About the blog The historiography of the Salazarist secret police (PIDE) has been marked by a heavily top-down approach to the subject, focusing on the PIDE’s methods of repression and on the minority of oppositionists these methods were applied to. In this blog, I propose to take a look at the PIDE ‘from below’, uncovering the various forms of spontaneous interaction between individual citizens and the secret police.
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In this anonymous letter, written by a ‘Sad Grandmother’ and received by the Salazarist political police on 26 February 1970, the author denounces the publication of a book entitled ‘Liberdade de Amar’ (original English title ‘The Freedom of Sexual Love’). She has caught her granddaughter reading it and, after browsing through it herself, equates its content to pornography. By writing to the secret police, the ‘Sad Grandmother’ is implicitly calling for measures to be taken against the publication and circulation of such books in Portugal. Note that the title of the book has been underlined in red by a PIDE agent upon reception of the letter, indicating that its content was taken seriously by the secret police. (Arch. ref.: ANTT, PIDE/DGS, SC, CI (1) 219, NT1177, Pasta 4).
Two articles of mine have recently been published in academic journals. Both provide an in-depth analysis of some of the issues covered in this blog, and may therefore be of interest to you:
Duncan Simpson, ‘Approaching the PIDE “From Below”: Petitions, Spontaneous Applications and Denunciation Letters to Salazar’s Secret Police in 1964’, in Contemporary European History, 2020, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0960777320000612
Duncan Simpson, ‘The PIDE Between Memory and History: Revolutionary Tradition, Historiography, and the Missing Dimension in the Relation Between Society and Salazar’s Political Police’, in e-Journal of Portuguese History, 18.1, 2020, pp. 17-38, https://repository.library.brown.edu/studio/item/bdr:1161228/
O retrato da situação social no Portugal de 1965 pelo prisma do Registo de Correspondência Recebida do Ministério do Interior: pede-se casas em bairros sociais e autorizações para emigrar, faz-se denúncias, alista-se na PSP, e até há o inevitável pedido de “colocação na PIDE”.
Para a população, despolitizada e envolvida na sobrevivência quotidiana, a PIDE não era uma ameaça ao seu “bem-estar” ou “liberdade”, ambos limitados pela falta de condições materiais, mas sim um dos poucos recursos disponíveis. Uma forma de sobrevência como as outras, normalizada.
One of the most unusual cases of spontaneous interaction between Portuguese society and Salazar’s political police. In this letter received by the PIDE on 7 June 1963, a woman asks the political police to investigate the “moral, civil and political situation” of her husband-to-be. Indeed she senses that there is “something obscure in his life”. The PIDE replied that performing this type of “service” was not part of its mission.
The PIDE could also be instrumentalised from below by individual citizens eager to get rid of intrusive ex-lovers. As the above report indicates, this Portuguese emigrant in France wrote to the PIDE to inform it that his ex-companion, who had followed him there against his will, would soon be returning to Portugal for a few days. He hoped that the PIDE would “prevent her from returning” to France. In order to lend greater weight to his claim, he brought “politics” to the matter, accusing her of having “engaged in propaganda against Portugal and its Government” whilst in France.
Those who opposed the New State often found ways to externalize their political views, either publicly or privately, and with varying degrees of subtleness. According to the following denunciation, received by the PIDE in February 1961, this ‘leftist’ suspect kept the portraits of Salazar and Américo Tomás (the then President of the Republic) in his house, hanging on the walls of a special room reserved to ‘certain individuals’, and in a slightly modified version…
This anonymous letter of denunciation, received by the PIDE in 1962, is worthy of interest for the originality of its accusation. In it the author manages to combine both ideological and racial prejudice by branding the suspects as ‘um bando de siganos comunistas [sic]’.
Paradoxalmente, as cartas de denúncia recebidas pela PIDE revelam muitas vezes um Portugal menos cinzento do que é costume realçar. Por exemplo, facilmente se pode imaginar esta cena de tasco onde, o álcool ajudando, Salazar é tratado, entre outras coisas, de ‘filho da p.’
De maneira geral, a PIDE mantinha uma certa tolerância relativamente a estes ‘desvios’ menores, desde que não resultassem de uma consciencialização política organizada, e que os seus efeitos não alastrassem à comunidade local.
The PIDE did not limit itself to investigating the political ideas of the suspects being denounced. Part of its mission also included assessing their ‘moral standards’. To that end, PIDE agents discretely followed the suspects and sought to obtain information from neighbours or the local authorities. In the case of this ‘leftist’ militant in Porto (June 1970), the phrasing used by the PIDE agent to report on his alleged practice of ‘free love’ – based on hearsay and prejudice – is particularly noteworthy.
This letter of denunciation to the PIDE (Aug. 1962) provides a good example of collaboration between the Estado Novo’s various policing entities. It was sent to the PIDE by a member of the Portuguese Legion (LP) to report on the activities of a local agent of ‘subversion’. In response, the PIDE instructed the local GNR to discreetly investigate the suspect, which it did. In turn the GNR confirmed to the PIDE that the accusations levelled against the suspect were well founded.
Smooth collaboration of this kind did not always prevail, however, as policing bodies frequently competed among each other. Also, much of the information gathered by the LP was sent to the Ministry of the Interior, which then transmitted it to the PIDE if necessary. In this particular case, the LP denouncer wrote directly to the PIDE, perhaps because he felt in some way personally threatened by the suspect. Note that he provides 3 witnesses in a bid to add weight to his denunciation.
Many of the spontaneous letters of denunciation sent to the PIDE were anonymous. Whether the denunciation was ‘genuine’ or instrumental, their authors were obviously keen to avoid any direct contact with the secret police. But by making an anonymous denunciation, the denouncer in effect gave up any claim to a ‘reward’ for his/her deed. The author of the present letter, reporting on the activities of a group of ‘subversive’ individuals in January 1962, appears to have found a solution to this dilemma, by promising to reveal his identity upon conclusion of the case – ‘to see if you give me something because I am very poor’. The move may have been designed to lend the denunciation greater verisimilitude and ensure that the PIDE responded to it. It may also have resulted from the denouncer’s own uncertainty or instrumental purposes regarding the information provided. But the determination not to miss out on any potential material compensation was also undoubtedly present in many of the letters.