Several legal texts between March 1975 and May 1976 defined a retornado as a Portuguese national returning from an ex-colony, temporarily in need of assistance and entitled to government aid.Footnote 73 That retornado status and citizenship were (re-)defined around the same time was no coincidence. When Decree-Law 308-A/75 was passed in June, the wooden crates that settlers used to ship their possessions to the metropole had been piling up for months in the docks of Lisbon, and officials had begun to grasp the scope of the exodus, which would peak between July and November 1975. António de Almeida Santos, then Minister for Interterritorial Affairs and the author of the new nationality law, had himself returned from colonial Mozambique, where he spent twenty years as a lawyer in Lourenço Marques (today's Maputo). Looking back, he admitted that ‘his’ 1975 law responded directly to this second movement of post-imperial migrations, stating that it gave Portuguese nationality ‘only to some in order to prevent that they come all’. Without these restrictions, Almeida Santos feared that, burdened by ‘a million or more afflicted people’, his country ‘would perish’.Footnote 74
Almeida Santos specifically wished to block entry for African soldiers from the colonial army.Footnote 75 He acknowledged that they had strong motives for claiming citizenship and solidarity – having fought for Portugal they now rightly feared being persecuted in their countries – but still he wanted to limit their influx and considered the instrument he had created to this effect ‘the most patriotic of laws’.Footnote 76 This echoed how the French had retracted citizenship status from the harkis, the indigenous auxiliaries of the French army, and barred most of them from entering France after Algeria's independence in 1962, accepting the fact that tens of thousands were massacred by the victorious national liberation movement.Footnote 77 The precedent Almeida Santos had had in mind, however, was the 1948 British Nationality Act – it had been ‘too generous and London became the most Indian of capitals’.Footnote 78 Almeida Santos did not wish, it seems, to see Lisbon become the most Angolan or Mozambican of Europe's capitals.
Other officials shared the racism implicit in this statement. During a meeting of the Council of the Revolution in 1976, prime minister José Pinheiro de Azevedo fretted over the fact that ‘many people of black colour were arriving through the airlift’ that brought retornados to Lisbon and urged that ‘we cannot close our eyes to the possible arrival of some thousands of individuals who cannot guarantee they are Portuguese’. Vítor Crespo, Minister of Cooperation, reassured him, declaring ‘that concrete instructions had been given to the responsible entities in the sense that they should only authorize those individuals to embark in the airlift that fulfill all conditions of the Nationality Law’.Footnote 79 But as a report approved by Portugal's four major political parties in 1977 shows, even some of those who could claim citizenship by virtue of the new law were suspected to have done so ‘for reasons of opportunity’ and ‘with the clear goal of enjoying the aid that the Portuguese state grants his citizens’, while ‘intimately they did not consider themselves Portuguese’ and ‘intended to return to their native land one day’. Such suspicions fell mostly on Portuguese of colour, as is patent from the fact that the reports’ authors stated that ‘some’ of the citizens they voiced concern about had ‘ancestors’ in Portugal, but most of them ‘don't even have that’.Footnote 80
In short, Portuguese officials desired to reduce the influx of migrants and the assistance granted to those who did enter the country by instituting a racialised selection process.Footnote 81 For various reasons – the legacy of the ostensibly non-racist discourse of Lusotropicalism, the left-wing profile of the new regime, and the non-acceptance of legally institutionalised racism by the international community – this selection could not overtly rely on race. Instead, the legislators chose the criterion of Portuguese citizenship, while simultaneously redefining this very citizenship in terms of descent. The effect of all this was an explicit equation of the retornados with Portugueseness and an implicit and incomplete, but nonetheless powerful, association of both the returnees and Portugueseness with whiteness.Footnote 82
