The word “Revolution” beckons thoughts of bloodshed, popular uprising, violence, and the ultimate need for change.
A peaceful and bloodless revolution is sometimes considered an ideal, albeit unreachable, possibility. It was 38 years ago in Portugal that it became a reality.
The story starts in early XX Century when the old ways of monarchy were abandoned in favor of a republic. A coup d’état saw this end not much longer, and Portugal joined many other European nations in the ways of dictatorship and fascism. It was called the “New State” and it imposed itself using the usual fascist weapons of censorship, military enforced strict laws, a secret police dealing with “undesirables”, and rigged elections. As a part of NATO this regime was only tolerated because it was opposed to communism (as most other dictatorships at the time, in Germany and Italy for example). The strict control over economy and expenditure meant at first the country was growing and benefiting from the creation of companies and conglomerates, as well as by the imports of the overseas colonies, like Angola and Mozambique. There had always been a good relationship between the ‘mainland’ and the colonies. However by the 60s, both blocks of the cold war wanted to gain favor within these territories. Guerrillas funded by the US and Russia started battling local control with the colonists, which started wars in almost all the territories, stretching Portugal’s military thin and demanded an increase on the budget. Conscription for these wars forced many young men to flee the country. In later stages, a plan was to be introduced where conscripted officers would attain the same rank as those who formed in a proper military academy, after some service overseas. This pissed off the high rank of the military, which in a military dictatorship, was not good news to the regime.
By 1974 the left winged officers of the military along with other officers who supported a return to democratic process and freedom formed a conspiracy code named “Movement of the Armed Forces”. The idea was to remove the leader of the regime at the time, Marcello Caetano, before he could implement his reforms to the military, including the removal of General António de Spínola.
There were two signals for the revolution to start. In the eve of the day, the song “E depois do adeus” gave the Armed Forces Movement the signal that it was time to start moving. By midnight, early in the 25th of April of 1974, another song by a singer/song-writer Zeca Afonos, who’s songs were forbidden in Portuguese radio, started playing, giving the revolutionaries the signal that it was the point of no return. The revolution was do-or-die. The song, emblematic to this day, is called Grândola, Vila morena.
The wide spread support of the military meant there was little to no resistance from the regime. During the course, the radio told people to stay safe at home. However several thousand people came out in support of the revolution. Carnation flowers were put at the end of the barrels of the guns, as well as the military uniforms. No shots were fired, the regime surrendered six hours later. It was proven that when enough discontent is present, a bloodless revolution can indeed happen.
The country stayed in turmoil in a transitional period, for about a year. A new constitution was signed and the first truly democratic elections were held a year after the fact.
The new republic was completely against the war overseas. Soon, talks of decolonization with the former overseas territories started. They are now independent countries which keep close ties and relation with Portugal and among themselves, joined by a common language but different cultures.