Take six people with no discernible musical ability. Dress them up in clothes inspired by the Village People. Enter them in your national Eurovision contest. Watch your government fall. That, in short, sums up the journey of Homens da Luta (Men of Struggle), a Portuguese comedy troupe who have all of Portugal chanting rebellion.
Back in March, as Portugal teetered toward bankruptcy, its government began exploring potential austerity measures to slash its ballooning deficit. Among other things, they planned to raise taxes, reduce pensions, and cut health and education budgets. The national mood turned sour fast, and the Portuguese people cried foul.
Aware that belt-tightening would mean lower standards of living, and that the nation's poor would feel the pinch more than the well-to-do, Homens da Luta took to the stage at Festival da Canção, the Portuguese national selection, and told television viewers they didn't have to take it. As they bellowed in their entry "A Luta é Alegria" (The Struggle is Joy):
There are plenty who'll warn you take care/There are plenty who want to shut you up/There are plenty who will leave you resentful/There are plenty who'll sell you the air itself/ Day or night, the struggle is joy/ And the people advances, it's in the street shouting.
Standing in place, the group made no effort to dance. But since they were parodying the revolutionary chants of Portugal's Carnation Revolution, they didn't need to. On stage they cast off the sequins and glitter and tight bodices -- all de rigeur at Eurovision -- and instead dressed as a factory worker, a peasant woman, a soldier, a student, a revolutionary and an unemployed member of the public. In doing so, they turned their demonstration into a party, and invited the neighbors along.
Bring on the bread, bring on the cheese, bring on the wine/ The old will come, the young will come, the boy will come/ Come celebrate this situation/And let us sing against reaction.
Over the next several weeks the song became an anthem of the street protests that engulfed Lisbon. As Prime Minister Jose Socrates attempted to push his austerity package through parliament the protesters sang louder. Lawmakers ultimately rejected the bill, and the Prime Minister resigned on March 23. The media attributed his failure to the demonstrations -- and the music that fueled them.
The official rules of Eurovision state that it's a non-political event, and ban songs with a political message. How this entry slipped through the cracks remains a mystery. But what's clear is that the official YouTube channel of Eurovision will never air the following footage that captures Homens da Luta deploying their song in a decidedly political rally:
For now, Portugal remains engaged in talks with the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund about an 80 billion euro bailout package. And France's Finance Minister Christine Lagarde recently told the Portuguese they'll have to accept short-term suffering to put their country back on track. "It's a give and take process," she said. "Each and every [E.U.] member that calls for help must also take measures at home to make sure it's going to address the situation."
Looks like Homens da Luta will be singing for a while still.
With their simple song, Homens Da Luta mobilized tens of thousands of disgruntled Portuguese. Unfortunately for them, mobilizing tens of thousands of Eurovision voters is another matter entirely.
Portugal has never won the Eurovision Song Contest, and that's not going to change in 2011. Homens da Luta compete in the first semi-final on May 10, and they won't challenge front-runners Ell & Nikki from Azerbaijan, Kati Wolf from Hungary, and Stella Mwangi from Norway. Despite the publicity they've received from major European newspapers and news sites, the group is highly unlikely to crack the Top 10 either, thereby missing a trip to the final. The bookies currently have them listed as distant 150:1 outsiders, and they're probably being generous. If the group can avoid finishing last, they should consider themselves winners.