Home News A bitter celebration as Portugal remembers the Carnation Revolution

A bitter celebration as Portugal remembers the Carnation Revolution

Published on 06/10/2011

The anniversary of the Revoluo dos Cravos, the peaceful uprising that overthrew their countrys dictatorship in 1974 is reason to celebrate for most Portuguese. But this year rejoicing will be muted as the nation awaits finalisation of the bailout loan it has requested from the EU.

Thirty-seven years ago today, a swell of disenchantment with the Portuguese government of Marcello Caetano, a continuation of the regime of long-time dictator Antnio Salazar, prompted a group of army officers to lead a coup. Word spread, resistance was virtually non-existent and in the space of a few non-violent hours, the regime was on the verge of being ousted.

The putsch culminated in a strange scenario in which Caetano locked himself inside the National Republican Guard building in Lisbons Carmo Square as a massive crowd including armed soldiers and curious men, women and children from the neighbourhood gathered to watch. After several hours, Caetano gave in and signed a transfer of power that pitched Portugal back into democracy after 42 years of Salazarism and its ilk.

The Portuguese world was turned upside down on that partly cloudy Thursday, 25 April, when most people were anticipating another humdrum workday, writes Barry Hatton in his modern history of Portugal. Tanks, armoured vehicles, artillery units and lorries carrying hundreds of fully-armed combat-troops, many of them veterans of the war in Africa, had under the cover of dark fanned out across the capital. In an almost perfectly synchronized assault, the army pulled off a triumphant overthrow. Everyone the regime, the people, foreign governments was caught napping. The dictatorship shattered at the blow, the people rejoiced, and Western Europe witnessed its first revolution since 1848.

The Revoluo dos Cravos, or Carnation Revolution, as it came to be known, would lead to Portugal joining the international fold, eventually becoming a member of the EU in 1986. It also ushered in a period of political chaos, as the country hurriedly liberated its colonies and grappled with its new democratic status.

That tumult gave way to stability and until relatively recently, post-dictatorship Portugal looked every bit a success story as it built albeit unevenly on the momentous change of that day in 1974. But in recent months its economic weaknesses have been starkly revealed, leading the way to Prime Minister Jos Scrates resignation in March, after the Socialist prime minister failed to push through new austerity measures. Then on April 7, the government, still in power as it awaited elections, was forced to follow Greece and Ireland in requesting a bailout loan from the EU.

The terms of that loan are yet to be finalised. But while on the one hand they fondly remember April 25, 1974, the Portuguese are also forced to recognise that their current economic and political turmoil have sent them spinning back, in many ways, to the kind of uncertainty that followed the revolution. Congratulations, Portugal. And commiserations.© Iberosphere – News, comment and analysis on Spain, Portugal and beyond