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Portuguese professionals flee to Angola

Former colony in southern Africa offers an escape from southern Europe's economic downturn.

While European settlers in many African colonies were mostly limited to wealthy landowners or imperial administrators, tens of thousands of Portuguese moved to Angola during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s in an effort to escape from the poverty that grew in Portugal under the dictatorship of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar.

During that period, wars against independence movements in Angola and the other colonies of Mozambique and Guinea Bissau led to the deaths of 8,290 Portuguese soldiers. An estimated 50,000 Angolans were killed.

Back in Lisbon, on April 25, 1974 Portuguese army officers dissatisfied with the war overthrew Salazar’s successor in a bloodless revolution that ushered in democratic rule. The new rulers moved quickly to end the fighting and granted independence to Angola and the other colonies. Amid chaotic scenes up to a million Portuguese fled the “overseas provinces.”

In a nation of 10 million, few Portugueses families were left untouched. Almost all had a relative among the refugees or an acquaintance among the dead and wounded. In this little town in the center of the country the main street is still named for the “heros of the overseas war” in honor of the 37 local boys who never made it home.

Despite the two countries' sometimes traumatic history, Portugal and Angola retained close cultural links. Blame for colonial abuses is laid firmly on the Salazar regime rather than modern, democratic Portugal. Although some refugees from Africa remain resentful over their sudden exodus, many on the political left in Portugal link the African independence struggle to their own resistance to the dictatorship.

Web chatter shows that not all Angolans are happy to have so many Portuguese back among them, just as some Portuguese complain about the 27,000 Angolans living officially in Portugal. However, the newcomers in Luanda seem to feel little real animosity.

“In general, Angolans don’t feel any ill-feeling toward the Portuguese, perhaps some in the older generations still hold some bitterness, but not among the young,” said Angolan sociologist Paulo de Carvalho.

Rector of the university in Benguela, Angola’s second city, de Carvalho says linguistic, historical and cultural ties enable the Portuguese to integrate into Angolan society more easily than other immigrants, such as the around 30,000 Chinese who are estimated to have moved there since the end of the war.

“It’s different now, these Portuguese who come here now, they don’t try to act superior like in colonial times," de Carvalho said. "If they did they wouldn’t get very far.”