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The first favelas in Europe: Lisbon premiere

Nieuws, gepost door: Inspector Casino op 07/04/2013 04:05:52

Wanneer: 07/04/2013 - 16:34

In the current ´financial crisis´ Portugal get its share, so it seems. The talks of state officials with the IMF and other European governments lead to ´austerity measures´ that seem somewhere a golden chance for governments with neoliberal agendas to cut public expenditures drastically, also in Portugal.


In the meantime life goes on and people have to find ways to compensate economic loss or find ways of managing everyday life. In a curious way the influence of ´Grand politics´ lets itself be felt in several mediated ways in different sectors of society. Some people loose their public sector jobs, can not pay their rent or mortgage and may get in a debt cycle. This is the horror scenario for the middle classes. There are though also classes of people who live outside established economy or even society at all. In Lisbon you can see the striking proof of this in the outskirts of the city.

A sunny spring day somewhere in the suburbs of Lisbon. I have taken my bike and go in another direction as usual, not to the old city center, but to the new bairros, scattered around the airport. Whole blocks of appartment flats have been planted in the hills of Camarate, Lumiar and the like the last years. The prices are lower than in the center and the reasonably large apartments are comfortable and inhabited by all kind of middle class families. I thought. It turns out that some of these neighbourhoods are built on land formerly occupied by favelas. The favelas are gone, I thought, the people are now also living in an appartment flat. Integration of social classes it might be called, based on latest sociological research and incorporated by urbanists and city planners.

Still, in these outskirts of town, suddenly some small buildings catch my eye. Are they garden houses, like everywhere in and around Berlin, garages or do people live there permanently? Behind colourful walls, it seems a secret community has come to life, tolerated by local authorities just because of its lack of means to interfere in a proper way and to offer all people reasonable housing? Free establishments of housing lots, independent of ownership regulations? Is this the actual effect of neoliberal cost cutting on public services that have to keep an eye on social developments and housing problems of the poor?

I see these urban developments as nothing more than as the forming of favelas or slums on European soil. Probably there are favelas forming elsewhere in Europe also, but I never saw so much similarity to the favelas I saw in Brasil for the first time, when I was there years ago: self built houses of earthly red looking bricks with plastified roofs, sandy roads, little windows and improvised chimneys. Washed clothes hanging outside on a sloppy rope in the wind, little people running around. A guy passes by with a sack of potatoes just bought by the Lidl supermarket some 10 minutes walking from here. Looking at the cars (yes, they are there), some of them look quite polished. The apartment buildings around the little bungalows contrast in an unexpected way, those parking places are full of older middle class cars, not the latest types

The most striking view is that parts of the favelas seem to have been wiped away with force, destroying everything in and around it. Little TV screens, baby chairs and lost shoes are scattered in huge piles of rubble. Movable garbage bins stand around, stuffed with bags and surrounded with carton boxes and plastic bags full of unidentifiable objects. My artistic eye sees unique pictures, combined with touching wooden constructions, built by neighbourhood children, so I imagine, based upon pans filled with pressed sand. Some children shout from the appartment buildings, they want to be on the picture too. A young guy tries to intimidate me by shouting in Portuguese that photos are not allowed here. Yes, I am an outsider, but not a disaster tourist, I am a journalist, a foreigner, who has seen something of the world, astonished by what I see and what all these people must have witnessed: violent destruction of houses built by people left alone by a society that doesn´t care. Is Lisbon first capital in Europe having to face favelas?

Ok, what is the conclusion? A retreating public sector let this kind of favelas come to life, only destroying them after some time (a year, two years?) with, very probably, police force? Scared people, the silence of retreat, a neighbourhood once full of life with its own codes, destroyed at an unannounced moment? And people being scarred with this memory of state violence? Is this the new reality of a retreating public sector, bullied by the neoliberal czars that won´t stop any of their plans unless they are forced to? Is this the future of Europe? A strong division between the haves and the havenots, a division I first heared of by a critical professor at my university? Where some people are permanently unemployed, having no access to housing projects where they ask for regular incomes and they are forced to build their houses, illegally, themselves?

Is this the new `Weight of the world` an update of the situations in France where Pierre Bourdieu and his fellow researchers reported on? A subworld of people without jobs, without property, maybe even without any citizen rights, because they are illegal? Is this the Europe we hoped for and where generations of visionaries fought for? A Europe dismantled of its social face, of its educational opportunities for the masses, of its strong public services? Have the neoliberal czars almost managed to pervert the Grande Idée de L'Europe of Jean Monnet and his followers? I surely hope we get things together, because this is not the Europe I have been looking for. A copy of the USA with some little sauce of South America. This must be stopped.

Photography at http://hanskuiper.blogspot.pt/2013/04/the-first-favelas-in-europe-premie...

Tags: Favela lissabon poverty

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