One in three is simply not happy

Although the number of students in higher education has expanded over the last decades, strong social inequalities – in terms of access and dropout rates – persist in Portugal. Even after graduation, the poorest students continue to face a greater risk of unemployment.

These are the main conclusions of the study National and international students in access to higher education carried out by the Belmiro de Azevedo Foundation and published in the daily Público.

Students from a poor socio-economic background are at a disadvantage in accessing higher education and are more likely to attend a polytechnic than a university.

Another alarming finding was that the less favoured the socio-economic context of the students is, the higher the dropout rate. Lack of money is the principal reason here.
Contributions of families to the cost of studies are high in Portugal (32% vs 14% in the average EU member state).

In addition, grants are only awarded to students whose per capita family income is close to the minimum wage. This places many low-income students in a situation of non-eligibility for grants. In fact, last year more than 70% of scholarship applications were not approved.

Another survey amongst youngsters – entitled Young people in Portugal – carried out by the Francisco Manuel dos Santos Foundation and published in the newspaper Expresso, highlights the persistence of low wages and precariousness among Portuguese youth aged 16-34.

Despite the fact that many young people have reached high levels of education, they are profoundly disappointed in finding a secure job with a decent salary. Almost three out of four, receive less than 950 euros per month. A third intend to emigrate. Most still live with their parents and half of those who work, have unstable contracts.
Of the 14% who are unemployed, one in three lost their job during the pandemic.

Psychological well-being is another area on which this survey focuses, with almost one out of four respondents confessing they have been prescribed anxiolytics or antidepressants. Over 15% admit to taking sleeping pills and two out of three feel under considerable social pressure to be successful in their studies or at work.

More than 40% confess to having suffered bullying and/or violence at school, work, or in intimate relationships. Most of these victims are women, a third are men. Roughly half of the Portuguese youngsters consider life to be below their expectations. A third simply say they are not happy!

Enjoy the week                     Aproveite a semana                       (pic Público/sapo)


Historically, flags were used for identification in battles.
The oldest national flag is Denmark’s 13th-century flag with its white cross on a red background. The legend goes that it was sent from Heaven to help the army during the Battle of Lyndanisse in 1219.
It inspired the cross design of the other Scandinavian countries – Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland.

Most national flags portray the country’s history, beliefs, and strengths. They are used to show unity and pride, clearly evident during a state visit or international sports events.

The color red represents struggle, courage, and bloodshed whereas green depicts prosperity, hope, and agriculture. White signifies peace, purity, and harmony while blue is for good fortune, determination and liberation. Orange stands for sacrifice, courage, and selflessness, and yellow for wealth and energy. 

Portugal’s flag (Bandeira de Portugal) has evolved since the Kingdom of Portugal was formed in 1139.
After the Republican revolution in 1910, the royal colors blue and white and the crown – symbols of the monarchy – had to be substituted.

The painter Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro – brother of the famous ceramist Rafael Bordalo – was tasked with the new design. He chose the colors of the Portuguese Republican Party, representing the hope of the nation (green) and the blood of those defending it (red).

The country’s coat of arms in the center remained as it had been present on most of Portugal’s preceding flags. The five blue emblems on the shield – displayed as a Christian cross – are a reminder of the five Moorish kings (from Seville, Badajoz, Elvas, Evora, and Beja) defeated by Portugal’s first king Afonso Henriques in the 1139 Battle of Ourique.

The five white coins within each emblem represent Christ’s five crucifixion wounds. The seven castles around the emblems symbolize the enemy fortresses  King Afonso captured during the conquest of Portugal’s most southern part – the Algarve – in 1249.  

The flag of the Netherlands is the oldest tricolor. As a state flag, it first appeared around 1572 in orange, white, and blue as used by Prince William of Orange but from 1630 the red-white-blue version became the national symbol. The Dutch tricolor has inspired many flags most notably those of Russia, New York City (New Amsterdam), and Slavic states such as Slovakia, Serbia, and Slovenia.

The best-known flag in the world today is probably the Ukrainian blue and yellow bicolor. The blue on top represents the sky and the yellow stripe stands for fertile land. It was officially adopted as a state flag after World War I by the Ukrainian People’s Republic, outlawed when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, and restored in September 1991, following Ukrainian independence.
The Uranian flag, not only stands for national pride and sovereignty but also for international solidarity with its people.

Enjoy the week                                                          Aproveite a semana


Drought is the ‘new normal’ in Portugal

Portugal has been ravaged by extreme drought. Since October there has been hardly any precipitation and in February it rained only 7% of normal. Drought not only compromises agriculture and livestock but lack of vegetation will also lead to an increase in CO2, wildfires, poverty, and emigration.

