Translation, power & conflict - Imagining Others in times of hostility

Teresa Seruya

Universidade de Lisboa and CECC Research Centre for Communication and Culture Studies

Salazar translated: on translation and power under the Estado Novo (1933-1950)

Abstract: The article outlines concepts deemed appropriate to address the politics of translation within the National Propaganda Secretariat, such as soft power and propaganda, and their interconnections with information and diplomacy. Salazar’s own ideas about propaganda are presented and references made to studies on their reception in France and Germany, and to the translators working for the SPN.

Keywords: Salazar, politics of translation, propaganda, external history of translation

Introduction - On translation as soft power

Translation Studies approaching the Estado Novo (EN, 1930-1974) epoch in Portugal have sought to untangle the interrelationship and interexchange of international literature with Portuguese literature and culture. In many cases, this subjects these to contact not only with various different strata of the literary canon of the time but also with the new genres that were then gaining ground and consolidating the appreciation of a reading public itself both constantly growing and diversifying. We can observe, in fact, the dynamics driving the satisfaction of particular tastes on the one hand and meeting cultural needs on the other that not even the constraints of dictatorship proved able to impede. There is no doubt that the EN machinery of repression did survey these imported goods. Censorship of works whether already translated or for translation, as has already been duly described, constitutes one of the key chapters to the history of translation in these decades (cf. Seruya and Moniz, Translation and Censorship; Seruya and Moniz, “Foreign books”; Seruya, “Doing translation”).

However, in this contribution, the object that is the subject of our attention, i.e. translations under the EN, differs substantially from what has been achieved at the ongoing CECC Intercultural Literature in Portugal 1930-2000: A Critical Bibliography project. Whilst previously approaching the circulation of international texts through the Portuguese literary system, our focus now turns in the opposite direction and to the exporting, in translation, of the texts, discourses, legislation, pamphlets, posters and so forth produced and then commissioned by the State for translation into the main European languages. Clearly, the ideological production and the achievements of the Estado Novo, which were to be publicised so as to attract respect and devotion, bore the signature of Oliveira Salazar and were duly produced with the institutional purpose to enhance a positive image of the Portuguese dictatorship in international circles. We here refer to the SPN - the National Propaganda Secretariat, founded in 1933 and run continually by Antonio Ferro through to 1949. In 1944, nevertheless, the institution was to change its name to the SNI - the National Secretariat for Information, Popular Culture and Tourism. In terms of the objects of interest here, the switch from “Propaganda’’ to “Information’’ “reflected underlying concerns about perfecting the apparatus” (O, “Secretariado” 895). These “concerns”, centred on the relationship between the government and the organs of information, bore specific consequences and included the incorporation of the Censorship Services into the SNI. However, another type of concern was certainly also present: with the foreseeable defeat of Italian fascism (Mussolini was already bidding his departure in 1943) along with National Socialism through the turnaround in World War II in 1944, it certainly was not recommendable to continue deploying a word so inherently interconnected with the two defeated regimes.

In an International Colloquium held in the University of Minho in 2014, Michael Cronin questioned whether the Information Era founded by Claude Shan- non/Warren Weaver would in turn be replaced by an Era of Translation as the guarantee of the proximity with which we live in the contemporary world, which would only truly happen in the case of its translatability, for example, through location.[1] In other words, the information technologies enable an alliance between globalisation and particularism, as happened for example with the events unfurling at the LTI- the Literature Translation Institute of Korea, founded in 1996 on a governmental initiative with the objective of promoting Korean literature. Within this context Cronin made recourse to the concept of soft power as first proposed by the University of Harvard Professor for International Relations Joseph Nye (Assistant Secretary of Defence in the Clinton Administration) in order to refer to a type of foreign policy, deemed especially necessary in the reordered world following the wake of the 11th September attacks. Thus, these new types of foreign policies were based neither on territorial acquisition nor on military power (hard power) but broadly on culture and projected beyond national borders (Nye x).

Above all, in the cases of small states that either cannot or do not want to exercise hard power, this involves the fostering of a brand of nationalism: interconnecting a country with positive images to bring about both foreign direct investment and tourism. One manifestation of this objective would stem from the founding of translation institutes financed by the State, with a bi-directional vocation committed to highlighting differences in cultures.

