25 Things To Know About Portugal’s Carnation Revolution

Written By Lara Silva

Freedom day, Carnation Revolution, 25th of April, all of these describe Portugal’s most important national holiday. After over 40 years of fascism, on April 25th, 1974, a (peaceful) military coup led by leftist military officers known as the Carnation Revolution brought about freedom for the Portuguese. It led to a transition to democracy and the end of the Portuguese Colonial War in Africa. To celebrate this special day, we have selected 25 things to know about the Portuguese Carnation Revolution.

1. This day ended a fascist dictatorship

The Carnation Revolution of April 25th, 1974 overthrew the authoritarian Estado Novo Regime. The Estado Novo was installed in 1933 and was inspired by right-wing conservative, fascist, anti-democratic, and autocratic ideologies, developed by Antonio de Oliveira Salazar. The regime promoted conservative ideals of “God, patriotism, and family”. Two main factors of the dictatorship were the fight against communism, as well as defending Portuguese colonialism. Salazar was President of the Council of Ministers almost throughout the whole of the Estado Novo, until 6 years prior to the revolution.

2. The revolution started with music on the radio

The Carnation Revolution started with music on the radio. First, at 10:55 pm on the 24th of April, E Depois do Adeus by Paulo de Carvalho played on the radio. In the early hours of the 25th of April at 00:25, Grandola, Vila Morena by Jose Afonso played on Radio Renascenca. This last song was the second sign to the Portuguese people that the revolution was starting and that revolutionaries should occupy the strategic points of the country. Within a few hours, the Estado Novo was overthrown.

3. The end of fascism meant the end of Portuguese colonialism in Africa

The end of the Estado Novo led to the end of Portuguese colonialism in Africa, with this being a major driving force for the revolution. The Portuguese Colonial War was inhumane, costly, and led to the loss of countless lives of both Portuguese and Africans. Decolonization occurred quickly after the revolution and by the end of 1975, many Portuguese ex-colonies like Angola, Cape Verde, and Mozambique gained their rightful independence.

4. The Portuguese Colonial War lasted for over 10 years

The Portuguese Colonial War, which ended after the Carnation Revolution, lasted 13 years, 2 months, and 3 weeks, between 1961 and 1974. The war was fought between Portugal’s military under the Estado Novo and the emerging nationalist movements in Portugal’s then African colonies. Portugal faced embargo and sanctions from the international community because, by the 1960s, other European nations had withdrawn from their African colonies.

5. The 25 of April bridge celebrates the revolution

The 25 of April was once named Salazar Bridge, inaugurated in August 1966 under the Estado Novo. In 1974, the bridge was renamed after the Carnation Revolution to celebrate the day that fascism was overthrown. The bridge is over 2,000 meters long, making it the 43rd longest suspension bridge in the world.

6. This was not the first revolution in the 20th century in Portugal

There was another revolution in 20th-century Portuguese history, the 5 October 1910 revolution. On this day the Portuguese monarchy was replaced by the First Portuguese Republic, after a coup d’etat organized by the Portuguese Republican Party. After the revolution, there was a provisional government installed led by Teofilo Braga until the Constitution was approved in 1911, marking the beginning of the First Republic.

7. Women were allowed to vote for the first time in Portugal one year later

During the Estado Novo, there were a few elections led but voting was not a universal right and elections were heavily manipulated. PIDE, the regime’s secret police would harass and attack voters, and there was electoral fraud. Women were allowed to vote for the first time in 1933 for the Portuguese constitutional referendum, but not on equal terms with men. Women had to have secondary education (which was uncommon), while men only needed to read and write. Only after the Carnation Revolution, was universal suffrage introduced, and women were allowed to vote with the same rights as men!

Elections were held on April 25, 1975, exactly a year later after the revolution for the Constituent Assembly to draw a constitution. The Socialist Party (PS) won 38% of the vote, the PPD, now the Social Democratic Party (PSD) won 26.4%, the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) won less than 13% of the vote, and the Democratic and Social Center Party (CDS) won less than 8%.

