His life and political action were marked by a constant struggle for freedom and democracy, in defence of peace, human rights and greater solidarity in Europe and the World, and by a profound reflection on the great challenges of society.
Mário Soares was a
decisive politician in the
Contemporary History of both
Portugal and Europe.
The fight against the Portuguese dictatorship
Mário Soares was born in Lisbon, on December 7th, 1924, in a republican family. He fought the Portuguese dictatorship from an early age, joining several oppositionist organizations. He authored and subscribed important documents challenging the Regime and took active part in the candidacies of Generals Norton de Matos and Humberto Delgado for the Presidency of the Republic, events that shook the dictatorship.
In 1964, he was among those who founded the Portuguese Socialist Action, which was admitted to the Socialist International in 1972. Soares was also a candidate for the National Assembly on the lists of the Democratic Opposition (1965) and the CEUD – Electoral Committee of Democratic Unity (1969). As a lawyer, he defended countless political prisoners.
Internationally, he carried out an extensive campaign to denounce the political situation in Portugal, particularly against the wars raging in the Portuguese colonies. For all this, he was arrested twelve times, deported to the island of São Tomé (1968) and, in 1970, sent to political exile in France. While in exile, he wrote his most emblematic work, a book titled Portugal Amordaçado (Portugal’s Struggle for Liberty), first published in French, in 1972, and banned in Portugal.
He was in touch with the main figures of European socialism, such as François Mitterrand, Willy Brandt and Olof Palme, cementing an idea for Portugal that he made known in interviews and articles he kept writing for the international press. In 1973, he founded the Portuguese Socialist Party, in Bad Münstereifel, Federal Republic of Germany, being elected its Secretary-General, a position he holds for twelve years.
Mário Soares was the first political exile to arrive in Portugal after the dictatorship was overthrown, on April 25th, 1974, becoming a decisive politician during the transition, while democracy settled in Portugal and its Welfare State was created.
He served as Minister for Foreign Affairs (1974-1975) and Minister without Portfolio (1975). He carried out an intense diplomatic activity, getting the new Portuguese political reality recognized internationally and opening the country to the outside, after decades of isolationism, and started the decolonisation process. During the revolutionary period (1974-1975), Soares fought for the establishment of a Western-style multiparty regime, leading bitter struggles against the Portuguese Communist Party. He quickly becomes the Portuguese politician with greater international standing.
Mário Soares is elected deputy in the first free elections held in Portugal, by direct and universal suffrage, for the Constituent Assembly (1975).
One year later, in April 1976, he voted the Portuguese democratic Constitution. That same year, he was elected Vice-President of Socialist International, a position he held for ten years.
Mário Soares was Prime Minister of three constitutional governments (1976-1978; 1983-1985), in which decisive steps were taken in setting up the Welfare State and in matters pertaining to fundamental rights and freedoms; it was also him who requested and negotiated Portugal’s accession to the European Communities and, in 1985, signed the Treaty of Accession.
He held the office of President of the Republic during two terms (1986-1996), adopting a new style of presidency: closer to the citizens, touring the country in his “open presidencies”, exercising his “magistracy of influence” and making famous the expression “President of all Portuguese”.
A voice heard
In 1996 Mário Soares assumed the Presidency of the Foundation that bears his name, collecting important estates in the field of contemporary history and carrying out significant international cooperation work. But he still took on new challenges. Particularly noticeable in Portugal were his terms as Chairman of the National Commission for the Celebrations of the 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1998) and the National Commission on Religious Freedom (2007-2011). In 1999, he headed the Socialist Party’s list for the European elections, serving a mandate as Member of the European Parliament (1999-2004).
Internationally, among many other posts, he was Chairman of the Independent World Commission on the Oceans (1995-1998), Chairman of the Committee for the World Water Contract (1997), President of the European Movement (1997-1999), Chairman of the Committee of Wise Persons for the Restructuring of the Council of Europe (1997-1998) and, since 2009, Patron of the International Ocean Institute. Because of his international recognition, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, appointed him head of a fact-finding mission on the situation in Algeria (1998) and leader of a European Parliament’s delegation for relations with Israel (2002), in addition to countless other commissions he chaired, within the framework of the Socialist International, in the Middle East, Latin America and Southern Africa.
Throughout his life he received countless awards, decorations and honoris causa degrees (honorary doctorates) from all over the World.
Even though he was frequently invited to address international conferences and colloquia, he never stopped writing, thinking and debating on the great global themes, as well as speaking publicly in defence of the values he believed in.
He died in Lisbon, on January 7th, 2017, leaving a vast amount of published work about Portugal, Europe and the World, and its main figures, events and issues.