Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Carnation Revolution


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 “(The united people will never be defeated)."  

" . . . Portugal became a fascination, Debate was very much alive, political graffiti were everywhere and strikes were spontaneous and often political."

" . . . it is an interesting paradox that an authoritarian regime was overthrown by its own armed forces."

"At dawn in Lisbon on 25 April 1974 the leading tank of the spearhead of the amoured columns that slowly moved towards the city center met an old lady setting up her flower stall. She smiled and gently tossed a red carnation at the tank commander and so symbolized a revolution."

Ferreira & Marshall, 'Portugal's Revolution,’from the introduction and the beginning of chapter one.


The Carnation Revolution, was a successful nonviolent up-rising against the ‘New State’ which Prime Minister Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, had nearly single handedly used to turn what was once a democracy into a dictatorship, beginning in 1932.  The conditions under which many people lived in Salazar’s Portugal bring to mind the conditions in Palestine today.  Economic development was strictly controlled, benefiting only those who supported Salazar’s regime, whether they lived in Portugal itself or in one of the African colonies.  Africans living in their homelands were severely discriminated against and could not obtain citizenship status equal to that conferred on Portuguese settlers.  Laws were “passed which allowed the state to arrest and imprison people for an indefinite period in the ‘interests of national security’.” (1)  The lengths to which oppressive regimes will go to for their own benefit and at the expense of other human beings is chilling, indeed.  Torture and political murder were as common then, in the ‘New State,’ as they are in Palestine under Israeli rule today.

Salazar remained Prime Minister for 32 years.  During this time he steadily worked to consolidate his power, while maintaining a bare cosmetic appearance of democracy.  This veneer of illusory democracy is another commonality between Salazar’s regime and conditions in Israel today.  None the less, even though Salazar was recognized as a fascist by the international community, under his regime Portugal became one of the founding members of NATO as well as a member of the United Nations.  The key to this acceptability seems to be Salazar’s rejection of communism and socialism in favor of the elitist capitalism embraced by the West.  Again, we see a parallel with Israel’s fascism towards Palestinian people, and increasingly towards Israeli citizens as well, while it embraces Western capitalism; the latter having ensured its long acceptance by Western powers. 

During the decades of Salazar’s regime, and the seven following years under Prime Minster Marcello Caetano, many tactics were engaged in by those in opposition to bring about change.  They worked from within as members of the military and government infrastructure, by developing political parties and organizations, and by organizing strikes and other symbolic actions.  Opposition was organized by members of the community as well as members of a growing diaspora.  The regime met every attempt to bring reform or to rally the citizens by passing laws that increased oppression and censorship, something we have observed happening under Israeli rule over Palestinians as well.  By 1965, in Portugal, the populace was so “frustrated by the inability to bring about any effective change in the regime, the opposition became increasingly violent.”  (2)  This is often a part of the evolution of resistance movements.  We saw the same pattern in South Africa.  Palestinian resistance has also resorted to violence at times.  The longer and more violently the people are repressed, the stronger they are likely to push back.  Movements against repression that are thwarted in their bid for freedom become increasingly frustrated.  It is up to us, the citizens of the world, to recognize their frustration and to support them through every non-violent strategy we can find.  Ultimately, for South Africa and for Portugal, the resolutions came about non-violently.  We can work and pray for a similar resolution for Palestine.

In Portugal’s Carnation Revolution, it is particularly interesting that the Portuguese Military affected an end to the dictatorial ‘New State,’ without starting a war.  It seems that the military was prepared to start a war if it was necessary to free the nation, the colonies, and the people.  However, when the appointed morning came and the tanks rolled into Lisbon the people marched in solidarity behind the army.  People of nearly every political and ideological persuasion were united in their opposition to repression.  Peace can happen when the people are united.  The dictatorial government fell.  However, what ensued was not some sort of utopian fantasy.

The people of Portugal had many different  ideas about what the new government should look like, how soon changes should be made, and what those changes should be.  There was not only an ideological struggle, there was also a struggle for power and control.  The end result, however, has been an enduring democracy within an evolving Portugal that is forging its way forward as a member of the world’s community of nations.  And for this we can be proud of all those who resisted oppression and were unafraid to dream idealistic dreams. 

Portugal’s Carnation Revolution was led by Portugal’s military.  The very same military that was used to repress the Indigenous people of the colonies as well as those who strove for freedom at home.  The military was, of course, meant to be a tool of the dictatorial regime.  However, who better than the military to see first-hand the effects of fascism on the people, the colonies, and the homeland.  A study of history reveals that successful resistance and overthrow of repressive regimes, and the ending of wars and other hostilities, is often accompanied by solidarity from or within the regime’s own military. 

