Portugal and Luxembourg – an unwavering partnership The shared history of Portugal and Luxembourg in the past and the present

The shared history of Portugal and Luxembourg can be traced back to the 1893 marriage between Prince Guillaume Alexandre de Nassau and Infanta Marie Anne of Portugal. Since then, relations between the two countries have been marked by mutual assistance and hope in difficult times: the grand ducal family took refuge in Portugal during the Second World War, and in the 1960s, many Portuguese citizens settled in Luxembourg for work. Nowadays, the Grand Duchy cannot be understood without taking into account diversity and the strength of the links forged between the two countries over the course of more than a century. 

Two countries providing hope in difficult times

More than 125 years have passed since the marriage of Prince Guillaume Alexandre de Nassau – who became Grand Duke in 1905 as Guillaume IV – and Infanta Marie Anne of Portugal, who was the daughter of the deposed King of Portugal Miguel I.

The union, which took place in 1893, had a major impact on Luxembourg's history. In fact, the country has had a truly Luxembourgish dynasty – the house of Luxembourg-Nassau – since 1890, and this marriage ensured that the grand ducal line has carried on to the present day. The couple had six daughters, of whom the second, Charlotte, took up the reins of the country in troubled times and succeeded in saving the dynasty from being abolished on two occasions (in 1919, when she acceded the throne, and in 1945, after the Second World War).

This union can therefore be considered to be the starting point for the contemporary history of Portuguese–Luxembourgish relations. In fact, the marriage did not just bring together two individuals, but also two peoples who, since that time, have walked together, helped each other and become countries that provide hope in difficult times.

Alain Welter, a Luxembourgish street artist in Lissabon

De Moler vu Koler goes Lissabon

Alain Welter, born and raised in Luxembourg, is a street artist  and illustrator. Whether it is a wall, a bus, a bridge, façades, cooling towers, beer bottle labels or commercial spaces, Alain gives the world a touch of colour wherever he can. We interviewed him during his project  in Lisbon.

This is a collaboration between the  Kulturfabrik  in Esch-sur-Alzette, the  Galeria de Arte Urbana de la Câmara Municipal de Lisboa  and the  Luxembourg Embassy in Lisbon, in the context of the capital of culture Esch2022.

Did you know?

At the same time as Alain Welter is creating his urban art fresco in Lisbon, the Portuguese artist  Mariana Duarte Santos  is creating one in Esch-sur-Alzette. The work will be inaugurated during the  Nuit de la Culture (Night of Culture) from 13 to 15 May 2022.

The Second World War was a time that strengthened the relationship between Portugal and Luxembourg. The German invasion in 1940 meant that the Grand Duchy suddenly lost its sovereignty. The Nuremberg Race Laws were implemented and the German authorities decreed the expulsion of some 2,000 Jews. The German occupation also forced Grand Duchess Charlotte, together with her family and members of the government, to cross the border into France, near Lasauvage.

In those tragic times, Portugal became synonymous with freedom and solidarity. In fact, many refugees from Luxembourg – residents and Jews who had fled to the Grand Duchy before the invasion – found refuge there. The Portuguese diplomat Aristides de Sousa Mendes, Portugal's consul in Bordeaux, played a key role in helping people in difficulty. Ignoring the orders of his superiors, he provided thousands of visas that were required for leaving France, which was no longer a safe place to act as a host country after the fall of Paris, and returning to Portugal.

'The angel of Bordeaux', as he was known, also issued the necessary visas to the Grand Duchess, Prince Felix and their three children, and to the Luxembourgish ministers Pierre Dupong, Joseph Bech and Victor Bodson. The ministers went to Praia das Maças, near the capital, while the grand ducal family stayed at Casa de Santa Maria, in Cascais, the residence of the honorary consul of Luxembourg.

It was there that the Grand Duchess decided to remain in exile, after consulting her ministers and the diplomats of other occupied countries. The sovereign remained in Portugal with her government until October 1940, then made the long journey to the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. She did not return from exile until 14 April 1945.

Refugees arriving in Portugal in 1940 had an idyllic perception of the country. For them, Vilar Formoso – the country's main land border used at certain times by more than 2,000 people per day – was a symbol of freedom. However, this image did not correspond with reality. In fact, Portugal had set up an authoritarian regime in 1932, under the leadership of Oliveira Salazar, which would last until 1974. Essentially rural, a significant proportion of the population lived in poverty, while censorship and repression silenced those who spoke out against the regime.

Despite the changes that occurred throughout Europe after the Allied victory, Portugal remained a closed-off dictatorship. In the 1960s, many people chose to go abroad to escape poverty or persecution of the Salazar dictatorship.

