In this conversation, Ambassador Ribeiro de Almeida discusses cultural ties between India and Portugal.
Ambassador João Manuel Mendes Ribeiro de Almeida, the Portuguese Envoy to India, graduated in Law from the Faculty of Law of the University of Lisbon before taking up a career in diplomacy. He served as Diplomatic Attaché at the Office of the Secretary of State for the Portuguese Communities of the XII Constitutional Government, between 1 July 1991 and 11 November 1992.
He was subsequently posted at the Portuguese Embassy in Athens followed by the Portuguese Embassy in Zagreb. He has also served as Consul General in Benguela (República de Angola) and Barcelona.
He previously served as the Ambassador in Buenos Aires. Earlier he also served as the Ambassador in Bogota.
In this interview, Ambassador Ribeiro de Almeida talks about the cultural ties between India and Portugal, India’s role an as associate observer to the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP), major areas of focus to further boost the cultural exchange, the functioning of the newly renovated Embassy of Portugal Cultural Centre, and study programmes on offer for the Indian students, among other things.
Q. How do you look at the historical nature of the cultural ties between India and Portugal?
A. I think it is Indian heritage already because it’s 500 years of Portuguese presence here in India. So it’s not anymore Portuguese influence. It’s part of your heritage. And we also have Indian heritage in Portugal. We are so much influenced by Indians because it was more than 500 years ago. So it’s both ways. We have a lot of Indo-Portuguese flavors and influence in Portugal, either in gastronomy, decorative arts, furniture, even in music. Remo Fernandes is a good example. So we don’t call that Portuguese, we call it Indo-Portuguese. Also, the churches in Goa are older than the churches they have in Brazil. So, something from India also attributed to it. They were built much before that they had been built in Brazil because most part of the churches in Brazil are from the 18th century, end of 17th century and in India they date back to the 16th century, around 150 years before.
Q. How do you see India’s role an as associate observer to the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP)?
A. The Indian government is very, very aware of the long history Portugal and India share and that’s why India joined as associate observer to the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP). India is one of the most active countries at this moment in that community which has Portugal as well as other Portuguese speaking countries like Brazil, Mozambique, among others. It’s a fact that India is a very active observer and that makes India a part of the Portuguese speaking family.
Q. What are your major areas of focus to further boost the cultural exchange between India and Portugal?
A. One of the major areas of focus for me is to strengthen the people to people contact. It’s important for people to meet as much as possible. The people must have accurate knowledge of each other’s country. So that’s why it’s so important to have a stronger people to people connect, even students interchange and all of that. That helps a lot, of course, in putting both countries closer. We share a common heritage and we have to take care of it together. We also have to see what the good aspects of that are because historically there was a lot of mistakes and a lot of problems but our relations today they are focused to the future. We have to take advantage and take profit of the good things that this cultural bridge could make between our two countries. And that’s one of my main tasks. Well actually that’s the instructions I have from my Prime Minister. As you know, our Prime Minister also has Indian roots, and he is very proud of his Indian roots. Our relations today are so good because the Portuguese state knows that having more intense relationship with India is good also for our national interests. Again, it’s a very old relation that we have. We were the first European community to reach India by sea after a very, very problematic route through the south of Africa as you know.
Q. Tell us about the functioning of the newly renovated Embassy of Portugal Cultural Centre.
A. The Embassy of Portugal Cultural Centre reopened after renovation earlier in the year. And ever since my arrival here in India around four months ago we have already hosted some important events. Back in March, a collective exhibition of works by women artists from Portugal and India was inaugurated. And in June, we hosted a session titled ‘Portugal – India: Architecture Expressionism,’ curated by the noted Indian architect Rajendra Kumar. The participants were Nuno Grande, Manuel Aires Mateus, Sabeena Khanna, and Rajiv Khanna. The underlying idea of the session was to have a dialogue about what is the architecture of Portuguese influence in India and of Indian influence in Portugal, because we have both. So it was a very nice event.
Q.How do you look at the significance of the UN Portuguese Language Day?
A. In 2019, the 40th session of UNESCO’s General Conference decided to proclaim 5 May of each year as ‘World Portuguese Language Day.’ Portuguese today is a global language. 280 million people speak Portuguese in every corner of the world. So the United Nations pay a kind of a tribute to the Portuguese language, not to Portugal, but to the Portuguese language to consecrate one day for that language.
This year on the 5th of May, I visited universities in New Delhi that have Portuguese language classes. We have thousands in India learning Portuguese because they understand that learning the Portuguese language is going to be also an investment. For, it’s another important foreign language and proficiency in the language is certainly going to boost your resume.
Q. What kind of study programmes do you have on offer for the Indian students?
A. Erasmus+ is the European Union’s programme to support education, training, youth and sport in Europe. Now, Portugal has an advantage as out of the 27 countries, Portugal is the 4th preferred country as far as the Indian students are concerned. It came as a surprise to us but in a very positive way. We were very proud to see such a high ranking amongst the preferences made by the Indian students within the European Union to go in an Erasmus + Programme. It’s financed by the European Union, but that means that it’s financed indirectly by each of the state member states. And Portugal is one of them.