Meet Rui Moreira | A politician committed to culture | Leaders in Action Society


We had a huge family with my father
and mother, we were eight. And we lived with my grandmother, in a huge house near the sea. What marks me more
was the sailing with my father. Because we lived near the sea,
my father used to sail. And I started very young and that was the time
when I really enjoyed it most. As most kids, you know, the company of a father
when you’re doing something like sports is something
that you would never forget. I speak german because I learned
german with my grandmother, before I actually went to school. So, punctuality is one thing
I inherited from the german roots. Another things is music. Because classical music
was always present. Which is typical of a german family,
where people play music. I don’t play music, but my dad played
and my grandmother played. So, that’s probably what kept me
more in connection with my german roots. Changing from a german school,
I was nine years old. To a public school,
a portuguese public school, was, first of all a shock. Because you feel no protection. It’s like walking into a totally new world, where I knew nobody in my class. Whereas before, I knew everybody. It was strange to take the tram
and go to the city because we lived near the sea
and the city was separate. So I had to take a tram for 35 minutes and walk to school. So it was a little bit frightening. But then, also, it was funny
to meet totally different people, with totally different interests who told me about soccer
and told me about their lives, which was totally different from mine. Actually, I enjoyed. I did not enjoy moving to London, because I finished high school
during the year of the Revolution. And everything was going on
in Portugal and I really wanted to stay. It was a time of optimism,
it was a crazy time, in 1974. So I’m…
I sort of regret not having lived that
first year of freedom. It was a family tradition. My father had studied in England,
during the Second World War. My grandfather had been a student
and a professor at Columbia University, in New York. My second brother,
he studied in Germany. So, it was a family tradition to move out. So I knew beforehand
that I would have to live abroad. During the Revolution,
soon after the Revolution in Portugal, my… We had the communist coup
in Portugal, in 1975. My father was sent to jail for no reason
other than being an industrialist. And it was a very tough time. So I came back to Portugal first, but my mother decided that
I should go back to London. I had to work and study
at the same time. We did not know
where my father was, so… It was not a very happy time. It was strange to listen to the news and to not know what was happening
the next day, in Portugal. You know, for a 19 year old kid,
to know that your dad is in jail… You don’t know where he is.
You know he did nothing wrong. He was never accused of anything. And suddenly, also to study
and work at the same time because to make ends meet
it was necessary to do that. It was very, very tough. When I came back, first of all, I decided I did not want
to come back straight to Portugal. So I went to Norway to work, in Norway.
I worked in Norway a couple of months. Then I moved to Denmark,
and, eventually, to Germany, to Hamburg, because we had
an old shipping company. My father was in industry, but we had and old shipping company which had been,
more or less, confiscated by the previous government, in 1961. And it had always been in my mind that I wanted to start again
with that family business. So I wanted to learn about
shipping and the best way was to work with ship owners
and ship brokers. That’s why I sort of went around Europe
learning and making connections. And I came back to Portugal, in 1979, and I started with this small office, it was a ship agency.
It had been a ship owner, but the ships had been
confiscated from us, in the early 60s. And then I started
with that kind of business and it, sort of, developed into
a big shipping company. When I was 27,
I had married, I had a young son. He was a year old. I was sailing competitively. Everything was going smoothly. And, suddenly,
there was this terrible thing. I did not know
what was going on, you know. I came back from a trip to London. I had played rugby a week before and I felt sick. I did not know…
I had no pain. I was just tired.
And I did not know what to do. So I called my doctor and my doctor said:
“You probably had a drink too much.” and something like that, so… You know, when you’re 27
and you’re a sportsman and everything goes well, people don’t really believe
that something’s going wrong. And then, it was funny,
because I arrived home and I told my wife and she said:
“Why don’t you call the paediatrician?” Gonçalo’s, my son’s, doctor.
“Maybe he will tell you what to do.” He said: “Well, if you feel sick,
you should have your blood taken “and you come here,
come and see me.” And so I did. Some hours later,
he called me and said: “Well, I don’t know how to tell you this,
but you’re… “You’re very sick.” He told me, basically,
that my kidneys had stopped for no apparent reason and he said: “Well, prepare yourself, “because most likely
you are going to die.” He was a very old man.
Very quiet man. And he told me that and,
it was very funny, because the first thing
I thought was about my son. I think that’s
what everybody does, you know. “It can’t happen. It’s not possible. “Maybe it’s…
Maybe he made a mistake, so…” Immediately, I started
making phone calls. I phoned one of my partners he said “Oh, you’re joking.”
and he put the phone down. Then I called my dad,
and my dad said the same, you know, “That must be a mistake.
Nobody’s… You’re not going to die.” It’s the sort of thing
that you can’t even remember. Because, suddenly,
I started really feeling I was dying and I went to a hospital and I spent
four, five days, more or less, in coma. And they did some sort of operation.
