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Far Right Political Violence in the Portuguese Democratic Transition: Aims, Strategies and Identity

Extremism
Political Violence
Security
Social Movements
Terrorism
Qualitative
Raquel da Silva
Centro de Investigação e Estudos de Sociologia – CIES-IUL
Raquel da Silva
Centro de Investigação e Estudos de Sociologia – CIES-IUL
Riccardo Marchi
Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL) - Center for International Studies (CEI-IUL)

Abstract

Like in other Western European countries, in Portugal, the 1970s was a period of violent political opposition conducted by non-state actors. The fall of the authoritarian regime and the transition to democracy gave origin to a variety of right-wing movements and organisations. They were formed with the intent to face up to the hegemony of the revolutionary left in the political process. Both the scholarly and non-scholarly literature have already shown some interest in these movements and organisations, with particular attention to their clandestine armed action. However, their findings have been sparse regarding aspects, such as militant identity, strategy and objectives. In this context, the present paper takes into account the most radical organisation of the armed counter-revolutionary period in Portugal: the Liberation Army of Portugal (ELP). We aim at characterising this organisation, as well as its militants, in the broader panorama of anti-communist armed action. Therefore, we analyse how the socio-political context encouraged the creation of the ELP and the radicalisation and engagement processes of its militants. We examine the organisation’s strategies, both violent and non-violent, assessing their actual capacity for action and the achievement of their objectives. Finally, we examine the factors that led to the dissolution of the organisation and to the disengagement of its militants. This paper’s arguments can be articulated in the following three points: 1) the democratic transition marginalised the right-wing hardliners, triggering a terrorist strategy; 2) their mobilisation of resources remained marginal throughout the entire cycle of protest, however, through successful propaganda strategies, they were able to spread fear in the Portuguese collective imaginary; and 3) the micro-level accounts of former militants, how they interpret and internalise the events and narratives surrounding their political militancy, can improve explanations of why and how politically violent organisations erupt, endure and end. This study is based on qualitative comparative research which took into account documents produced by right-wing clandestine organisations, militants’ memoirs and several interviews conducted by the authors, some of them unpublished, with cadres of the most radical factions of the counter-revolutionary front.