Portugal Remembers ″Revolution of the Carnations″ | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 25.04.2004
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Portugal Remembers "Revolution of the Carnations"

30 years ago Portuguese army officers toppled the dictatorship of Oliveira Salazar in a bloodless coup known as the "Revolution of the Carnations." Portugal is celebrating the anniversary with mixed feelings.


A peaceful revolution on April 25, 1974 ended years of dictatorship in Portugal.

During the days of Portuguese dictator Salazar, critics of the regime called Fado, their national music, one of the three 'Fs' that helped keep the dictatorship in place.

The other two: Fatima, referred to the Catholic hierarchy, an ally of the regime, and football, a pleasant distraction that kept people's minds off their poverty and stifling oppression.

Dr. Oliveira Salazar, died in 1970, but his regime staggered on in the face of widespread protests from students, workers and an army fed up with a decade of colonial wars in Africa.

Mario Vierez Cervarllo, deputy vice chancellor of New University, Lisbon remembers his teenage days organizing the printing of the anti-Salazar newspaper, Republica. "It (the revolution of 1974) was the most important event of my life," Cervarllo says.

Turbulent times

Since the 1950s, a protest movement in Portugal was gathering speed under the guise of cultural activities at universities. By the 1970s, even most of the army was backing the growing movement against the dictatorship.

"The military forces were the first to see that the situation was not sustainable," Cervarllo remembers.

In 1974, Portugal was still sending young men to their deaths in Africa, to defend its colonies. Eduardo Meshkeranyez, a senior reporter with Diario de Noticias, one of Portugal's daily newspapers was conscripted intot the army as an officer straight out of the left wing hotbed of his university.

"I joined the army in 1973, in summer, exactly when officers were planning the coup d'etat," Meshkeranyez says. "I was amazed that even during the training phase of my conscription, officials spoke freely about the things and others could listen and even participate."

The situation was all the more astonishing given that for so long the control of the regime had been absolute. Salazar sincerely believed that a dictatorship was the highest form of political wisdom.

He blamed materialism and democracy for Portugal's problems. Coca cola and opposition political parties were banned. Apart from the constant threat of imprisonment for speaking out against the regime, virtually every aspect of life was controlled. A special government license was also needed to sell cigarette lighters.

"In 1974, some generals also started taking action against the government. They began printing articles in newspapers, books and you knew that the regime was falling, falling," remembers Meshkeranyez.

Freedom at last

The army then moved onto the streets. The people joined them with flowers Thus the "Revolution of the Carnations" was born. One soldier proudly wrote that he was part of the coup as an officer and a gentleman, with the task of arresting dictators.

Jose Zello, a Socialist MP in Portugal's national parliament remembers the joy of the moment. "It was a big surprise when he heard the news that morning, it was a big joy to us. It was not your typical revolution, there were people on the streets, without shots, without blood. It was a big party."

30 years on Portugal faces challenges

The change for Portuguese was profound and immediate. But, thirty years after the "Revolution of the Carnations", some things don't seem to have changed.

Portugal is near the top of the EU fraud league. Last year, farmers in the country claimed an EU subsidy for tens of thousands of animals. Half of the animals were later found to be ineligible, or not to exist.

Portugal is still one of the poorest countries in Europe. Over the last few years its gross domestic product has sunk behind that of Greece.

The current conservative government of Jose Manuel Barroso is trying to revive the economy by emulating a U.S. style business philosophy - by easing hiring and firing laws, lowering taxes and privatizing state-run enterprises.

But Zello says much needs to change in Portugal before economic measures can begin to have an impact. "I think that the mentality of Portuguese entrepreneurs should also change. They don't like risks."

Portugal rocked by scandal

The U.S. solution may not fit, but the sluggish economic growth underlines a

problem. The Portuguese economy seems unable to fully shed the shackles of the past and a reliance on a heavily-regulated, protected system.

Economic competition can only get tougher with ten Eastern European countries slated to join the EU on May 1.

The Portuguese legal system is notoriously slow, lacks transparency and has been perceived as unwilling to prosecute powerful people. The system is facing its first major test since the return to democracy.

Ten people, among them a man tipped as a future Socialist party leader, two television presenters and a former Portuguese ambassador, have all been indicted in connection with the sexual abuse of children from state-run homes. The abuse has been going on since the mid-1970s.

"Of course it symbolized something rotten in the system, we had the feeling that some people could not be touched by the system," says Zello.

A mixed bag

Many argue for more political consensus on important issues. But at the moment, that's unlikely. Not least because the current centre right government is in coalition with a right wing party that journalist Eduardo Meshkeranyez compares to Jorg Haider's Freedom Party in Austria.

Thirty years after the end of an oppressive dictatorship, there's a lot to celebrate, but there are still a few ghosts from the past to be exorcised.

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