40 years of Portuguese freedom


Image taken from Wikimedia Commons

Friday 25 April marks the 40th anniversary of Portugal’s “Carnation Revolution” (Revolução dos Cravos or simply 25 de Abril). This was arguably the moment at which modern Portugal began to take shape, as the revolution led to the overthrow of the authoritarian and conservative Estado Novo regime, the introduction of genuine democracy in the country, and the withdrawal of Portugal from its African colonies. The Carnation Revolution was so-named because no shots were fired and, to celebrate its success, carnation flowers were displayed in the muzzles of army rifles and on the uniforms of military officers.

The revolution began as a military coup by the Movimento das Forças Armadas, a group of lower-ranked, left-leaning Portuguese army officers who opposed Portugal’s lengthy, expensive and unpopular Colonial War – and, in particular, new government legislation to fast-track militia officers into higher military ranks to take part in this war. The movement was initially planned and enacted by officers such as Vasco Gonçalves – Portugal’s prime minister following the revolution and interviewed in Vasco Gonçalves: um general na revolução (classmark: 585:5.c.200.10) – and Amadeu Garcia dos Santos, whose memoirs were published as General Garcia dos Santos: memórias políticas: um pouco do que vivi (classmark: 585:5.c.201.16).

The aims of the revolution quickly expanded to overthrowing the Estado Novo regime (then headed by António de Oliveira Salazar’s successor Marcelo Caetano) and granting independence to Portugal’s overseas colonies – the crucial importance which the Estado Novo regime attached to maintaining these colonies is discussed by Silvino Silvério Marques in Salazar o Ultramar e o 25 de abril (classmark: 585:4.c.200.28).

Interestingly, the start of military operations in the revolution was signalled by the radio broadcast of two popular songs, Portugal’s Eurovision Song Contest entry of that year, “E depois do Adeus” by Paulo de Carvalho, and the banned folk song “Grândola, Vila Morena” by Zeca Afonso – a musician whose life and career is detailed in José Afonso: o que faz falta: uma memória plural (classmark: C200.d.6107).

Though it began as a military movement, the Carnation Revolution soon gained massive public support amongst civilians, thousands of whom took to the streets, despite official warnings not to do so. This was largely unanticipated, as there had been no mass public demonstrations prior to the coup. Consequently, popular social movements became a major force in the revolution and its aftermath. Many working class Portuguese civilians aligned themselves with the hitherto outlawed and brutally suppressed Portuguese Communist Party – as discussed in Raquel Varela’s História do PCP na Revolução dos Cravos (classmark: 585:5.c.201.3).


Largo do Carmo in Lisbon, where the Revolution took place. Image taken from Wikimedia Commons.

Some other books concerning popular involvement in the Carnation Revolution include: Os excomungados de Abril: os empresários na Revolução by Filipe S. Fernandes and Hermínio Santos (classmark: C201.d.1241), Lisbon rising: urban social movements in the Portuguese Revolution, 1974-75 by Pedro Ramos Pinto (classmark: 585:5.c.201.17) and Building popular power: workers’ and neighborhood movements in the Portuguese Revolution by John L. Hammond (classmark: 585:5.c.95.37). Some of the reasons behind popular opposition to the Estado Novo regime are also discussed in Diamantino P. Machado’s The structure of Portuguese society: the failure of fascism (classmark: 585:13.c.95.31).

Following the end of Vasco Gonçalves’s presidency – due to opposition between the Communist and Socialist parties, and Gonçalves’s supposed alignment with the former – in 1976 Mário Soares became Portugal’s first democratically elected Prime Minister in half a century. His role in the revolution and its aftermath is discussed in Maria João Avillez’s Soares, ditadura e revolução (classmark: 585:5.c.95.84) and Dominique Pouchin’s extended interview with him (classmark: 585:4.c.200.16). Soares resigned in 1978, in the midst of the dire economic conditions that followed the end of the Estado Novo and the loss of Portugal’s colonies, but would lead the country twice more – again as Prime Minister, from 1983 to 1985, and as President from 1986 to 1996.

Unsurprisingly for an event of such magnitude and importance, the Carnation Revolution (which is celebrated each year in Portugal as Freedom Day, Dia da Liberdade) has been written about at great length and by many people over the years. Here are some of the University Library’s other holdings regarding the revolution:

  • Revolução ou transição: história e memória da revolução dos cravos (classmark: 585:5.c.201.14)
  • Portugal 1974: transição política em perspectiva histórica (classmark: C207.c.6635)
  • 25 de abril: mitos de uma revolução (classmark: 585:5.c.200.24)
  • A Fita do Tempo da revolução: a noite que mudou Portugal (classmark: C200.b.3780)
  • O abalo do poder … : do 25 de abril de 1974 ao 25 de novembro de 1975 (classmark: C200.d.3298)
  • 579 dias de revolução: (retrato de uma época) (classmark: 585:5.c.95.83)
  • 25 de Abril, episódio do Projecto Global (classmark: 585:5.c.95.79)
  • Questionar Abril (classmark: 585:5.c.95.80)
  • A hora da liberdade: o 25 de abril pelos protagonistas (classmark: 585:5.c.201.5)
  • Portugal 1974: a non-violent revolution : causes, course and consequences of the ‘Revolution of Carnations’, confronted with theoretical definitions of revolution (classmark: 585:5.b.95.2)
  • História do PCP : das origens ao 25 de abril (1921-1974)  (on order, please contact us if interested)
  • Mário Soares e a Revolução (on order, please contact us if interested)

Christopher Greenberg

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