Authors: Michael Billig and Cristina Marinho
Extent: 232 pp
Publication: March 2017
Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic
In recent years there has been much interest in collective memory and commemoration. It is often assumed that when nations celebrate a historic day, they put aside the divisions of the present to recall the past in a spirit of unity. As Billig and Marinho show, this does not apply to the Portuguese parliament’s annual celebration of 25 April 1974, the day when the dictatorship, established by Salazar and continued by Caetano, was finally overthrown. Most speakers at the ceremony say little about the actual events of the day itself; and in their speeches they continue with the partisan politics of the present as combatively as ever.
To understand this, the authors examine in detail how the members of parliament do politics within the ceremony of remembrance; how they engage in remembering and forgetting the great day; how they use the low rhetoric of manipulation and point-scoring, as well as high-minded political rhetoric. The book stresses that the members of the audience contribute to the meaning of the ceremony by their partisan displays of approval and disapproval. Throughout, the authors demonstrate that, to uncover the deeper meanings of political rhetoric, it is necessary to take note of significant absences.
The Politics and Rhetoric of Commemoration illustrates how an in-depth case-study can be invaluable for understanding wider processes. The authors are not content just to uncover unnoticed features of the Portuguese celebration. They use the particular example to provide original insights about the rhetoric of celebrating and the politics of remembering, as well as throwing new light onto the nature of party political discourse.
This book is a brilliant, cultivated and timely case study about national commemorations, political celebration and collective memory. The authors have produced an in-depth study of the annual celebration of Portugal’s liberation from dictatorship, and gone beyond the polysemy, ambiguity and controversial nature of this highly particular event. Indeed, they offer an invaluable contribution to the understanding of contemporary political celebrations, political culture and nationalism at a time when democracy is under pressure. Jorge Vala, Professor at the Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lisbon, Portugal