Portugal celebrates nearly 50 years since the Carnation Revolution

The evening news on April 25 shows people dancing in the streets of Lisbon, all part of the celebrations for the 49th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution in 1974, a nearly bloodless coup which ended 40 years of authoritarian rule in Portugal under Antonio de Oliveira Salazar. (Note the man in the bottom right of the picture. Portuguese news programs always have someone signing.)

Dancing in the streets, parades, singing and joyful speeches. Portuguese people turned out everywhere last week to celebrate the 49th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution, which ended a decades-old dictatorship.

Portuguese people have a lot to be proud of. They endured more than 40 years of a brutally repressive regime which began in 1932 and ended in 1974. During the “Estado Novo” which was created by Prime Minister Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, there was strict censorship of the press, books, music and arts. People lived in fear of being reported to the secret police, the PIDE (Policia International e de Defesa do Estado). Thousands were arrested, tortured and imprisoned during those years.

Salazar was a staunch supporter of Portugal’s colonies; Angola, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau, in Africa, Goa in India and Macau in China. In the early 1960s Portugal sent troops to quell independent movements in the African colonies. These colonial wars were very costly and unpopular. Many Portuguese fled their home country to go work in France so they didn’t have to participate in those conflicts. (When I moved to Portugal in 2019, I quickly found that many older Portuguese speak fluent French from their years there.)

Salazar suffered a debilitating stroke in 1968, was replaced as prime minister by Marcelo Caetano, and died in 1970. Meanwhile, many of the lower ranking officers serving in Africa began planning to overthrow the dictatorship. The Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) was also active in organizing opposition.

Popular song gave the signal

On April 25, a song played on the radio, “Grandola Vila Morena”, was the signal for the armed forces, with widespread popular support, to overthrow the regime. The coup gained its name because people in the streets handed red carnations to the soldiers who put the flowers in their gun barrels or on their uniforms. Within a few hours Caetano had resigned and the Estado Novo came to an end with hardly a shot fired.

Children and their teachers participate in parades in Lisbon during celebrations on April 25 to honor the 49th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution.

Soon after the overthrow of the regime, the former colonial countries in Africa began their own struggles to complete the transition to independence. Back in Portugal a major symbol of the change was the renaming of the iconic bridge across the river Tejo in Lisbon from the Salazar Bridge to the 25 April Bridge.

The 25th April Bridge (Ponte 25 de April) over the River Tejo in Lisbon. It was designed by the consortium that constructed the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Calif.


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