The Movement of the Armed Forces was born from the spirit and heart of a group of democratic, patriotic and anti-fascist officers who decided to put an end to the long fascist night and to begin, with the Portuguese people, a new march of peace, progress, and democracy . . .” (6)

Here in the US we find there was resistance for the Vietnam war, not just from civilian protestors at home, but from within the military itself.  The government and the media here in the US did its best to hide the military dissent from public view, but we can inform ourselves about it now. (3)  In our ongoing struggles for Peace and Freedom it is important to remember that the human beings that make up military forces are not all ideologically aligned with the regimes and the narratives that they are deployed to serve.  They are human beings, and they can learn and grow and change, sometimes in very surprising ways. (4)  In fact, a quite a few of them could teach us a thing or three.

"I would like to see every citizen have equal opportunities at birth and each select their responsibilities according to their potential.  I believe that fundamental rights such as health, education, housing, social security and work should be assured for all.  The scale of rewards for each individual should be according to their ability.  I am against a political elite and power should be examined openly and there should be constitutional means of changing power, according to the needs of the country.  I think that this is only possible through an extensive programme of decentralization.  Central offices could control major areas such as security and foreign affairs.  But the solution of citizens' immediate problems, culture, housing, work, etc. could all be resolved at an autonomous local level.  Only in this way can citizens participate in the solution of their problems."  Brigadier Pezarat Correia (5)

 This vision of freedom and self determination held by The Movement of the Armed Forces was extended, not just to Portuguese citizens, but also to the Portuguese colonies.  They engaged in a program of decolonization in their overseas territories, even though Portugal was financially dependent on these colonies.  “ . . . ‘decolonisation’ should  continue to be, until it is complete, the principal national objective.(7)  In fact, the through the processes of the Carnation Revolution, the colonies all gained their independence.  Not, however, without effort and loss of their own.  They had worked towards their independence for many years.  Part of that work included educating those who were charged with their oppression. 

It is a question of constructing a society of tolerance and peace and not a society which is subject to new mechanisms of oppression and exploitation . . .” The Movement of the Armed Forces. (8)

Grândola, brunette town
Land of brothers,
Town, it’s the people who give you power.
A friend in every corner,
Equality on every face.
In the shadow of the ageless oak tree,
I swear to choose your power as my companion.” (9)

Jose Alfonso

 From the song, ‘Grândola, Vila Morena,’ played on a Lisbon radio station shortly after midnight on April 25, 1974, signaling that the march for Freedom was about to begin.


Sources and notes:

1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.  Portugal’s Revolution: Ten Years On, Hugo Gil Ferreira & Michael W. Marshall, Cambridge University Press, 1986.  1 pg 7;  2 pg  27; 5 pg 83; 6 pg 269; 7 pg 270; 8 pg 274; 9 pg 30. Highly recommend.  There is lots of food for thought here, in the struggles for Freedom, Justice, Equality, and Peace.  Those involved with nation, movement, or organization building will also find much of value.  Out of print, but most likely available through college or interlibrary loan programs; check with your local library for more information.

3. US military dissent, particularly the ‘Stop our Ship’ movement is discussed here:

4.  More information on military dissent is found in the DVD, “FTA.”  “FTA,” is a documentary centered on Jane Fonda’s alternative military entertainment show staged at various locales around the Pacific Rim during the Vietnam War.  It is very worth watching.  The exact nature and purpose of the “FTA” show was much different than the newspapers claimed at the time, of course.  The movement to end the war, to end genocide, to end imperialism, and to end capitalist exploitation--within the military is highlighted.  A movement which Jane Fonda did not start, by the way, but which she responded to and supported.  Military personnel are interviewed and snippets from their solidarity meetings are included.  One of the resounding themes is how oppressed military personnel are; and how they are therefore inclined to feel solidarity with other oppressed people.  An interview with Jane Fonda included on the DVD discusses the objectification of women as parallel and related to the objectification of military personnel.  Again, this video is very worth watching.  Available by request from most local libraries and other video outlets.  For more information see:  and:

General Information on Portugal in today’s world was garnered from a number of websites, including:

Picturing Portugal:

Our local library system's collection of Portuguese content is impoverished.  However, Cultures of the World: Portugal (by Jay Heale & Angeline Koh), has maps and photos of the regions discussed in Portugal’s Revolution: Ten Years On.  It is a young adult publication. It does, however, provide a brief introduction to the culture and people and it mentions the Revolution and the benefits it brought to the country.

A DVD was the only other offering, PBS's Rick Steves, Best of Travels in Europe: Spain & Portugal.  Hopefully your library system has a better collection.  If not, this selection will expand, only slightly, the view of Portugal offered in Cultures of the World: Portugal.


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  1. We tend to think of people who make up military forces in a sort of flat, caricatured, dehumanized way. Reading 'Portugal’s Revolution: Ten Years On,' began to open my mind to their humanity. The DVD, “FTA” took that education a little further.

    Dissent against the ruling powers also exists in the Israeli military, and in fact, may be growing.

    "It took me twelve years in the air force to realize I’m not fighting for the right side." Yonatan Shapira
    Highlight and then right click to read the article about Israeli pilot who made the statement above.

  2. Military dissent is likely much more of a norm than we might imagine . . .

    "Some Russian soldiers are quitting the army because of the conflict in Ukraine, several soldiers and human rights activists have told Reuters."

    Highlight and then right click the URL to read the article.