Some migrants had to go to great lengths to maintain their citizenship.Footnote 83 Many others lost it. Among them were Carlos Simeão and his wife Anália de Victória Pereira, who would much later, in 1992, become the first woman to run for the presidency in her native Angola. She and Simeão arrived in Lisbon in September 1975, and founded LARA, the League for the Support of Angolan Refugees (Liga de Apoio aos Refugiados Angolanos) in 1977. LARA held Portugal responsible for the predicament of Angolan decolonisation migrants, whom it conceived of as political refugees. Writing to the Portuguese government, but also to the UN Secretary-General, the association insisted that ‘we are more than 30,000 suffering social and economic discriminations’ as ‘Angolese [sic] refugees in Portugal’.Footnote 84 The representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Lisbon was aware of the problem, even if he advanced a lesser number, stating that ‘some 20,000 persons of African origin (mainly from Angola) who do not enjoy Portuguese nationality . . . and are considered by Portuguese law as persons of undetermined nationality’ lived in the country as a result of the ‘decolonization process’.Footnote 85 LARA not only campaigned for their material support but also for the creation of a national refugee law in Portugal that would allow them to apply for political asylum. It shared this objective with the UNHCR, which constantly pushed the Portuguese authorities on this issue.Footnote 86
Beyond the situation in Portugal, LARA also tried to influence the situation in civil war-torn Angola itself. In letters to Angolan president Agostinho Neto, to Portuguese prime minister Mário Soares, or to William Eteki Mboumoua, Secretary-General of the Organization of African Unity, LARA campaigned against what it saw as the human rights abuses of Neto's government, particularly regarding political opponents. This campaign culminated in an utterly unrealistic bid to weaken Neto when Carlos Simeão in 1978 claimed to lead a ‘government in exile’.Footnote 87 But while LARA's founders, whose association mobilised some 1,500 members in and around Lisbon, identified as ‘Angolans in exile’, they also insisted on a colonial history ‘more than 400 years old’ which had melded Angola and Portugal together like ‘two sides of the same coin’. Referring both to the imperial project of assimilation and to the decolonisation that had obliterated it, they presented themselves as ‘on one hand, the incomplete product of Portuguese colonization and, on the other hand, the victims of the  Alvor Agreement’ which had prepared Angolan independence and, arguably, the political turmoil following on its heels, prompting Simeão and Pereira to seek refuge in the former metropole.Footnote 88 Referring to the majority of decolonisation migrants who, unlike them, remained Portuguese, LARA criticised the government for channelling a disproportionate amount of international donations to the retornados instead of those Africans who had fled the colonies alongside the returnees.Footnote 89
Others refused to consider themselves as non-Portuguese exiles and instead protested their loss of citizenship and the resulting inability to receive support as retornados. Among them was Sadurdine Alimamade Hergy, an immigrant from Mozambique who initiated a one-man campaign on behalf of those who were stripped of what he saw as their fundamental right to remain Portuguese.Footnote 90 In a stream of skilfully composed letters (1975–8), Hergy delivered a fierce critique of Portuguese decolonisation, the new nationality law and what he perceived as institutional racism. Finishing most letters with the salutation ‘For the Defense of the Human Rights’, he threatened to accuse Portugal in a ‘worldwide campaign’ of violating universal justice and international law.Footnote 91 He wrote to the highest authorities and all political parties in Portugal, to national and international media, but also to US ambassador Frank Carlucci, to Suleiman Valy Mamede, President of Lisbon's Islamic Community, to Aga Khan IV, the Imam of Nizari Ismailism, to Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, to the UNHCR, to the UN Commission on Human Rights and to the International League for Human Rights.
In a letter to prime minister Mário Soares on 28 September 1976, the bedrock of Hergy's attack was the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights that he quoted verbatim: ‘Everyone has the right to a nationality. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality’. As Hergy saw it, Portuguese lawmakers had stripped thousands of this inalienable right, disregarding the fact that ‘all those born in territories where the Portuguese flag flew are Portuguese citizens, even after the independence of the overseas territories, as long as these citizens do not declare the opposite’.Footnote 92 Additionally, Hergy reckoned that ‘the Portuguese Government refuses citizenship to its children of the ancient overseas territories for the sole reason that they are not white or do not possess ancestors of white origin. Due to universal understanding’, he wrote, this ‘constitutes racial discrimination’.Footnote 93 Hergy maintained that the obliteration of citizenship was unlawful and detrimental to the migrants’ ‘social reintegration in the metropole’, but also immoral. Taking the ideologues of Lusotropicalism at their word, he reminded Soares that ‘Portugal always defended in front of the world and all international organizations its multiracial, multi-religious, and pluricontinental character’. In the African colonies, ‘for four centuries’, the ‘many generations’ who grew up ‘under the Portuguese banner . . . did not know any other fatherland than Portugal’.Footnote 94 Through Decree-Law 308-A/75, the metropole violated their unquestionable patriotic commitment, expressed not least through their loyal service in the army and rewarded with many military decorations.Footnote 95
