With tributes coming in from throughout the world, the government has announced three days of ‘national mourning’ following the death yesterday afternoon of 92-year ‘father of Portuguese democracy’ Mário Soares.
It has been a death long expected. Soares was admitted into Lisbon’s Cruz Vermelho hospital in a critical condition on December 13. The ensuing 26 days were indicative of the extraordinary ‘staying power’ of the monolith in Portuguese history. Indeed, there was a short period in which he was described as recovering sufficiently to be able to talk and understand where he was. But on Christmas Eve Soares lapsed into a “profound coma”, never to regain consciousness.
His passing, with his devoted children at his bedside, set in motion plans for an elaborate State send-off that begins tomorrow, and will see the coffin ‘lying in State’ in Belém’s Jerónimos monastery until midnight.
With prime minister António Costa on an official five-day visit to India, the funeral on Tuesday will see ‘interventions’ by President of the Republic Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, president of the Republican Assembly Ferro Rodrigues and many others.
Receiving Costa in New Delhi, prime minister Narendra Modi presided over a minute’s silence in commemoration of the “friend of India”, while his guest the PM talked about “the loss of someone who is irreplaceable”.
Leader writers have been quick to point out that there are probably just as many wishing Soares will rest in peace as those who wish that he wouldn’t, but there can be no doubts that he was a massive influence on modern-day Portugal - “the motor of transformation” of an archaic country that was “closed in on itself and grey” for half a century before being catapulted into democracy on April 25, 1974.
Columnist and former PS mayor Francisco Moita Flores suggests in Correio da Manhã today that Soares “polarised the best and the worst of the construction of the democratic State".
It is not important knowing who idolised him, nor who loathed him, he said, as his legacy is just too important. He was “everything”, Moita Flores wrote today: “president, prime minister, minister, Euro MP, MP. He was imprisoned many times, denigrated, exiled, the constructor of knowledge that allowed him to be an essential protagonist in the formation of the new Portugal”.
A “cultured politician” - and therein lies the rub.
“If one looks today” at the ranks at the forefront of what Moita Flores calls “our homespun politics”, the “multitude of uncultured know-alls and obscenely ignorant specialists when it comes to understanding the nature of human values, liberty and respect for difference” is “terrifying”.
Moita Flores may not have been one of Soares’ fans, he says, but this has not stopped him from having respect for the founder of Portugal's Socialist party's “qualities, and even his defects”.
Anyone attempting to cross Lisbon tomorrow should be aware of the funeral ceremonies, which will begin from Campo Grande at 10.30, travel down the Avenida da República to Marquês de Pombal into Avenida da Liberdade, down into Rossio and then follow the Tejo, passing under Ponte 25 de Abril and on to Belém.
Soares’ lying in State will be open to the public until midnight on Monday, and then reopen for 11am on Tuesday before the funeral ceremony, which will continue until around 2pm, writes Correio da Manhã.
The funeral procession will then pass the Republican Assembly and enter Largo de Rato, where a video of Soares’ life will be screened before the coffin is taken for burial at the cities’ Prazeres cemetery.
According to Observador website, Soares’ body will remain at the cemetery for “a minimum of 20 years” before it can be moved to the National Pantheon, where important Portuguese personalities are honoured.
Up until last year, time limits for burials at the Pantheon were much less rigid. Most recently the body of fado singer Amália Rodrigues was moved there (less than three years after her death), as well as that of footballing sensation Eusébio (just a year after his death).
Other illustrious figures honoured at the Pantheon include writer Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen, former presidents of the republic Teófilo Braga, Sidónio Pais and Óscar Carmona and military hero Humberto Delgado who tried, unsuccessfully, to topple the Salazarian regime, and paid the price for it with his life (click here).