8. A provisional government was set up after the revolution

A few weeks after the Carnation Revolution, on May 16, 1974, the first provisional government of Portugal took office. This government had many political forces, from communists to liberal democrats. However, this government later fell in July of 1974 and there were six other provisional governments until two years later when the first constitutional government was formed.

9. Another coup happened on November 25, 1975

The coup of November 25, 1975, was a failed pro-communist coup carried out by Portuguese communists and socialists against the post-Carnation Revolution governing bodies. The activities hoped to make Portugal a communist country but failed and a counter-coup by moderates was in turn successful. For many anti-communists, this day is widely celebrated.

10. The revolution was organized by left military forces

Although this is not common knowledge, a lot of the planning for the Carnation Revolution was actually organized by military members stationed in African colonies such as Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea Bissau. Organized by the Movimento das Forças Armadas (MFA) which translates to the Armed Forces Movement, a revolutionary civil resistance campaign composed of military offices. These were lower-ranking officers affiliated with the socialist and communist parties who sought to overthrow the fascist regime and end the colonial war.

11. The Portuguese Communist Party played a major role in the opposition to Salazar’s regime

The Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) was constantly surprised and prosecuted by the PIDE, Salazar’s secret police, and members were imprisoned, tortured, and murdered. Many of those in the Movimento das Forças Armadas (MFA) that organized the revolution were members of the PCP and the reason that fascism was overthrown. PCP was founded in 1921 and was illegal during the Estado Novo, however, after the revolution, became a major political force of Portuguese democracy to this day.

12. Freedom of speech was provided to the Portuguese

During the Estado Novo, the Portuguese people had no freedom of speech. At any corner, any dinner party, any supermarket a member of PIDE, the secret police could be listening. Saying the wrong thing to what seemed a friendly face could leave you in prison, tortured, or murdered. As Portuguese people from that time say, “As paredes têm ouvidos” (the walls have ears). Censorship of the media was also in place, requesting books, controlling newspapers, censoring music, art, and much more.

13. The song Grândola, Vila Morena was banned during the dictatorship

Written by Zeca Afonso and recorded in 1971, Grândola Vila Morena, the song that was radio broadcasted to signal the start of the military coup on April 25, was banned during the Estado Novo. During Zeca Afonso’s musical performances, such as at a concert event in Coliseu dos Recreios, Lisbon he was forbidden to perform certain political songs due to state censorship. However, he performed Grândola Vila Morena, to which the crowd joined to sing. The song represents a symbol of revolution, democracy, and anti-fascism, particularly the line “O povo é quem mais ordena”, which is essentially the Portuguese “Power to The People” slogan. 

14. The Portuguese celebrate Freedom Day every year

Every year, the people of Portugal run to the streets to celebrate the 25 of April or Freedom Day! From older people who lived during the Estado Novo, to younger people, this day is a yearly reminder of the value of democracy, the fight against fascism, and the end of Portuguese colonialism. All over the country, people go out to sing, dance, eat, and march the streets, with carnations in their hands. It’s common that florists will give out carnations for free.

15. The present Constitution of Portugal was adopted in 1976 after the revolution

The current Constitution of Portugal was adopted in 1976, after the Carnation Revolution. It was adopted by the Constituent Assembly which was elected on 25 April 1976, a year after the revolution. With some 60% of seats occupied by the left after the election, the Assembly adopted a constitution that provided for a democratic parliamentary system with various political parties, elections, a parliament, and a prime minister. The Portuguese constitution included ideological content, with references to socialism and restricting private business. In the 80s, there were constitutional revisions to remove some of these.

However, an important ideological component remains. Article 46 of the constitution states that any organizations that are racist or share a fascist ideology are not allowed. Therefore, fascist parties are not legal in Portugal. However, in 2020, a public petition was shared in the media asking for the party Chega to be abolished due to its “fascist ideology” which has not happened.

