The 25th of April 1974 in Portugal is one of the country’s most important holidays, known as the Carnation Revolution. On this day, after 41 years of a dictatorship, the Portuguese people revolted and the country was finally liberated. Come find out more!
On the morning of April 25th 1974, an organized military movement (MFA, or Movimento das Forças Armadas) occupied various strategic points in Lisbon and overthrew the dictatorship of the Estado Novo that had been implanted in 1926. The April Captains’ goal was to end the colonial war, initiated 13 years before, free elections and the overall implementation of a democracy.
The Portuguese dictatorship began with a military coup d’état on May 28, 1926. From then until 1933, Portugal lived through a period during which fundamental freedoms and rights were suppressed.
Between 1926 and 1933, António de Oliveira Salazar would be a fundamental cog in the dictatorial machine. Indeed, it was with his impulse that, step by step, the dictatorial machinery and policies – which would later be enshrined in the 1933 Constitution – would take shape: censorship, political police, propaganda, and repressive laws.
The next period extends from 1933 to 1968 and corresponds to a phase of the dictatorship characterized by a corporative state and a fascist dictatorship, with the approval in 1933 of a new Constitution, which established censorship, prohibited political parties, trade union associations, and secret associations, and created the PIDE – a State Police.
Social and political forces continued, however, their fight against the dictatorship, notably thanks to the impulse of the clandestine Portuguese Communist Party (PCP). This fight was met with persecution, deaths, and torture – carried out by the political police.
To the outside world, Salazar tried to hide the reality of the country – lying about what was going on both in Portugal and in the occupied territories. After WWII, all European countries were ‘forced’ by NATO to remove themselves from their respective colonies. That did not happen with Portugal. Salazar made use of the so-called luso-tropicalismo – the idea that Portugal was different from other countries in the way it treated the natives in the occupied territories; that the Portuguese were there to do good. This is, of course, untrue.
The struggle for liberation from the colonialist yoke, within the Portuguese colonies, would be fomented by the end of WWII and by the independence achieved by many colonies that had been under the domination of European states.
Beginning in Angola, in 1961, the war extended to Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde, in 1963, and to Mozambique, in 1964. In these territories under fierce and intense colonial exploitation, the people longed to achieve independence that would free them from a centuries-old yoke.
Probably contrary to what Portuguese fascism expected, the beginning of the colonial war was the catalyst for the development of anti-colonialist actions and theories. The opposition to the colonial war thus extended to different sectors of the population (including within the Church itself), with people being either sent to war or witnessing their loved ones going and dying young and away from home. In this process of fighting the war, the opposition that was generated within the Armed Forces was also fundamental.
Meanwhile, in 1968, Salazar (who died in 1970) was replaced by Marcelo Caetano as President of the Council. The period between 1968 and 1974 was thus characterized by Salazar’s physical and intellectual incapacity, at a time when Marcello Caetano, in the midst of a crisis of the regime, tried to save the fascist dictatorship with a great demagogic manoeuvre.
An economic crisis started to settle in Portugal. This crisis, combined with the regime’s inability to solve the economic and social problems; the wearing down of the regime; the colonial war; dissent; desertion and emigration, made it possible to create a situation conducive to the overthrow of the dictatorship and the consequent outbreak of a revolution.
In 1973, a group of career officers began a corporatist movement that gradually grew in size, transforming the initial corporatist claims into a desire for regime change. It was this movement that would lead, on April 25th 1974, to the outbreak of the Carnation Revolution.
At 10:55 pm, the song ‘E Depois do Adeus’ by Paulo de Carvalho, was broadcasted by a radio in Lisbon, the first sign of the advance of operations. At 00h20, the military that occupied Renascença radio station gave the second signal, with the transmission of Zeca Afonso’s ‘Grândola Vila Morena’. At 4am, Rádio Clube Português read the first communiqué from the Armed Forces Movement (MFA).
When made aware of what was happening, popular forces joined the military uprising, and it is precisely the fruit of this union – military uprising and popular uprising – that gives rise to the Revolution.
When the April Captains, organized in the MFA, made known to the country their objectives – the end of the dictatorship and the end of the colonial war, with the consequent and necessary construction of a democratic Portugal – progressive forces and revolutionary political organizations soon gave their support to the MFA.
The revolutionary forces, led by Salgueiro Maia, then advanced towards the government’s main office, in Terreiro do Paço (Lisbon). That was when Celeste Caeiro, a restaurant worker, started distributing carnations to the soldiers, who put them in their uniforms and guns, to symbolize that the revolution was peaceful – giving origin to the name Carnation Revolution.
After a few hours of protesting and negotiations, Marcelo Caetano surrendered to General Spínola and the MFA. Meanwhile, a big crowd was already protesting outside PIDE Headquarters, who finally gave in the next day. After that, the MFA and political forces formed the ‘Junta de Salvação Nacional’ and General Spínola was temporarily made President of the Republic and announced as such on national TV.
The MFA Program was made up of three D’s – Democratize, Decolonize and Develop. And these values were immediately set in action. The first measures taken were the abolition of the PIDE and censorship on all fronts. Worker’s unions and the establishment of different political parties were also instantly legalized. Worker’s day – the 1st of May – was celebrated freely and massively all over the country, especially in Lisbon, where over a million people gathered.
Negotiations for the decolonization of the occupied African territories also started. This was a difficult process that resulted in a massive movement of ‘retornados’ (soldiers that had been stationed at the colonies for years) back to the country.
After a difficult period of political negotiations, on April 25th 1975 – an exact year after the fact – Portugal held its first free elections for the Constitutional Assembly, which finally asserted a democratic system in the country.
Then, in 1976, the Portuguese people finally voted on their first elections for Parliament, which the Socialist Party (PS) won, making Mário Soares the first democratically elected Prime Minister of the country. Elections for the President of the Republic were also held, with Ramalho Eanes winning and holding the title for 10 years (the maximum allowed).
The Carnation Revolution is widely viewed as one of the greater days in Portuguese history and its legacy remains not only in the collective memory, but also on the socio-political scenery. It is a national holiday and many celebrations and marches are held every year all over the country in order to celebrate it.
There are April 25 celebrations all over the country, even in the smallest of towns. However, the bigger festivities take place in the main cities, especially Lisbon and secondly Porto.
It’s obligatory to walk down the Avenida da Liberdade – a march that yearly brings thousands of people together. But there are also other activities that you can take part in:
After a ceremony and homage in the Museu Militar, the people march from there to the Avenida dos Aliados, where there are speeches and concerts from Comvinha Tradicional and Chulada da Ponte Velha – two intervention groups. You can check the activities for other towns here, or on their respective municipality’s website.
“Foi então que Abril abriu / as portas da claridade / e a nossa gente invadiu / a sua própria cidade” – Ary dos Santos
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