Most dictatorial rulers of the 20th and 21st Centuries share some common features. That is, they employed a “one-man” rule, where the systems of government were subverted and subjugated to the whims and fancies of the ruler, had a small clique of family and relatives(and some friends) who benefited enormously at the expense of the country, tolerated and enjoyed corruption, used self-promotion and self-aggrandizement (sometimes going for personality cults) in an unashamed manner, and used widespread repression. The personality of the dictator too, was ruined in the long-run with many extra-marital affairs in most cases, as well as enormous fortunes amassed by him and family, and they leading luxurious lives impervious to and disregarding the needs of the people.
However, the dictatorial ruler of Portugal for much of the 20th Century(from 1932 to 1968),Dr. Antonio De Olivieira Salazar (1899- 1070) stands apart from this general picture in many ways. He was a professor of economics and law when he reluctantly accepted the post of Finance minister in 1928,balancing and stabilizing a ruined economy in three years and being rewarded by the prime-ministership in 1932.He was a lifelong celibate bachelor, who was quiet, soft-spoken, a serious scholar, a tough and rational decision-maker, far-sighted, strategic, who did not want himself to be seen publicly, averse to publicity, a non-smoker and teetotaler, a devout and ascetic Roman-Catholic who had even thought of becoming a priest during the younger days, who did not bring his family or friends in to the government or allowed them to become rich and powerful. It is said that he did not have any close friends and was aloof and distant too, from many people. He shunned publicity and women.(However, he had adopted two girls and his unmarried elder sister ran the household for him).Under him, Portugal remained neutral during the Second World War(though his sympathies were with Germany and Italy),gave education to every child, brought economic stability and prosperity, political stability, and systems of government to run the country. However, he did not yield power till he was debilitated in 1968,and died two years later.At his death,he had no personal property,very unusual for a long-time ruler.
It is not strange that many would not have heard that such a person existed even, as the obscure ruler could not be visible after death, as there was nothing “scandalous (colorful to the media) to be talked about, neither about the person nor his associates, nor any large scale atrocities nor other misadventures (such as wars).Nevertheless, he remains a powerful and pivotal personality of the 20th Century world, whose conduct (both personal and as a ruler) provide many fine lessons.
Jagath Gunawardana Attorney-at-law