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Lisbon’s Aesthetic Resistance (International New York Times)

LISBON — “O Povo É Quem Mais Ordena” (“It’s the People Who Call the Shots”) read the banner a middle-aged protester unfurled in a plaza in the upscale commercial neighborhood of Chiado. Under the present circumstances, she told me wistfully, “There’s almost a utopian ring to it.”

The Portuguese have a lot to complain about: austerity and potentially unconstitutional tax hikes, a sluggish judiciary and oppressive partisanship. According to recent studies, said Carlos Jalali, a political scientist at the Universidade de Aveiro, two-thirds of the country think democracy isn’t working.

But while there is more to be agitated about these days, there is also less to agitate for. Budget-cutting in Portugal basically follows the mandate of the so-called troika: the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The only initiative Portugal’s conservative government has shown is a desire to be a model pupil, cutting and taxing zealously. And how do you spur a government to reform when it doesn’t have the means to?

Well, some Portuguese are saying, if you can’t change it, change yourself; bad politics can make for good art.

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