And I started on haemodialysis, which I did for almost three years. Which in those days,
in the 70s, it was early 80s, it was a terrible thing, but I survived. I ended up making a transplant, in 1986. Because one of my brothers,
he wanted to give me a kidney. Which, again,
was not normal in those days. I did it in London.
And, after that, I had no more health problems.
Everything went fine. So, it’s sort of second life,
you know, the sort of circle. Suddenly,
things go back to normal. First of all, I was traveling too much. I was…
The last year before I sold my business, I spent 200 days outside of my home. This, together with my illness,
led to a divorce. I wanted to look after my son. And also, shipping was changing. It was a little bit the old times. You know, we were very proud
to fly the portuguese flag wherever we went. And, suddenly,
everything changed in Europe. European ships started
having filipino crews, they started using Panama flags, they started using almost slave labour. And I did not want that.
And, eventually, I found that
the best option was to step out. And, one day, I was invited by one of
my competitors, he invited me for lunch. We were eating shrimp,
not far from here, and he said: “Rui, you know,
why don’t you sell me your business? “Why are we competing?” So, I called my father,
who was also my partner still, and I said:
“Why don’t we sell?” And he said immediately: “If that’s the
best choice for you, I think we should.” So, we decided in one week,
to sell a business which had been with us for 100 years,
or something like that. After all these things, having started working very early, having difficulties during my studies because my father had been in jail, after all these successive events, I just wanted to enjoy life. I spent a few years travelling around,
enjoying things. Going to museums I always
had wanted to visit. Reading. So, it was a sort of break in my life. I was appointed chairman of the Associação
Comercial do Porto, the Chamber of Commerce.
Basically, because I had time. I had time and they wanted someone who could devote his time freely
to an association which was sick, at the time. It was the oldest association in the city. It was connected to the portuguese
Civil War, in the 19th century. It was the house of freedom,
in the city of Porto. And it was totally derelict.
It was in very bad condition. And my great-grandfather
had been the chairman, in the beginning of the 20th century. So, they invited me and they said:
“Why don’t you give it a try?” And I looked at the building,
I looked at what was going there and it was funny, because it was…
it’s a beautiful building, with an arabian room,
with a lot of opportunities, but it was totally closed. The number of members
had gone down dramatically. Most did not pay anything.
And it was a closed door. And… When I looked, I said: “Well, this is… “There must be a huge potential
about this building.”, you know? And so, I asked the members if… I told the members:
“If you want me to be president, “we are going to open the house,
we are going to… “restore it to the original activities…” Which had been and open house.
“We are going to bring in tourism.” But, talking about tourism,
in Porto, in 2001, nobody believed, because Porto
was more or less unknown by tourists. So we found some support,
we spoke with companies and we started, basically,
a process of turning that building into its former glamour,
which it has today. These days, when you look
at the centre of Porto, the historical centre of Porto,
you see it’s a fantastic place. That’s where everybody wants to go. Back in 2001, it had lost, in 30 years,
it had lost 40 % of the population. It was totally empty. I remember exiting
the Palace of the Bolsa, at night, or in the evening,
and it was dangerous to walk outside. There was nobody around. I think it was inspirational
for the historical centre that a building like
the Associação Comercial, the Palácio da Bolsa,
which is a big building, suddenly was flourishing. And there was music going on, and
there were people coming, there was a nice restaurant, there were
venues, and there were congresses, and people wanted to go there.
So… It is a sort of thing that spread around. And I think it helped me then, in 2013, when I decided to compete
for the elections. And I decided that
we had to go one step further. That we had had this success
with a building, which was… It rained inside and,
suddenly, it was flourishing. We started making conferences
about all sorts of things. We started inviting people. We even started a ball,
which is a funny thing. I knew that the members
would look me sideways, if I wanted to organise a ball, because
I wanted to attract money, basically… But… I did not know how to tell them so,
I wrote them a letter saying: “We want to restore an old tradition “to have a ball in Palácio da Bolsa.” There had never been a ball
in Palácio da Bolsa, but once you tell them
you want to restore tradition, the most traditional people,
they buy it and they want to go there. You know, and that’s how it started. This was before the Casa da Música,
the house of music, was ready, in Porto. But there was nothing
going on in Porto, culturally. So… We mixed culture with business. Which is very much what I presented
to the city, in 2013, as my project. To say:
“Well, we have to start with culture, “because, once you have culture,
you have a brand “and once you have brand,
business will come.” In 2001, when I went
to the Comercial Association, of course, I had never thought that
I would, one time, be mayor of the city. I only started thinking about it in 2009, when I wrote a book,
which was a success. Which, in english it’s called
“A Question of Character”. I wrote a book about the history
of the city of Porto. I started…
I wanted to write a history of the city. But I wanted, also,
to look at the potential of the city. And I started finding out that this was… We had this incredible opportunity to do something about the city,
which we were not doing. So, we…
It was as if the city was dead. There was nothing going on. The city was boring. The culture had died. As I wrote this book, I started developing
this idea that we needed to take the power of the city,
to control the power of the city. So, I did not know how to do it,
but, through the Association, we started organizing studies
with the university about different things:
about the airport of Porto, which, in those days,
was still a very small airport. How should we develop the airport? About the Port of Leixões.
How can we improve the port? How can we improve
transport in the city? How can we improve mobility? And then, always the culture. How can we do more,
in terms of culture? And this became, actually, a sort of
political plan, a political agenda. And as I started looking, suddenly,
there were lots of people in the city that had not been active politically, because they left politics to the parties. They were coming
and they were discussing things. So, sooner or later
we knew it would be time for us to do something more. And it happened in 2013, because my predecessor,
he had completed three terms, he could not compete again. And we thought: “Well, this is
the time where… It’s now or never.” Because it’s… There is one moment
when you really have to decide. And that’s…
That was the moment of decision. For me, culture was always “the” thing, since I was a kid. It’s what
brings people together, you know? Between different generations, you can use culture
as the tool to put people together. Culture is really
the most important cement. And I think a lot about Europe
and what is going on in Europe. If there’s one thing in which
we still have an advantage, is culture. Not only the historical culture, but also the way we look at culture, as something
totally indispensable in our days. And… So, that was my… It’s not a belief
that I developed at a certain age, I think it was born
or it’s part of my family, it’s part of the things we discuss.
I talk with my children, and I talk with my mother.
It was always there. We live a time of fear. We have the fear of immigrants, we have the fear of the changes
in climate, and all of this happening. It’s millennial fears.
And… Culture is the thing that contributes
to solve a lot of these problems. You know, it’s…
If we believe in our culture, if we are able to expand our culture… It is a little bit like a crusade. You know, we did crusades because
of religion, which is not my cup of tea, but if we do it through culture,
it’s totally different because we attract people and people start thinking differently. And people, if they go together
to a concert or they look at an exhibition,
and if they develop things together, there is a sort of bond between them,
which football will never bring, and I hope…
and religion will never bring, but culture is totally…
If you want, it’s something that spreads. So, for me,
in politics, more than anything else, more than big buildings,
or a new water front, or a new skyline, I think, what I wanted to bring
to the city was a belief in culture. We started with problematic kids,
in very poor neighbourhoods. And we started with teachers with… And we started them
with classical music. Teaching them to play classical music
with classical instruments. What we found out, after some years, is, suddenly, they have now
much better performance in things like mathematics,
which is so important for kids. And, normally, poor kids have a huge
difficulty with mathematics. And suddenly, these kids,
these problematic kids, because they play classical
music, and they perform classical music, and they travel with classical music, although they spend a lot of time
playing music and studying music, they also developed new skills. And the best skills
are in mathematics and science, which shows exactly
what culture is about. The thing about the sea is,
first of all, observation. Because I love looking at the sea,
watching the sea, the way it’s changing. And another thing, it’s
travelling without a predetermined route. It’s a sort of freedom. And then, is the big horizon. This amazing thing when suddenly you’re
outside, and you just have the horizon. It’s like a blue canvas, if you want. That’s something which I really enjoy. That’s probably why the portuguese left. Because there’s this
huge attraction of the sea. And I was born
in a house just across the sea, from the window of my room
I could see the sea. And I was a kid and I would try to look
and “where’s my dad sailing?” outside, “Is he winning the race or not?”
So, maybe there’s a sort of
magnetic thing towards the sea. And I still enjoy it very much.
When I can, I do it. The citizens of Porto,
they care about everything. I walk in the street every day. There are always
people coming in talking to me and they, normally, are very kind. But they tell me: “You know, mayor,
you should, we should change that. “I don’t like this.
Why don’t you change that?” You see, that’s the sort of city where citizens feel
very much involved with everything. They have opinions about everything. They are very demanding. And that’s
one thing I really enjoy about this city. In many cities where I lived,
and I lived in London, people are maybe
concerned about their house, maybe about their street, and
maybe about their underground station. In Porto, people are concerned
about the whole thing. And they are very proud,
but at the same time, very demanding. Like everyone who’s proud
is very demanding. And for them, the city is something which
they see as a sort of common place, common property. This sense of common property
is the thing I find most challenging in Porto, and which I really enjoy. We developed a brand of the city, which
was something which was unheard of, it was part of my plan. And now, they sort of took over. Traditionally,
people vote according to parties. You know, and they vote for Parliament,
and then they vote for local elections. They, more or less,
always vote in the same party. Here, in Porto,
is totally different. It’s strangely different. You know, when I ran for elections,
I had 40 % on my first election. And the traditional parties
had 20 and 20. That’s impossible in any other
portuguese city. Why? Because people read
the programme. And they want to know. And they
want to know who is the person. They voted for me because they
know he is the guy who was a sailor, and he’s the guy who’s a photographer, he’s the guy who took care
of Palácio da Bolsa, and he’s a supporter
of our football team. All these things sort of mashed together,
you see, it’s a sort of… It’s very tribal, in a way, but in a nice way.
It’s tribal in a nice way. When I lived in Norway,
back in the 70s, it was like that, it was normal
for politicians to walk around. I remember crossing the park
going for work and there was the King walking his dog, and everybody was shouting:
“How are you?” The first day, after the election,
what I did was, I went walking. I decided to walk in the street. And everybody was shouting:
“Hey, you won the elections.” And I just wanted really to,
not close myself, because, if you’re unable to go out,
you lose contact, you lose touch. And I think that’s
how we have been doing it. And I think even the people
who will not vote for me, who do not like what I’m doing… Cause, every time I take a decision, I’m totally aware I please some,
and I displease others. But, you know,
they still appreciate that I’m there to answer them and to tell them
why I’m doing, trying to explain. And I can’t convert them, but I can tell them that
we are doing it for a certain reason. I think that’s the sort of connection
we keep in the city. And we are going through
a fight of what to do with a scarce resource,
which is public space. And, of course, this is a sort of
conflict I have to manage, I’m the arbitrator of the conflict. Where the people
who want to drive their cars they want the big lanes, people who want bikes
they want the narrow lanes, people who want to walk
they claim it from the bikes. And, at the same time,
you want to have green areas, but you still have to have more houses,
because if houses are expensive it’s because there
is a scarcity of houses. So, to manage this sort of…
It’s a plot going on. And we don’t know who’s going to win,
but I have to arbitrate, more than manage,
I have to arbitrate. And I think that’s, sometimes,
is very difficult to do it. But, you have to talk to people.
You have to explain them why. We spend a lot of time,
a lot of time, telling people why we do this and why we do that
or why we don’t do that. The thing about densifying is,
you should densify in one way that the densification
does not take away public space. And you can do it. You know how?
Just with a little bit of height of buildings. There’s nothing wrong. It’s probably best for the environment,
to have people concentrated on parts of the Earth, which allows other parts to be…
to still have natural life, wild life, agriculture and everything else. So, I’m not too concerned
about the densification. I think the main problem we have now
in sustainability in cities is mobility. Mobility accounts for something
like 30 to 40 % of our footprint, in terms of carbon. And, the only… Of course
we can improve public transport. But the best way is for people to walk. If people can walk to their work or to school,
or they can take a tram and only spend 20 minutes
on a tram, it’s nice. If you live ten minutes’ walk
from your office or from the school you go to,
you’re much happier than if you have to take a train
for 30 minutes or one hour, or, if you go to São Paulo,
for two or three hours. You know, you can’t
have people spending… Spending six hours a day travelling. You know why?
Because it causes social stratification. Because, normally,
it is the poor people who travel more. Because the wealthy people,
they can afford to live where they want. The poor people,
they’re expelled to the outside. And then you have poverty. Why? Because these families,
where the mother travels 4 hours a day, she can’t look after their kids,
she can’t make sure that they study. These kids are actually condemned to
be poor because they live too far away. So, this is the reason
why it’s so important to densify in the proper manner.
Because it gives people time. I want the city to be able to… Basically, the city to continue
to feel happy about its future. I’m very concerned that somehow
the price of the success we’ve had, and it’s not my success, is the success
of everyone who’s been involved, the small employers,
the employees, the fact that we have a city where
we don’t have strikes. You know, the underground in Porto
never went on strike, which is an amazing thing
compared to most cities. The problem is:
How can we project this without the tensions
we were talking about? My main concern, really, is to provide better opportunities and to be able to keep in the city
everyone who wants to live in the city. And that’s, sometimes, not easy, because, when you start
seeing speculation, land speculation, you worry. And we don’t have
that many tools to fight speculation. The problem about speculation is, it’s not when you’re fighting
over an empty plot of land. It becomes a problem
when you’re fighting over a neighbourhood
where there are people who live there, who have lived there for generations,
suddenly, they are expelled because they just can’t pay the rent. Whenever I do it, I will do the same
I did when I sold my business. I want to devote, at least,
one or two years to myself. Travelling.
I want to write again. I need time to write. I need time to be with my grandchildren. So I’m… I will… I will need some time again,
before I plan anything else. And then I will see. Translation and Subtitling
Ana Luísa Aguiar / PSB Studios




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