Hergy's letters resonate with the observation that the mid-1970s mark the breakthrough of human rights as a political language that provided ordinary people with new means to claim individual rights against the state.Footnote 96 But in Hergy's case at least, this language proved ineffective. His letters seem to have gone unanswered, and certainly had no influence on Portuguese citizenship regulations. Indeed, Decree-Law 308-A/75 initiated a new predominance of ius sanguinis.Footnote 97 Six years later, the 1981 nationality law further accentuated the criterion of Portuguese descent. While its prime goal was to facilitate access to Portuguese nationality for millions of emigrants and their children abroad, it was also meant to keep at bay African immigrants and to accommodate the dominant ius sanguinis orientation of the EEC, which Portugal joined in 1986.Footnote 98 Access to citizenship was further restricted by Law 25/94 of 19 August 1994, when the breakdown of the socialist bloc brought many Eastern European migrants to Portugal.Footnote 99 Amendments to the nationality law in 2006 did not change its basic logic. The 1975 nationality law, then, was the first in a series of restrictive laws that impeded access to citizenship and favoured the perception of immigrants as outsiders to a national community defined by descent.Footnote 100 Responding to the second movement of post-imperial migrations, the legislators replaced Portugal's inclusive imperial citizenship – which had failed to halt racist practice in the colonies – with a national citizenship that excluded the formerly colonised and surreptitiously ethnicised citizenship. Decolonisation thus initiated a reordering of nationhood, whose impact by far exceeded the momentary urgency that had motivated it in the first place.
This reordering, as scholars, journalists, and activists have shown, hampers equal participation of migrants and their children in Portuguese society, and undermines their sense of belonging.Footnote 101 There are still thousands with a ‘migratory background’ in Portugal today, often the children of Cape Verdean immigrants, who do not possess the citizenship of the country where they were born and went to school, where they work and pay taxes, and beyond the borders of which many of them have never travelled. They are especially vulnerable to police violence, incarceration, or discrimination in housing, jobs and education. Distinctions of citizenship, gender, class, race and urban space intersect to reinforce discriminations and the stereotyped representations of these demographics in much of the mainstream media.Footnote 102
Recently, however, there has been an important development. In February 2017, the far-left Left Bloc (Bloco de Esquerda; BE) and the centre-right Social Democratic Party (Partido Social Democrata; PSD) presented their propositions for a new nationality law. While the PSD wished to extend nationality to grandchildren of Portuguese emigrants abroad, the BE had immigrants and their offspring inside Portugal in mind and stipulated a return to ius soli nationality law.Footnote 103 Soon after, a coalition of around forty anti-racist, feminist, LGBTQ and migrant-rights associations named Campaign for a Different Nationality Law (Campanha por outra lei da nacionalidade) started campaigning for the BE's proposition with the slogan: ‘Whoever is born in Portugal is Portuguese. Full stop’.Footnote 104 Going beyond questions of rights, their campaign was about changing common-sense representations: ‘Portuguese identity incorporates cultural markers brought by immigrants from all five continents. We cannot continue to let this diversity be ignored and made invisible’.Footnote 105 In 2018, parliament did pass a new nationality law with the votes of the governing Socialist Party (Partido Socialista; PS) and the BE; the Portuguese Communist Party (Partido Comunista Português; PCP); the Ecologist Party ‘The Greens’ (Partido Ecologista ‘Os Verdes’; PEV); and a party called People-Animals-Nature (Pessoas-Animais-Natureza; PAN). The final text was a merger of these parties’ propositions. While it extended nationality to the grandchildren of emigrants, as the CDS (which abstained) had suggested, the BE's straightforward ius soli approach did not prevail. Nevertheless, the law marks a turning point, as it automatically gives Portuguese nationality to those born to foreign parents who have resided in Portugal for at least two years.Footnote 106 The 1975 reordering of nationhood, brought about by the second phase of post-imperial migrations, was partially reversed – not least thanks to the political activism of those who came during the third phase.