The Government announced that 95% of the territory – i.e. over 260 municipalities – is in severe drought, 66% even in extreme drought. Lack of rain and global warming are the main culprits. Water-saving restrictions are expected.

Dams are only half full and hydroelectric power decreased by almost 30% in the first two months of this year – compared to the same period in 2021 – whereas wind energy went down by more than 20%. Forecasts do not point to recovery to normal water levels by the end of September. It is the worst year for renewable energies in the last decade, the newspaper Jornal de Notícias reported.

Dams and reservoirs in the Algarve have enough water for human consumption in the event it doesn’t rain for two years, stated Antonio Pina, president of the Algarve Municipalities Association. At the same time, the use of water for irrigation of green spaces, golf, and agriculture is going to be limited.

Local districts have already submitted applications of 14 million euro’s to Portugal’s Recovery and Resilience Plan (RRP) – created by the European Council  – to fight water deficits.

Periods of drought are common and cyclical in the country. The Drought Observatory from the IPMA (Portuguese Institute of Sea and Atmosphere) recorded 12 significant drought episodes – often extending more than one year – over the last 75 years and concludes that there is a greater incidence of drought from the mid-1990s onwards.

The National Irrigation Federation (Fenareg) confirms that drought episodes in the last 30 years have been more frequent and more intense and highlights that the regions south of the Tagus (Alentejo, Algarve) are the most affected.

Some of the episodes stand out for their duration and intensity. The six most severe and longest occurred in 1943-46 / 1980-81 / 1990-92 / 2004-2006 / 2011-2012, and 2015-2018.
The 2004-6 drought was the most extensive (100% affected territory) and intense (i.e. consecutive months of severe drought).

In order for the drought to decrease, precipitation between March and May has to be much higher than normal, a situation that only occurs once every five to seven years. The question remains therefore whether the country – despite some recovery in the rainfall this month- will experience in 2022 the worst drought ever after an unusually dry and warm winter.

Enjoy the week            Aproveite a semana                (pic Público/Sapo)       


Sepharad is the Hebrew name of the Iberian Peninsula

In the last five years, 32,000 of the 86.500 (37%) applications for Portuguese citizenship have been granted to descendants of Sephardic Jews, expelled from Portugal 525 years ago. More than 50.000 requests are still under review. The majority of the applicants come from Israel, Brazil, and Turkey.

Especially in the last two years, the number of requests in Portugal has risen substantially since a similar citizenship offer by Spain ended in 2019.

Fifty-five-year-old Roman Abramovic, Russian billionaire, friend of Putin, until very recently the owner of Chelsea football club and since 2018 also in the possession of an Israelian passport, is one of the citizens who became Portuguese in April last year – in a process that was finalized in only six months – as the daily Público reported in mid-December.

Curiously, the newspaper Expresso could not find compelling evidence to suggest that Abramovic has any familial connections to Sephardic Jews in Portugal. There is little known history of Sephardic Jews in Russia, although Abramovic is a common surname of Ashkenazi Jewish origin from Eastern Europe. In fact, his Portuguese Sephardic roots were added to his Wikipedia profile only hours after Público published his naturalization.

Portugal’s decision to grant naturalization to Abramovic was criticized by Alexei Navalny, Vladimir Putin’s mains political opponent. ‘Finally, Putin’s closest oligarch managed to find a country where he can pay some bribes to end up circulating free in the EU’, Navalny wrote on his Twitter account.

The minister of State and Foreign Affairs Augusto Santos Silva rejected the criticism. ‘The idea that the Portuguese officials carry suitcases of money is insulting and has no foundation. The granting of Portuguese nationality to Abramovic is in accordance with a 2014 law’.

However, ‘everything indicates that behind a well-intentioned law a passport mafia has been set up’ stated João Batalha – anti-corruption activist and founder of the Portuguese branch of Transparency International – on Twitter.

The Institute of Registries and Notary (IRN) has opened an internal inquiry into the granting of citizenship to Roman Abramovic to establish where there was any kind of irregularity. Not only is there doubt about his lineage to be Sephardic, but the process to obtain the Portuguese nationality was also approved in record time.

Although Abramovic was not (yet) on the EU’s list of oligarchs subjected to targeted measures in view of Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, parliamentary sources in the UK claimed at the beginning of March the wealthy oligarch was hastily selling properties to avoid potential financial sanctions.

In the meantime, Britain and the EU have frozen all assets of Abramovic, putting on ice his plans to sell the Premier League club, whereas the Portuguese Ministry of Justice declared that (for now) it will not remove Abramovic’s citizenship as sanctions against oligarchs do not include loss of nationality.

Enjoy your week          Aproveite a sua semana          (pic Público/Sapo)


In 2001, under the leadership of former prime minister António Guterres – nowadays UN’s Secretary-General – Portugal became the first country to decriminalize the possession and consumption of drugs.

Twenty years later, the first controlled drug consumption room – also known as the ‘chuto’ (shot) room – opened in Lisbon. In six months nearly 900 drug addicts – 200 of whom attend the premises daily – were registered, three times as much as expected!

‘These numbers were surprising because we had initially assumed that around 300 consumers would circulate in this neighborhood”, says Elsa Belo, technical director of Ares do Pinhal, an association dedicated to the recovery of drug addicts and manager of the premises, located in the Vale de Alcântara area. ‘Users come here to smoke or inject drugs under the supervision of a health team, who provide them with sterilized material and help them in case of an ‘overdose’.

Reducing damage is important. On the one hand by the distribution of aseptic material to prevent disease transmission and on the other by supervised consumption. ‘It is these conditions and the acceptance without judgment, that make you return’, says a 47-year-old user. I feel very safe and comfortable here’.

Most users are men (85%), one third are homeless. The average age is 44 years (range 20-70). In three out of four cases drugs are inhaled. After consumers enter the space for the first time, the health team begins a process of rapprochement, that may lead to screening tests (HIV, hepatitis, tuberculosis) or simple nursing procedures (e.g. changing dressings).

As soon as you pass through the main entrance there is café Conforto, where you can watch TV, have a coffee, and keep your pets. There are also changing rooms, laundry services, a cloth bank, and areas for psychosocial care and clinic consultations. Besides users, there are also homeless visitors, who only come to take a shower, wash their clothes or look for a dignified place to eat.

Upon entering the consumption room, the nurse asks what drug is going to be used, what drugs are taken in the last 24 hours, and what regular medication users are on (e.g. methadone).

‘The room is always full’, explains Inês Pereira, a psychologist, who together with a nurse monitors consumption from a glass space from which they observe who is smoking drugs, on one side, and who is injecting, on the other. All the material used by consumers is provided within the space and substances they bring from the street are registered.

There can be up to 10 people in the two rooms at the same time. Users have 30 minutes to inject, 40 minutes to smoke, and another 20 minutes to ‘recover’.

Control of the type and quality of substances that users are going to take is not yet being carried out, but Ares do Pinhal is finalizing a protocol on this. A necessary move considering for instance the continuous increase in cannabis potency (i.e. the percentage of THC – the psychotropic component of the plant) in the last couple of years, increasing the risk of psychotic effects.

In view of its success, the City Council plans the construction of a second supervised consumption room this year in Lumiar, close to the Cruz Vermelha neighborhood.

Enjoy your week          Aproveite a sua semana                (pic Sapo/Públic)


Absolute majority doesn’t mean absolute power’ (António Costa)

Against all odds, Portugal’s centre-left Socialists won a straight parliamentary majority in last week’s general election, securing a strong new mandate for Prime Minister António Costa. It is for the first time the Socialists have won an absolute majority after six years in power. This means the country will have a stable government to oversee the application of the EU pandemic recovery package of 16.6 billion euros.

The striking victory didn’t remain unnoticed abroad as was highlighted in the international press headlines.

 ‘Socialists win surprise outright majority (Guardian)
‘Antonio Costa, the shrewd negotiator’ (El País)
‘Prime Minister with few obstacles and more longevity’ (El Mundo)
‘António Costa builds its legend’ (La Vanguardia)
‘The indestructible socialist, who united the left’ (El Español)
‘António Costa’s revenge’ (Le Monde)
‘Portugal promotes the Costa model’ (La Republica)
‘An overwhelming majority, animosity with Chega’ (Folha de São Paulo)
Portugal’s Socialists win an Outright Majority in Parliament (New York Times)
‘António Costa’s impressive victory’ (Politico)

The Socialist Party (PS) smashed its former far-left allies, the Left Bloc (BE) and the Communists (PCP) both losing more than half of their seats in parliament. The centre-right fared barely better. The second-largest Social-Democratic Party (PSD) gathered only 30% of the vote (against the Socialists’ around 42%).
The People and Nature party (PAN) lost three of its four MP’s and the Christian Democrats (CDS) lost all its five MP’s in parliament, including its leader. 

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, turnout was on track to beat 2019’s record low participation of 49%.

But the election results also showed a less pleasant surprise.
The far-right Chega (Enough) emerged as the third-largest parliamentary force, making a big leap from just one MP to 12 in the 230-seat parliament.

Costa – PM since 2015 – has won plaudits for turning around the country’s 2011-2014 debt crisis, reversing unpopular austerity measures, decreasing the budget deficit, and overseeing one of the most successful Covid vaccination programs in Europe. Still, Portugal remains western Europe’s poorest country. His biggest challenge will therefore be to promote economic growth.

The PM declared in his victory speech: ‘An absolute majority doesn’t mean absolute power. It doesn’t mean to govern alone but to govern with and for all Portuguese’.
But there is also a warning. The last time the Socialists had an absolute majority was with José Socrates in 2005 and that administration was marked by corruption and authoritarianism.

Enjoy your week    —      Tenha uma semana fixe        (pic Público/Sapo)


‘Re-privatisation is not on the table’ – (Pedro Nuno Santos, Minister of Infrastructure)

TAP (Transportes Aéreos Portugueses) was created in 1945 and nationalised in 1975. During the financial crisis, the center-right government of Pedro Passos Coelho decided in June 2015 to sell the company to the AtlanticGateway consortium (David Neeleman in partnership with Humberto Pedrosa), which took control of 61% of the carrier’s capital.

In the summer of 2020 – amidst the Covid pandemic – the center-left government of Antonio Costa took back a controlling stake of 72.5% in its technical bankrupt flagship TAP. ‘The national airline is too important for the economy, our territorial continuity – with Madeira and the Azores – and the connection to the Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa and South America to let it fall’, the prime minister declared that time.

After the European Commission approved 1.2 billion state support to TAP, the government had to present a restructuring plan to convince Brussels that the airline had future viability, in the meantime forced to implement austerity measures, such as a 16% reduction in workers and planes.

More than one year later – in late December 2021 – TAP finally received its much wanted Christmas present from Brussels: the approval for the government’s 2.55 billion euros restructuring package. However not without conditions.

The airline had to drop 18 slots per day (authorizations for landings and departures) – implicating the loss of over 6000 flights per year, get rid of its loss-making maintenance center in Brazil, and dispose of Groundforce, the luggage handling company.

The Aircraft Maintenance Technicians Union (Sitema) is happy with the decision as it ‘restores some of the calm that has been withheld from the workers since the austerity measures started’. The Union is especially interested in understanding the impacts for the technicians of the provision of 18 slots at Lisbon airport to other airlines’.

The president of the Porto Commercial Association meanwhile stated that the approval of the plan is bad news as a fully nationalized TAP ‘will cost the Portuguese taxpayers at least 3.2 billion euros (bearing in mind the hundreds of millions of state support already given during the pandemic). The money could be better spent on the ailing national health service’, he added.

Most of the Portuguese people – recently interviewed by the Catholic University – also disagree with the State’s intervention in TAP to save the airline, at the same time not supporting the construction of a new airport in the Lisbon region. An interesting finding a few weeks before the legislative elections on January 30.

Enjoy the New Year         Aproveite o Ano Novo       (pic Público/Ptnews)


‘Nothing about women without us’ – Xiomara Castro, President of Honduras

Despite low healthy life expectancy in later life, barriers in career progression, underpayment, increased unemployment, and a substantial risk of becoming a victim of gender-based violence – as discussed before – there are also some positive developments as far as Portuguese women are concerned. 

Women represent almost 50% of the authors of scientific articles in Portugal, placing the country in Europe at the forefront of the reduction of the gender gap in research.

Although women make up more than half of the doctorates, scientists, and engineers and – according to Census 21 – 60% of the professionals with training and tertiary employment, they still represent less than 30% of the Heads of Institutions in Higher Education and less than 15% of Executive Board Members in the country’s 50 biggest companies.

Women’s meat diets are responsible for less climate-heating emissions than those of men, according to a UK study published in the Guardian. One found animal products (mainly meat and dairy) were responsible for almost half of the diet’s greenhouse gas emissions. Men’s diets cause 40% more greenhouse gas emissions, largely due to eating more meat. One can speculate that it could be because men generally eat more food than women or that men may eat more traditional meat-based diets.

But maybe the best news for the empowerment of women last year was the marketing of a new brand of virgin olive oil called Clítoris, a name most probably deriving from the Greek kleitoris  (‘small hill’). The designer – whose family owns a 40-hectare property in Oliveira do Hospital – told Centro TV that ‘olive oil is all about pleasure’ and that the longitudinal cut of an olive reminded him of that vital part of the female anatomy.

