Miguel Veiga is an outstanding figure of Porto. An emblematic man of those who make their own rules in life instead of going by the existing ones. A distinguished lawyer, he was one of the founders of the Portuguese Social Democratic Party. A free spirit and lover of freedom, he never compromised his beliefs, and has always been courageous to openly speak them.
He has received numerous awards and distinctions, including titles and medals by the Portuguese Presidency, the French Republic and the City of Porto.
He is known for his superb writing and speaking skills, always eloquently quoting great writers, poets and historical figures from Balzac to Churchill, with a great appreciation for Portuguese intellectuals, such as his friends Vasco Graça Moura and Eugénio De Andrade, among others. Above all, he is a fascinating man. You go to him as you would go to a spring to quench your thirst.
He received us in his home, which is always full of friends who visit him. A man of character and convictions, Miguel Veiga has always been seduced by culture and the arts, following the ideal of reconciling the ethic and aesthetic dimensions of life. Tasteful antique furniture, walls lined with books up to the ceiling, and impressive paintings, including one Picasso and one Tamara de Lempicka. Yet, the most striking view is that of the sea that spreads outside the window and makes the house seem like a ship. A live painting that never bores you.
The philosopher Jose Gil wrote in his 2004 book Portugal today: the fear of existing: “Portugal is at risk of disappearing”. Do you agree?
Our past is very strong, very well anchored in this small rectangle of land and sea. A small beautiful country. It is impossible for it to disappear.
They say you are a man of Porto.
Yes, I am! I was born here. I’ve lived all my life here. My land is the sea. And I could not live out of here. It is necessary for me to breathe. I could not breathe without this sea. This is my nation. My world. This… (looking at the sea). Apart from one year in a boarding school in England (at the age of thirteen), and the time spent travelling, I never left Porto. I was born and lived all my life in front of the sea of Foz. I grew up in this exact place, in my parents’ house. At some point they transformed the house in this apartment building, and here was my parents flat.
You never wanted to live somewhere else?
Never. But I have many homes. Paris is my second home. I must confess that I love Paris.
What kind of people are the inhabitants of this city? How would you portray them?
They are very proud. Very, very proud. They are very conscious of their place in the world. Their place in this country. People from Porto are humble, honest and trustworthy. Less sophisticated, but real. Good friends. And they are also proud of being from Porto. They do not pay attention to what happens in Lisbon.
Your father was Portuguese and your mother French. In a sense, you were a modern European before our times…
Avant la lettre! (Laughs). I was a mixed one. It’s difficult to separate the two. It’s a perfect combination. I like it very much!
How did your parents influence your life?
Ι am the result of a good mixture of both of them. They were the most wonderful parents one can expect. As I said, I like the mixture of them in what I am. They were autonomous individuals with a very good relationship. They loved each other’s cultures. My mother loved Portugal. My father loved the French culture and Paris. They brought me up in freedom, which was quite rare in a time when Portugal was under the Salazar dictatorship.
You were one of the founders of the Social Democracy Party. How did this happen?
It is an old story… a very old story. When the revolution of 1974 took place, the majority of the political forces were from the left wing. A small group of people, non Marxist, decided to found a party based on the principles of the European social democracies. The founders were about 10 people (apart from Francisco Sá Carneiro, who became a prime minister, other friends from Porto, such as Artur Santos Silva, and later the writer and poet Vasco Graça Moura also joined). To our great surprise the party was very well accepted, and many supporters soon joined it. And it grew until our days. With moments of internal divisions and upheavals, but those who have pledged their loyalty to the principles of social democracy remain in the party. But nowadays I don’t recognise myself in this party. This is not the party we founded. It changed a lot. That’s the story of life and institutions. As they grow, they change. As it happens in all systems. It is sad. We worked a lot for a purpose. Not for personal interests. Not for personal careers… Now a great majority of politicians do so, and the essence of politics is twisted. I am looking forward to better days in politics.
Do you believe it will change?
Yes. I strongly believe things will change. I am very optimistic.
Will we need another revolution?
No. I don’t believe a revolution will be the solution. We assist a natural evolution process. It takes time. It is slow, and gradual. New mentalities are being formed, and they will be more in tune with the social needs. Future generations will be more prepared to make the necessary changes that will allow politics to be focused on the social and economic priorities.
You were well-educated, already working as a lawyer, a young man from a well-off family when you took part in the formation of PSD (Partido Social Democrata – Social Democratic Party). What was in the ideals of social democracy that appealed to you?
The ideals have also changed. But what attracted me was the perseveration of a space of freedom that is untouchable (his eyes sparkle as he says the word ‘freedom’). We must be free. Even if it is to make mistakes. A mistake done with freedom has a different flavour! Social democracy respects, above everything, the intrinsic freedom of people, their responsibility for their actions. These principles have a social impact once a man is not an isolated being. So, it implies duties towards the others, towards social solidarity, the protection and support of the most vulnerable ones. Protection for those who did not have the necessary conditions to express their convictions in all freedom. It is a trajectory of freedom in constant renovation, and influenced by world changes. Social democracy has also changed, as people and societies do. As with everything else. We are also different from what we were 20 years ago. Even where our feelings are concerned. Even feelings are touched by change, they are also mutable. But what is fundamental in social democracy is the perseveration of the individual’s freedom. This has to be protected in all circumstances. The rest may vary, but personal freedom has to be protected, since it is the only way human life can be lived. The path of freedom is the right way, if not the only one in the human sense.
What was your involvement in the party?
Ι have always collaborated, from having been vice-president of the party to participating in political rallies, debates, and awareness sessions. But I never accepted positions that would force me to move to Lisbon. My professional life has always been my priority. It was the guarantee of my freedom, so I could never compromise it.
In terms of love… what happens with freedom?
(He smiles). The same! If I am OK, I stay. If not, I leave. I don’t believe in sacrifice in life. I don’t have that. It’s not my job. I love life, and could not live in any other way.
In the title of one of your books, you suggest “curiosity” is a special place for you. In what sense?
Curiosity is fundamental. A man without curiosity is a dead man. Curiosity in all aspects of life: knowledge; human relationships; self-awareness. Our inner self, our needs are moved by curiosity. When we feel satisfied, fulfilled, a new “curiosity” emerges… it is a constant renovation, a constant search. So this “curiosity” varies. It is not a stable value, static, taken for granted. It is a value in constant change and we keep searching for it. The same happens in relationships. Those that are the most intense and real ones are driven by a constant curiosity and renovation.
And affection?
Affection is the principal base of life. Affection is what commands us. Affections force us to think; allows us to discover. And gives a meaning to life.
According to you, how can a person achieve a meaningful life? What needs to be done?
Being faithful to oneself, to what one believes and to one’s integrity. That is my principle. Being coherent with one’s values, one’s feelings; with what a man believes.
Regrets — do you have any?
I have a few, but I don’t feed guilt. Guilt suffocates you without giving you anything in return. So I move on. Not in a normative way. It is a need of finding a way to breathe better. It is a natural process. I just try to find a way to “breathe” better.
What makes a place feel like home?
It is the place where we feel well, and where it is always possible to express our freedom.