Interview with Jose Saramago
Jose Saramago is probably the most famous (if not the only) Nobel Prize winner Portugal can lay claim to. Ironically, Saramago left his homeland of Portugal 14 years ago in protest of the government censorship of his novel, The Gospel According to Jesus Christ. It was the sentiment of the authorities that his book offended religious sensiblities.
At 84, Saramago is still actively serving the political role of the author. He is a writer of conviction - one of the dying breed. He is also the kind of writer who ends up talking about the problem of democracy during book discussions. In light of our forthcoming election, I'm inclined to highlight something he mentioned in the interview:
'I answered that I didn't have a solution, except that we, as citizens, do have the power of the vote, but we always use it to vote for one or other of the parties on off er. But there is another possibility, which is to cast a blank vote.' He leans forward and points a stern finger. 'And this is not at all the same as abstention. Abstention means you stayed at home or went to the beach. By casting a blank vote, you're saying that you understand your responsibility, you have a political conscience and you came to vote, but you don't agree with any of the existing parties and this is the only way you have of saying so.
'Then I thought about what would happen if the blank votes went up to 50 or more per cent. It would be a way of saying society has to change but the political powers we have at the moment are not enough to effect this change. The whole democratic system would have to be rethought.'
Not that I'm advocating anything political, of course. I'm hardly political. I don't even have to vote. I live with a country where I am 30 and have never casted a single vote for my democratically elected government.
Is voting really compulsory by the way?
Read the latest title by Jose Saramago, Seeing, translation by Margaret Jull Costa. Saramago is published by Harvill Press in the UK, the original English publisher for Haruki Murakami.