The Weapons of Criticism and the Criticism of Weapons



Memory of the granting of the title of doctor “honoris causa” to Florestan Fernandes, at the University of Coimbra

End of June. Summer was already threatening to burn. Small Square in Coimbra. I'm going to call it Revolution Square, from the Carnation Revolution. Right across the street, it wouldn't take long, a small museum would be inaugurated. Say, why not, Museum of Freedom. The building, still retaining a gloomy appearance, was the former headquarters of the PIDE, the Portuguese political police – a place of horror and torture. Keeping due proportions, the same happened with the building where the former DOPS operated here in São Paulo.

In this small square, a handful of people. Not much more than a hundred. At that moment, the then president of Portugal, Doctor Mario Soares, was speaking. Right up ahead I see a guy I think I identify as Major Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho. Precisely the one who started the April Revolution, raising the troops under his command.

I wouldn't miss this occasion for anything. I went to him, confirmed the identity; it was himself: Major Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho, and I allowed myself to greet him.

Returning to my seat, Florestan Fernandes, who was nearby, had noticed in my movement something on the order of symbolic recognition. Immediately he asked me who was the person I had come to greet. When I told him who I was, Florestan was blunt: since you greeted him, take me there and introduce me.

Weight on shoulders! Introducing Florestan Fernandes to Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho was something extraordinary for me. Two great fighters, from different continents. One wielding the weapons of criticism and the other the criticism of weapons. Both aiming, each in their own way, in their own corner and in their time, the fall of Salazar's long dictatorship: a tomorrow that had finally arrived and that was called the Carnation Revolution. His day is “April 25th”, his song “Grândola Vila Morena”.

I fulfilled the formality of the introduction that Florestan had requested. Otelo told Florestan that he did not live in Coimbra and that he was there precisely to attend the ceremony for the granting of the doctor's title "Honorary” which would be granted to him the following day at the University of Coimbra.

The following day, in fact, there was Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho in a chapel at the University of Coimbra.

This time, the person who gave the presentation speech of the candidate to the University's collegiate was the professor who proposed the title, Boaventura de Sousa Santos. At a given moment, he recalled some aspects of Florestan's biography, who, the son of an illiterate Portuguese peasant woman, began life as a shoeshine boy and then, little by little, and with an iron will, polished himself: through words, through books , by reading and writing and, of course, choosing and making friends, so many.

Close by were two of Florestan's oldest friends, who therefore knew his biography very well. Miguel Urbano Rodrigues and Fernando Henrique Cardoso. The first, a historic communist from the Portuguese party; Fernando Henrique, at the time, senator of the republic. Both, by choice, dressed in a breastplate of protection against the display of their own feelings.

Heloísa Fernandes, beside me, drew my attention to the tears that Miguel Urbano and Fernando Henrique were trying in vain to hide. Perhaps they were touched by Boaventura's speech recalling the career of the shoeshine boy who at that moment was becoming a doctor Honorary of the prestigious and multicentennial University of Coimbra.

* Paulo Silveira is a psychoanalyst and retired professor in the sociology department at USP. Author, among other books, of On the side of history: a critical reading of Althusser's work (Police).


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