16. Capitães de Abril is a film about the Carnation Revolution

Translating to April Captains, Capitães de Abril is a 2000 Portuguese film that depicts the story of the Carnation Revolution on April 25, 1974. Many of the characters are real such as Captain Salgueiro Maia and Prime Minister Marcelo Caetano. Although a lot of the movie is altered for the plot, this film is a pretty accurate depiction of the events that transpired that day. 

17. Although the revolution was peaceful, there were some fatalities

While most military coups are violent, the Carnation Revolution was predominantly peaceful. Red carnations were given to soldiers who placed these flowers inside their guns and on their uniforms. Carnations then became a symbol of democracy and the revolution! However, it is a myth that there were no fatalities on that day. Although the revolutionaries were peaceful, four civilians were shot by the DGS, essentially the regime’s police that was once PIDE.

18. Many were imprisoned and tortured during the dictatorship

The International and State Defense Police, known as PIDE, was the Portuguese security agency during the Estado Novo. PIDE had the power to detain and arrest anyone who was thought to be plotting against the state and focused on political and social issues such as political opposition and revolutionary movements. PIDE tortured and assassinated many political activists, anarchists, communists, workers, intellectuals, and more, numbers we do not know to this day.

19. Salazar died 4 years before the revolution

While the Estado Novo was still in place for four years after his death, Salazar died in 1970. In 1968, Salazar had a cerebral hemorrhage, which sources say was caused by a fall from a chair. Others say he fell in the bath. A few weeks later, he went into a coma, forcing him to step down unaware. After emerging from a one-month coma, his subordinates did not tell him he had been removed from power. He believed to be ruling in privacy until he died on July 27th, 1970.

20. Salazar was replaced by Marcello Caetano in 1968

Marcello Caetano was the second and last leader of the Estado Novo, after Salazar got sick. He served as Prime Minister from 1968 to 1974, after being overthrown in the Carnation Revolution. Although there was less press censorship and independent labor unions were allowed, the regime remained authoritarian and unfree. After the Carnation Revolution, Caetano resigned and was taken into military custody. He then flew to exile in Brazil where he died in 1980 of a heart attack.

21. Parliament celebrates the Carnation Revolution on the 25 of April every year with a ceremony

Every year on the 25th of April, parliament celebrates a “sessão solene comemorativa” on the anniversary of the Carnation Revolution. This celebration even occurred during the covid-19 pandemic, although with some restrictions. The celebration is televised and the Portuguese people watch attentively.

22. Political prisoners were released the day after the revolution

Although the government was overthrown on the 25th, the military was only able to occupy the Caxias Fort the next day, one of the largest political prisons, and release the prisoners. This prison was one of the best known during the Estado Novo and was where in 1960, many escaped from prison.

23. On March 23rd, 2022, the days of democracy surpassed the days of dictatorship

On March 23rd, 2022, there were 17,500 days since the dictatorship ended, meaning 17,500 days of freedom. The dictatorship lasted 17,499 days, meaning that only on March 23rd, did Portugal enjoy more days of freedom than fascism. Various politicians took to social media to celebrate, including Socialist Prime Minister Antonio Costa.

24. Maria Inácia Rezola is the new commissioner for the 25 of April celebrations

Maria Inácia Rezola is a researcher from the Institute of Contemporary History from Nova and a Professor at the Superior School of Communications. She is replacing Pedro Adao e Silva as the new commissioner for the 25 of April celebrations that started on March 23, 2022, with the celebration of 17,500 days of freedom. There are big plans for 2024 for the official 50th-anniversary celebration.

25. The first Portuguese Netflix Original, Gloria is set during the Estado Novo

Gloria is worth a watch. While not about the 25th of April, the first Portuguese Netflix Original tells the story of a young communist spy operating in Cold War Portugal during the Estado Novo. It speaks to the US’s involvement with the Estado Novo in opposition to the Soviet Union and depicts the oppression of the regime of the time.

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