At that time, Luxembourg became host to many Portuguese. The bilateral agreement on the employment of Portuguese workers in Luxembourg, which was signed in 1970 and ratified in 1972, provided a framework for the arrival of new Portuguese people and also rectified the situation of illegal immigrants who had arrived previously. The impact of Portuguese immigration on Luxembourg's physical and social landscape is significant: with 93,678 people in 2021, the Portuguese represent 14.50% of the resident population of the Grand Duchy. Nowadays, Luxembourg cannot be understood without taking into account diversity and the strength of the links forged between the two countries, in particular over the course of these last 60 years.

second generation of Portuguese, who are in fact Luxembourgers who share Portuguese roots and cultural references, is now contributing to Luxembourg's social transformation and creativity.

In 2018, two Portuguese artists from the Borderlovers collective, Pedro Amaral and Ivo Bassanti, create a new work in Luxembourg: in the Canopée artists' residence, 40 canvases are created which juxtaposed Luxembourg and Portuguese personalities. They are then displayed in public places in Luxembourg City for several weeks. Inspired by the personalities, the director François Baldassare spontaneously decides to accompany the Portuguese artists with his camera. The result: a captivating testimony to the creative power that is regularly shown at international film festivals. Until 28 August 2022, it is shown as part of the exhibition 'Portugal and Luxembourg, countries of hope in times of distress'.
© Canopée Produktion

Portugal and Luxembourg: two countries providing hope in difficult times

The exhibition is a reminder of Portugal's role during the Second World War as an open door for Luxembourgish refugees and the way in which Luxembourg, decades later, has become a destination for many Portuguese people. Near the end of the exhibition, a contemporary approach makes it possible to better understand the impact of Portuguese immigration on Luxembourg's physical and social landscape, along with diversity and the strength of the links that have been forged between the two countries for more than half a century.

Venue: Galeria de Exposições do Palácio da Cidadela de Cascais

Dates: from 13 May 2022 to 28 August 2022

Two souls in one body

One person from the second generation who has helped to shape Luxembourgish culture is Edmond Oliveira. As the son of a Portuguese immigrant to Luxembourg, this contemporary artist is a close observer of the cultures of both peoples. His exhibitions often feature living and working conditions, problems with integration or language barriers. 'It's about going back to my roots, with a portrait of the first generations of Portuguese immigration to Luxembourg', he says.

What is important to him is telling the story of his father, who left Portugal illegally during the Salazar dictatorship, an experience that he used for his part in the exhibition Portugal et Luxembourg, pays d'espoir en temps de détresse (Portugal and Luxembourg: two countries providing hope in difficult times).

Of course, the integration process for new arrivals was more arduous in the 1960s and 1970s. Often from a rural and modest social background, they occupied jobs at the bottom of the social ladder, either in construction or cleaning. This phenomenon has changed with the new waves of migrants and the children of migrants who have already been integrated, with successful completion of training and higher education, and aspiring to better types of jobs.

The photographer Paulo Lobo is part of this generation. He came to Luxembourg aged 6-7. In his photos, he shows the impact of the Portuguese presence on the Luxembourgish landscape, a landscape that has certainly prospered over time with the arrival of Portuguese-speaking migrants.

Consequently, the effect of Portuguese immigration, which has enriched multicultural life in the Grand Duchy, is noticeable in everyday life, in culture and even in our way of life. Portuguese cuisine, folk dancing, lusophone media such as Radio Latina or Contacto, the Miss Portugal contest in Luxembourg or the pilgrimage to the Our Lady of Fatima sanctuary in Wiltz: these are just a few examples of how the Portuguese community has shaped modern society in Luxembourg.

The openness of Luxembourgish society towards these immigrants is one of the reasons why a steady number of Portuguese adopt the nationality of their host country. Over the last 10 years, the Grand Duchy has recorded 12,800 cases of Portuguese people acquiring Luxembourgish nationality by naturalisation and by option. This is also a sign that Portuguese residents are happy in Luxembourg.

The Association Amitié Portugal-Luxembourg, a union that highlights the strong relationship between these two peoples, was founded by Luxembourgers in 1969. The exhibition entitled Portugal et Luxembourg, pays d'espoir en temps de détresse (Portugal and Luxembourg: two countries providing hope in difficult time) is a wonderful illustration of this relationship and of the deep friendship between these two countries. Each work will certainly highlight the connections that these two nations have been building for decades. However, although the exhibition is short-lived, the friendship between Luxembourg and Portugal is a long-lasting one