Portugal Gets the Giggles Ahead of Austerity Protests

This post is part of our Europe in Crisis special coverage.

In the fight against tough government austerity, crisis-weary Portuguese are giving laughter a try.

Besides pursuing politicians with the historic and revolutionary song Grândola Vila Morena in public appearances, people in Portugal are speaking out against the government's tough tax hikes and spending cuts in creative, non-violent, and funny ways.

Humour is a useful tactic “when people affected by the issue are not being consulted”, according to Tactical Technology Collective's 10 Tactics. With the troika (European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund, and European Commission) overseeing the country's economy, Portuguese citizens shut out of the country's decision making are not surprisingly playing up the absurdities of political power.

The greatest enemy of authority is contempt and the surest way to undermine it is laughter.

– Hannah Arendt

Can I have your tax ID number?

Asking for receipts under the name of ministers has gone viral. Since January 2013, the government imposed a new legal measure that imposes fines up to 2,000 euros on consumers who don't ask for receipts. A list of tax ID numbers [pt] from several ministers soon started spreading around the social web.

"To identify a pimp, use the adequate number." Image by Filipe Roque shared on the Facebook page "Eu já pedi factura em nome de ministros" (I´ve already asked for a receipt under the name of a minister).

A collection of crowdsourced scanned receipts is being uploaded to the Facebook page “Eu já pedi factura em nome de ministros” (I've already asked for a receipt under the name of ministers, with more than 2,500 likes at the time this post was published). This image, by Filipe Roque, reads, “To identify a pimp, use the adequate number.”

Call it either “austerity revenge” or a “hijacking” of ministers’ tax affairs, as international media reported, the fact is that thousands of bills in ministers’ name [pt] are flooding tax offices and confusing the system of declared income from politicians.

Who tweets this?

If you want to giggle a bit on Twitter, then follow “Pedro the PM” (@Passos_PM), a fake alter-ego of Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho (also on Facebook). But don't be disappointed if he wont follow you: he only follows the Chancellor and the Finance Minister of Germany, Angela Merkel (@Angela_Merkel) and Wolfgang Schäuble (@Wolf_Schauble).

On February 22, 2013, he tweeted:

O Sr. Ministro Gaspar deseja saber quem foram os 500 engraçadinhos q compraram 500 calculadoras com factura em nome dele.

Mr. [Finance] Minister Gaspar wants to know who were the 500 jokers who bought 500 calculators and ordered receipts under his name.

Later in the week, his thoughts were:

Durante o ajustamento temos vindo a acumular credibilidade. Também acumulámos recessão, falências e desemprego, mas não servem p negociar.

During the European Union's bailout program, we have been piling up credibility. We have also piled up recession, bankruptcy, and unemployment, but those can't be used for negotiations.

And he added:

Aos portugueses e às famílias deixo um conselho: não têm pão, comam credibilidade.

To the Portuguese and to the families, here's some advice: you don't have bread, then eat credibility.

Also on Twitter and with a blog too, Manuel Parreira (@manuelparreira) has a rather peculiar way of lampooning the Portuguese left through extreme right-wing views.

For instance, on February 6, 2013, he suggested:

Porque não encerrar metade dos hospitais? Ao menos mantínhamos a TAP e a RTP.

And why not close down half of the hospitals? At least we would hold on to TAP [the state-owned national airline company, currently being privatized] and RTP [public broadcasting coorporation also being privatized amidst controversy, as Global Voices reported].

He often makes parodies of Portuguese society, such as in a series of tweets in early February where he poked fun at citizens whining on Twitter and the Communist Party's rather dense and obsolete speech, as well as exposed the ridiculous red-tape at the European level. For instance, a tweet where he assumes the character of Edite Estrela, a member of the European Parliament from the Portuguese Socialist Party (PS), reads:

TwitEstrela: Estou numa reunião para estabelecer o regulamento preliminar para a uniformização das cores Pantone dos semáforos europeus.

TwitEStrela: I am in a meeting to establish the preliminary by-law for the uniformization of Pantone colours of the European traffic lights.

Subverting public figures

The Independent called him “the fraudster who fooled a whole nation“. Artur Baptista da Silva was widely interviewed by Portuguese mainstream media as an economics expert, but he was discovered to have false credentials and zero experience on what he would be invited to talk about.

Various social media pages have been dedicated to satirizing the phony: there is a Tumblr blog and a Facebook page called Eu trabalhei na ONU com o Artur Baptista da Silva (I worked at the UN with Artur Baptista da Silva) [pt] with re-appropriated visuals of “Artur Baptista da Silva, UN's volunteer consultant, in several places”:

"Me, at UN's Christmas party".

“Me, at the UN's Christmas party”

A photograph from late last year shows a protester in a hot pink bathing suit holding a sign that reads “I have the files of the submarines!” The tongue-in-cheek declaration is a reference to an obscure submarines deal between the current Minister of Foreign Affairs Paulo Portas, who was the the minister of state and defense in 2004, and the German Submarine Consortium (GSC), which has cost between 712 million and one billion euros in public funds, as stated on Wikipedia:

The cost of the purchase came due in 2010 and was a major factor in the budgetary crisis that erupted that year and led to political fingerpointing in what came to be known in Portuguese as caso dos submarinos (the case of the submarines).

When investigators started to look into the case, which involved corruption, Paulo Portas, who was considered a suspect by the attorney general, said the files about the purchase of the submarines “had disappeared”.

"I have the documents of the submarines!" Photo shared by RiseUP Portugal.

“I have the files of the submarines!” Photo shared by RiseUP Portugal on August 2012.

Portuguese citizens plan to take to the streets once again next Saturday, March 2, 2013 in a protest organized by the Que se Lixe a Troika (Screw Troika) [pt] movement, which was born from the momentum from the massive September 2012 protest.

This post is part of our Europe in Crisis special coverage.

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