Imagined Communities: Post-imperial Migrations and Public Memories
Throughout much of the last half-century, most post-imperial migrants and their children had no widely recognisable voice in the public sphere. The retornados, as the privileged migrants they were, form a partial exception to this rule. For a decade or so after they arrived, a minority among them formed associations and ran the widely circulating illustrated weekly Jornal O Retornado. The latter sided more squarely with the far right than other publicly vocal returnees, but their politics of memory were overall, in a literal sense, reactionary. Defensively defiant in tone, they reacted to the twin delegitimisation of empire and the political right that the Carnation Revolution had brought. In demonstrations and publications, they took on a posture of victimhood and acquitted themselves from any particular responsibility for colonial rule, thus rejecting the scapegoating through which metropolitan Portuguese liked to hide their own roles in empire by stigmatising the returnees as colonial exploiters. In JOR, the returnees presented themselves as honest and hardworking people who had dedicated their lives to the economic, social and cultural advancement of Portugal's overseas territories. Proud of having ‘completed a grand work of civilization’, which supposedly made Portuguese colonialism ‘very different from that of the English or French’,Footnote 107 they claimed to have created a melting pot of multi-racial harmony in the tropics. This paradise had been destroyed by decolonisation, i.e. by a mix of tribalism, communist subversion and foreign intervention in Africa as well as by the indifference, incompetence or treason of leftist politicians in the metropole.Footnote 108
This problematic representation of Portuguese settler colonialism and its demise was not limited to the associational sphere or the migrant press. In parliament, it was ventilated by several parties, and most notably the conservative CDS, for example by deputies Ângelo Vieira and Pinto da Cruz – both returnees from Angola themselves.Footnote 109 Additionally, part of the integration offer made to returnees by the state consisted in a public validation of their settler fantasies, as is patent in a speech by Gonçalves Ribeiro. In 1977, the head of the IARN recalled ‘the magnificent adventure that the Portuguese people have lived through during five centuries outside of their primeval borders’ and added, explaining the country's turn from empire to Europe, that this adventure ‘must be transplanted into the continental European space now’. He presented the brave and industrious retornados as a vanguard in this process that would lead to the ‘nation's resurrection’.Footnote 110 In 1984, journalist Fernando Dacosta sang the same tune. The returnees, he thought, transformed the anger about their loss into the force to rebuild their lives – and to rebuild Portugal, acting as ‘settlers once again’. In a country debilitated by massive emigration, ‘everything was (and is) still to be done, just as was (and is) the case in the backcountries of the African memories’. The returnees, ‘builders of empire by nature’, were up to the task. With ‘their courage, persistence, ingenuity, inventiveness’, they ‘repeated here what they did there decades ago’.Footnote 111
The link of migration, memory and nation-building is clear enough in these quotes, but all in all, the space for these memory politics was limited, and the retornado associations never attracted the following or acquired the leverage that the pieds-noirs mustered in France. By the mid-1980s the returnees, privileged but also pressured by an ethno-nationalist conception of Portugueseness, had become near-invisible as a group.Footnote 112 Their memories circulated mostly in family conversations or at ostensibly unpolitical, festive gatherings. Perceived as uncomfortable reminders of a decolonisation process that many Portuguese saw as botched, the returnees hid their histories from the broader public and assimilated quietly.Footnote 113 In this regard, they were like the veterans of Portugal's colonial wars, even if – or precisely because – these wars, fought by an army of conscripts, had affected, often painfully so, practically every Portuguese family.Footnote 114
The African migrants, meanwhile, remained just as invisible within public memories of empire and the nation as the returnees – at least until the mid-1990s, when a new multiculturalism, indebted to but also different from the late-imperial Lusotropicalism, entered society and politics. The new concept of ‘Lusophone communities’ now allowed the celebration of cultural-ethnic diversity – while at the same time it racially distanced the white ‘Portuguese’ from the ‘immigrant’ or ‘African’, be the latter a Portuguese citizen or not.Footnote 115 Ironically, such migrantisation of citizens (and racialisation of migrants) went hand in hand with the idea, for a long time common-sensical among the wider public, that the Portuguese, having supposedly been non-racist colonisers, were also living in a benignly non-racist, postcolonial society.Footnote 116 This myth was challenged by new activist groups like SOS Racism (SOS Racismo), and timidly questioned in mainstream journalism after the 1995 murder of Alcino Monteiro, a Portuguese citizen of Cape Verdean parentage who was beaten to death by a skinhead gang in Lisbon's famous Bairro Alto.Footnote 117
