Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Carnations ... And A Song

Carnations and a song are the watermarks of the Portuguese "Carnations Revolution", which on April 25, 1974, ended Europe´s longest standing dictatorship.

On May 28, 1926, a military junta had taken over through a military coup and implemented an authoritarian regime of fascist inspiration. In 1933, Oliveira Salazar came to control the country (he was to stay in power for over half a century, until 1968), and the regime renamed itself Estado Novo ("New State") - a name which remained until the "Carnations Revolution".

The regime of Marcello Caetano, who succeeded Oliveira Salazar in 1968, successfully annihilated all attempts of political reform. Torture, repression and censorship of the press were trademarks of the Estado Novo, and independent trade unions were prohibited. The military secret police persecuted opponents of the regime, and although there were formal elections, both the opposition and foreigh observers accused the government of electoral fraud and Caetano of not being impartial.

In addition, the regime was determined to keeep Portugal´s colonies beyond the 1960s despite growing independence movements, and against the pressure from the United Nations, because the maintenance of a colonial empire was part and parcel of the Estado Novo´s ideologues historical vision.

The necessity to spend huge amounts of money for war in Africa in order to maintain the colonial status against increasing resistance (which cost the Portuguese state almost 40% of its annual budget), as well as the Estado Novo´s economic policy of Corporatism contributed significantly to the impoverishment of the Portuguese economy.

On April 25, 1974, parts of the military uprose against the regime. On April 24, 1974 at 10:50 p.m. local time, the Portuguese radio played the love song "E depois do adeus" ("After the farewell") by Paulo de Carvalho, which was the secret sign for the insurgent troops.

However, the song which really came to be associated with the revolution was "Grândola, Vila Morena" ("Grândola, tanned city"), which had been banned by the regime. On April 25, 1974 at about 0:30 a.m. local time, the radio host of the catholic radio read the first verse of "Grândola". This was followed by the song sung by antifascist songwriter Zeca Afonso. This was a clear sign for the Portugues population - although at that point they had no idea what for.

For the insurgent military units the verses were the sign for the begin of the armed uprising. 18 hours later, the Movimento das Forças Armadas (Movement of the Armed Forces) had overthrown Europe´s oldest dictatorship. The revolution had been almost without bloodshed, save for 13 casualties, caused by troops who remained loyal to the regime and shot upon unarmed demonstrators.

Overjoyed Portugese population adorned the guns of the insurgent troops with carnations, and one of the most famous images from the "Carnation Revolution" was that of a waitress sticking a carnation into a soldier´s gun barrel. That´s how carnations became the symbol and eponym for the Portuguese Revolution.

Happy birthday, Portugal!

An extensive documentation in English is provided by the Universidade de Coimbra´s Centro de Documentação 25 de Abril.

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