FELIZ ANO NOVO         HAPPY NEW YEAR                  (pic Público/Sapo)


‘Nothing about women without us’ – Xiomara Castro, President of Honduras

The health of Portuguese women over 65 is worse than men, the 2021 report from the European Institute for Gender Equality claims. Only 12% assess their health positively (versus 18% in men) and 68% declare to have limitations in daily activities (56% in men). Healthy life expectancy in Portugal is 72 years for women, one year less than for men!

The report also looked at the issue of domestic violence and revealed that every two in three Portuguese women are victims in the domestic space, confirming the recent statement of UN Secretary-General António Guterres that ‘lockdowns and quarantines are essential to suppressing Covid-19 but can trap women with abusive partners’.

It is estimated that around 6,500 ethnic-minority women over 15 years of age might have been subjected to female genital mutilation. Last year health Portuguese professionals detected 101 cases. The practice is considered a crime and punishable by a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

Women face greater barriers in their careers than men and the labor market should become more inclusive. These are the main conclusions of the study Diversity & Inclusion last summer. Two-third of working women view they have barriers in their professional progression whereby gender issues continue to be the most penalizing factor. Further aspects in which women feel discriminated against in their careers are remuneration (less payment for the same work) and ethnicity (more job rejections in non-Caucasian women).

Covid-19 has exacerbated existing inequalities that disadvantage women. Sectors most affected by the pandemic are those with a high level of women workers, including the restaurant and hospitality business as well as the travel sector. 

In 2020, 35 women were murdered, 19 gender-based. There were also more than 50 femicide attempts, according to the Observatory of Murdered Women. In the first 10 months of this year already 14 women lost their lives.

Since domestic violence became a public crime in 2000, the police reported more than 215,000 cases in the last 20 years. Although overall the number of complaints remained the same, the number of detainees increased in the last two years by almost a third.

In the next blog – scheduled for January 2022 – you will find out that not all is doom and gloom with women in Portugal.

BOAS FESTAS               HAPPY HOLIDAYS                   (pic Público/Sapo)


Salt is the sea unable to return to the sky’

Salt is a mineral primarily composed of sodium chloride (NaCl). It either exists in a crystalline form – known as rock salt – or is diluted in seawater.
In ancient times – when it was a rare and precious commodity – salt was used as part of the Roman soldier’s wage. His monthly allowance was called ‘salarium’ (from the Latin word sal), which later became salary, a word still used as payment for work.

Salting always has been a well-known method of food preservation and archaeological evidence of fish preservation in southern Portugal dates back to the Phoenicians (7th century BC). Sea salt is also mentioned in the Vinaya Pikata, a Buddhist scripture from the 5th century BC.

Most salt in the world is mined and results from extracting natural salt deposits out of the ground, usually in the form of halite (also known as rock salt). Salzburg in Austria was named ‘City of Salt’ because of its mines. Ancient China (3rd century BC) was one of the earliest civilizations with trade in mined salt.

Sea salt is harvested in shallow pans by the evaporation of seawater. A thousand liters of fresh seawater provide around 23 kg of salt. Traditional salt production in Portugal mainly occurs in the South, between Olhão and the Guadiana river, bordering Spain. The industry flourished in the 1970s and 80s but almost disappeared after the collapse of the Algarve fish canning industry.

Artisanal sea salt crystallizes at the bottom of rectangular salt pans (salinas) and is raked into piles with a wooden rake called rodo every 3-4 weeks.

Flor de Sal (flower of salt) – similar to the French Fleur de Sel – is the salt made
of thin floating, ultra-white and friable crystals that form on the surface of the water when in the salt pan reaches super saline conditions.

The delicate crystals are manually skimmed from the surface with handcrafted butterfly-shaped sieves called barboletas. Flor has a grain structure, soft taste, high mineral content, and is popular in culinary circles.

The European Commission recently draw up new specifications in which almost all kinds of salt – including mine salt –  is labeled ‘organic’. This step has led to strong protests from salt producers in Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Croatia, and Slovene, who are organized in the European Federation of Hand-Harvested Sea Salt Producers.

‘Due to how it is produced, mine salt should not receive the organic quality seal’, declares a Federation spokesman. ‘This would leave many artisanal producers out of business as they would be unable to compete with the huge amounts of salt produced industrially at low costs.’

Gourmets believe sea salt tastes better than ordinary table salt and that Portuguese salt it is one of the best artisan salt you can buy, especially as a Christmas gift.

Stay healthy                          Fique saudável            (pic Ptres/Ptnews)