Since the turn of the millennium, however, post-imperial migrants have acquired new visibility and agency in memory-making. Colonial rule and decolonisation have reappeared as relevant national memories, and the memorial activism of colonial war veterans has been a trailblazer in this regard.Footnote 118 Partly in its wake, the retornados have reemerged in a memory boom of sorts, especially around the fortieth anniversary of the 1974 Revolution. Their voices returned to the public sphere, frequently as a by-product of old-age life-review processes and intergenerational communication. They resurfaced in academia, in an exhibition, in the arts, in high- and lowbrow literature, and journalistic works. Returnees emerged as the producers, commodities and consumers of a memory business that used nostalgia and trauma as its main selling points. They also reemerged in an array of memory politics whose protagonists had no unified political agenda.Footnote 119
On the one hand, this boom belongs to a global memory moment that marks and connects many societies wrestling with the fallout of empire.Footnote 120 On the other, however, it is specific to Portugal,Footnote 121 not least in the ways in which it allowed some commentators to link the returnees to the country's dire financial and economic crisis which peaked in 2008–15. Against the backdrop of the distrust with which many Portuguese then viewed the EU institutions that enforced harsh austerity politics in Portugal, a part of the settlers’ public memories can be read as an escape back to the times when (trans-) national identities were anchored not yet in Europe and the diasporic communities of Portuguese emigrants around the world, but still in the African empire.Footnote 122 Conversely, the success story of the returnees’ integration, revivified by journalists and politicians during the crisis,Footnote 123 applauded the entrepreneurial skills of the retornados. In the new context, it could be used as an exhortation to view the country's bleak situation as temporary, to accept the austerity measures and to embrace the neoliberal working ethos that the government of Pedro Passos Coelho promoted. This narrative was lent weight by the fact that the prime minister and four of his cabinet members were retornados themselves, and Passos Coelho tried to capitalise on this African connection during his 2011 electoral campaign in a meeting with immigrants.Footnote 124
The 2013 historical fiction TV show After Saying Goodbye (Depois do Adeus), which portrayed a likeable family of Angolan returnees,Footnote 125 points to yet another way in which these migrations have been incorporated into representations of the nation. The Carnation Revolution is the cornerstone of Portugal's memory as a nation-state that achieved a combined success of democratisation, liberalisation and Europeanisation. This ‘positive’ event, however, is historically inseparable from decolonisation – for most returnees a ‘negative’ event in which they lost racial privilege, material goods, a way of life, a notion of home, and more. After Saying Goodbye tries to resolve this tension, or at the least to blur the dividing line between former settlers and residents of the metropole. It includes the returnees into the master narrative of the Carnation Revolution not only by recognising their hardships, but also by stressing how, in overcoming them, they helped to modernise, democratise and liberalise Portugal through their skills and work ethics, through their resistance against what the TV show presents as the leftist folly of the ‘hot summer’ of 1975, and through the cultural change they triggered. In short, the show represents the returnees as true (co-) founders of the Portuguese nation after empire.
As for the non-white migrants and the Portuguese of colour, they have increasingly been incorporated into an emerging post-imperial identity. In 2016, a leading daily celebrated the ‘new Lisbon’ of those who are ‘young, gifted, and Black’,Footnote 126 while a music critic urged the minister of culture in an open letter to promote Lisbon as ‘capital of Africa’.Footnote 127 Two years later, when Portugal hosted Eurovision 2018, the world's largest music event, the organisers used the interval performance to showcase the music created by young artists from Portugal's black diaspora to millions of viewers worldwide. Ethnic and cultural diversity has become a hallmark of national self-representations – as well as a marketing tool for city-branding strategists selling Lisbon to some six million visitors per year. That tourists who prize the internationally acclaimed electronic music scene never set foot in the disadvantaged neighbourhoods where this music originated, but instead tour the imperial memory sites of Lisbon's Belém neighbourhood,Footnote 128 is just one of the many ambivalences of post-imperial Portugal today. Another one is that while the legacies of colonialism have contributed to the socio-economic inequalities between racialised groups in Portugal, ‘music has created new egalitarian and multicultural urban spaces in which these differences can be addressed’.Footnote 129
Meanwhile, Portuguese of colour address these differences also through direct protests, for example in a 2019 demonstration against the police violence that ethnic minorities in Lisbon's suburbs endure.Footnote 130 Additionally, and in ways that are partly reminiscent of the new anti-racist movements that emerged in France around 2005,Footnote 131 they also use memory politics that directly engage the nation's official self-representation. A prime example are the plans for a memorial to the four and a half to six million enslaved Africans who were transported on ships under Portuguese or Brazilian flags. The memorial is the brainchild of Djass, an association of Afro-descendants in Portugal whose president, Beatriz Gomes Dias, a Portuguese citizen born in Senegal to a parent from Guinea-Bissau, has in 2019 been elected as one of the three first black women to ever win a seat in the national parliament.Footnote 132 In November 2017, Djass's