One issue that we find holds particular relevance encapsulates the interconnection between soft power and propaganda. This matter proves both so extensive and so controversial that it cannot be approached in any depth in the present context. Currently, and within the Portuguese public domain, the latter word is deployed pejoratively and as an accusation by political adversaries (in contrast to a discourse seen as objective, accurate and authentic) or as a necessary component of political action (engaged in by parties in election campaigning, for example) and, in this latter case, with a relatively neutral meaning. From the historical point of view, propaganda proves a very visible, even institutional, component of actions undertaken by parties and regimes of contrary inclinations. There thus came about the ridiculous situation in which that tagged propaganda was whatever got banned (“communist propaganda”, “fascist propaganda”), whilst the very entity handing down/decreeing the prohibition gained its competence to do so from the very fact that it belonged to a state propaganda institution. We would recall, for example, how the EN Commission for Book Censorship applied “propaganda” (generally containing political ideas deemed “subversive”) as one of its criteria for banning a book. Salazar, himself, in the speech given on the occasion of the inauguration of the SPN in 1933 demonstrated he was clearly aware of the connotations of the word against the backdrop of fascisms and communisms:

We are going to step away from the identical services of other countries and the exalted nationalisms that dominate them, from the theatrical effects played out on the international stage. We shall deal with our own mundane case.

[Vamos abstrair de servi^os identicos noutros palses, dos exaltados nacionalismos que os dominam, dos teatrais efeitos a tirar no tablado internacional. Tratemos do nosso caso comezinho.] (Salazar 1935: 258s.)

He thus clarified that he attributed to propaganda the meaning of combatting the “ignorance” [“ignorancia”] of journalists, writers and foreign politicians “deriving from the bad information that these same persons give out” [“proveniente das mas informa^oes que aqui mesmo lhes dao”] (260) and when “many of those who talk and write about Portugal have never visited the country: they should have at their availability these and sufficient other details so that they do not unconsciously disturb the truth (...)” [“quando muitos dos que falam e escrevem sobre Portugal nao visitaram nunca o Pais: deve haver ao dispor de uns e outros elementos bastantes para que inconscientemente nao deturpem a verdade (...)”] (261). Furthermore, Salazar continued to insist on the “truth” and “justice” that should prevail in all SPN activities as “neither the nation nor the government has any need for anybody to lie in their favour nor should the Secretariat act unfairly against anybody” [“nem a Na^ao nem o Governo tem necessidade que alguem minta a seu favour, nem pode o Secretariado ser injusto com ninguem”] (262). This unwavering securing of “truth” and “justice” by the dictatorial regime is in fact typical of the more negative connotations of propaganda.

Explaining the theoretical understanding that Salazar held of propaganda in conjunction with everything known about the practices in effect at the SPN and what Antonio Ferro termed his “Policy of the Spirit” (cf. O, Ferro; O, SPN/ SNI/SEIT; Paulo; Matos; Acciaiuoli)[2] requires a deeper reflection on the effective differences between propaganda and information, propaganda and diplomacy,[3] propaganda and soft power. This additionally stems from how the Cronin proposal, whilst not bearing any relationship with propaganda in the sense of single party regimes, also does not distinguish between them in any radical fashion. The generalist definition of propaganda that M. Sordi (quoted by Busino) proposed would seem highly functional and adapting well to the function of translation within the scope of the SPN:

[.] every gesture, action, manifesto, slogan, speech, written work, image or artistic representation, destined to exercise some psychological pressure on public opinion to believe or disbelieve in an idea, a person, a product, a political or religious line.

[todo o gesto, ac^ao, manifesto, slogan, discurso, obra escrita, imagem ou representa^ao artistica, destinada a “exercer uma pressao psicologica sobre a opiniao publica para acredi- tar ou desacreditar uma ideia, uma pessoa, um produto, uma linha politica ou religiosa”] (Busino 315)

In truth, translation constituted an important facet to the strategy of “not disturbing the truth” about the Portuguese regime abroad, hence, translation undoubtedly represented a precious propaganda tool for the exercising of the soft power to which Salazar himself remained constantly attentive as we shall see further on.

  • [1] Cronin participated in the 6th HOT - Hands-on Translation Seminar with the theme:“A(s)gentes e as tarefas da Tradu^ao (Actor(s) and the Tasks of Translation)”, 19 - 20June 2014. The speech was entitled: “The Translation Age?”
  • [2] “Politica do Espirito” [Policy of the Spirit] provides the summary slogan for the purposes of the SPN.
  • [3] “Simple propaganda often lacks credibility and thus is counterproductive as publicdiplomacy” (Nye 107)
< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >