Today is April 25. It is therefore 45 years since the Revolution. But, you might think, revolutions are something that happened back in the early 1900s, perhaps before. Who had a revolution in 1974? Ah well. We take the idea of democracy across mainland Europe as a given today; on the southern fringe of the continent, it was not always so.
25th of April Bridge, Lisbon
At the beginning of 1974, not only did the Eastern bloc still hold sway, along with the independent but still totalitarian régime of Josep Tito in Yugoslavia, but dictatorships remained in place in Greece, Spain and Portugal. The Greek junta expired later that year after the disastrous attempt to impose énosis on Cyprus, and the following year the passing of the tyrant Francisco Franco began Spain’s emergence from the darkness.
And then there was Portugal, in early 1974 still a dictatorship even after the death of António de Oliveira Salazar four years earlier. His successor Marcello Caetano had carried on the régime, but the pressure for change, which came from the mainly agrarian south of the country, and an unpopular attempt to hold on to colonial outposts across the world, ultimately brought matters to a head. April 25 was the day of reckoning.
The Estado Novo - “New State” - had endured for 41 years, longer than the Falangist régime in Spain. Dictatorship had already been in place since 1926. Salazar balanced the books; he did so, generally, by keeping his people poor and illiterate. Until the 1980s, Portugal was the poorest country in Western Europe. The country’s infrastructure was poor; health indicators were poor; agriculture had fallen behind that of other countries.
But when the revolution came, it was almost totally peaceful. Soon after the second signal to the coup plotters, the playing of “Grândola, Vila Morena” by Zeca Alfonso, who was banned from the airwaves at the time, the Caetano Government fell. As Wikipedia puts it, “A central gathering point was the Lisbon flower market, then richly stocked with carnations (which were in season). Some of the insurgents put carnations in their gun barrels, an image broadcast on television worldwide, which gave the revolution its name”.
Thus the Carnation Revolution was born. A largely peaceful revolution. One which presaged the end of the colonial wars, the vain attempts to hold on to colonies which had begun with the loss of Goa in 1961. There was upheaval in the aftermath of the revolution. But there was a freedom to say what one felt, with the knowledge that there would not be the possibility of abduction, torture or even death as a result.
Salazar did not employ methods as harsh as his contemporary Franco. But political opponents all too often found themselves taken off to jail. Some who were deemed especially inconvenient were murdered, either by the régime, or with its blessing. All of that ended on April 25, 1974. Freedom has endured. Part of that is down to the EU.
Portugal joined the then EEC in 1986, alongside Spain, also by that point a democracy, albeit a young and initially fragile one. Since then, there have been vast improvements to the country’s infrastructure, literacy, health care, and indeed prosperity.
Later this year, Portugal will elect a new Government by free and democratic means. Not all coups end with totalitarian rule. Long Live The Carnation Revolution!
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