memorial to enslaved people won the support of a majority of voters in Lisbon, where it is planned to set it up on the banks of the river Tagus.Footnote 133 Soon after the vote, however, controversy exploded – not least because Lisbon mayor Fernando Medina simultaneously promoted his own plan for a new ‘Museum of the Discoveries’. In the aftermath of a much-criticised speech that president Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa had delivered in April 2017 at Gorée Island, an infamous departure point for slave ships in Senegal, many criticised Medina's museum project as an attempt to whitewash colonial history.Footnote 134 Djass had more in mind, however, than a mere reassessment of the country's past. Positing a clear link between slavery and present-day discrimination, Dias explained: ‘We want this monument to bring life to the debate around racism today’.Footnote 135
Undoubtedly, this debate has taken off. The memorial consensus, publicly performed from the 1980s around the memory of the Carnation Revolution, the early modern ‘discoveries’ (rebranded as a philanthropic adventure of cross-cultural contact) and the alleged disposition of the Portuguese people to embrace ethnic diversity, has become shaky. There had always been dissenting voices, of course, but only recently have they reached a critical mass, and they now often belong to actors who find inspiration and tools of critique abroad. The internationalisation of research on colonialism and migrations is partly driving this dynamic, as more Portuguese scholars train abroad or research with European funding, while conversely, more foreign scholars work on Portugal.Footnote 136 Outside academia, Portuguese activists, often with a ‘migratory background’, also connect with social movements abroad that seek to decolonise education, the arts and other public spaces. Djass members, for example, were inspired by the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, which, while state-funded, is an activist museum that challenges older narratives of slavery and abolitionism.Footnote 137 And in Portugal, just as in France or the United Kingdom, massive anti-racist demonstrations followed the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer on 25 May 2020.Footnote 138
All in all, the memorial effects that post-imperial migrations had are less directly traceable than the ways in which they moulded nationality law and the welfare state. They are, however, just as significant, as they affected the ways people imagine (and feel about) the nation as a community bound together or divided by history. Whether in their reactionary, nostalgic or critical forms, and whether meant to unify the nation or to unpack its supposed homogeneity, public memories are a prime site of the nation-building driven by post-imperial migrations.
Conclusion: Transnational Nations
Post-imperial migrations to Portugal and their representations prompted momentous changes of citizenship. They were a laboratory of the welfare state, and they brought forth memories that compete for recognition in the public sphere. This article has argued that the combined effects of these developments amounted to a profound change of the institutions and representations of the nation in Portugal. While specific, this post-imperial nation-building resembled and was in conversation with similar processes in other Western European countries. The full scope as well as the difference-producing, racialised dynamics of this remaking of nations after empire are only discernible, however, when the arrival of predominantly white returnees from the colonies is analysed together with the advent of people of colour from the same places and as part of the same history of colonialism and its drawn-out ending.
I hope my discussion of welfare, citizenship and memories has made it clear that my focus on the nation as institution and imagined community should in no way be read as the return to the national container-model of history writing that has rightly come under attack in the last decades. On the contrary, what this article shows is that the specific shape that the nation takes after empire is in considerable part the result of global and transnational processes: of decolonisation and the migrations that it triggered. These processes have done little to dethrone the primacy of the nation-state for Portuguese society. If anything, they have reinforced it. The returnees, as well as the legally non-Portuguese immigrants that have preceded, accompanied or followed the returnees on their way to the (former) metropole, have increased Portugal's ethnic, social and cultural diversity. Somewhat paradoxically, however, their arrival partly provoked and partly accompanied the country's transition from a multi-continental empire to a post-imperial nation-state that has reinvented itself as metropolitan, European and implicitly white. Only in recent years have post-imperial migrants, their descendants and other activists mobilised effectively to question this ethno-nationalist logic of Portuguese nationhood after empire. Whether this questioning will continue and help diversify the understanding of what Portugal is or should be remains to be seen. Since similar battles are being fought in other parts of Western Europe and will continue to inspire the people of Portugal, their nation-building will remain a transnational affair.
For their constructive comments on earlier versions of this text, I would like to thank, in alphabetical order: Anne Friedrichs, Becky Taylor, Bettina Severin-Barboutie, Claire Eldridge, Dörte Lerp, Elsa Peralta, Marcia C. Schenck, Márcia Gonçalves, Marie Huber, Samuël Coghe, Sarah Bellows-Blakely, as well as Celia Donert and two anonymous reviewers at Contemporary European History.