11 February 2011

The Carnation Revolution: When Flowers Replaced Bullets

With the sea change in Egypt one is reminded of other countries that have transformed themselves. Portugal's Carnation Revolution started early on April 25, 1974. After being signaled by the airing of Zeca Afonso's song Grândola,Vila Morena, a group of army rebels drove tanks into the center of Lisbon. The left-leaning military coup was a reaction to the authoritarian dictatorship Estado Novo that was installed in 1933 by António de Oliveira Salazar (1889-1970).

Salazar was conservative, pro Roman Catholic and opposed to liberalism, socialism, communism and anti-colonialism. Because of him, Portugal was led into the unpopular Portuguese Colonial War fought in their African colonies between 1961 and 1974. Opponents of Salazar were persecuted by the secret police who used torture, imprisonment and death to repress elemental civil liberties and political freedoms.

Marcelo Caetano (1906-1980) replaced an ailing Salazar as prime-minister in 1968. Although Caetano made some attempts to soften the severity of the Estado Novo, he was ultimately an authoritarian who did not understand democracy. The Portuguese people wanted civil rights, freedom and an end to the Colonial Wars. On April 25, the Captains of April took over the airport, television and radio stations. Citizens placed red carnations in the soldiers' rifles to symbolize change without violence.

The day is celebrated for bringing democracy to Portugal and independence to their African colonies. Portuguese street artist Adres depicts a soldier firing red carnations into the air. Spanish painter Juan Pantoja de La Cruz's (1553-1608) beautifully severe portrait shows a young boy holding a single red carnation.


  1. wonderful! the imagery reminds me of the flowers being tucked into the guns in people's park. unfortunately that didn't turn out nearly as well.
    thanks for this post!


  2. Thank you Lynne, It was spontaneous that the civilians came out to join the rebel army even though they were warned not to. The streets of Lisbon were filled with not only the Captains of April but also the citizens and their children. Best, Kendra

  3. Kendra - Always unexpected and interesting!

  4. I had forgotten about Portugal under Salazar. One forgets how Fascist and Communist a lot of Europe remained up almost to the end of the 20th century. I remember when we lived in Amsterdam and it was just after the Berlin Wall had come down I saw a bicyclist loaded down under the biggest back pack I'd ever seen with a DDR plate on the back. He'd biked all the way from what was still East Germany! It moved me to tears.

    The carnation is one of my favourite flowers and one of the most abused by growers and florists. The carnation used to be so scented and a bunch could fill a room with a delicious smell for days - much in the way fresias did but are now beginning to lose their scent.

  5. Thank you Blue, I so agree about the maligned carnation, I remember how peppery they would smell. I'm sure those red carnations of freedom had an exquisite fragrance. I once read an article about Salazar that I cannot find now, that he sent vast numbers of Lusitano horses to slaughter because he felt they symbolized the aristocracy. I couldn't find information to verify this but the image has never left my mind just like your bicyclist has never left yours. Best, Kendra

  6. I love this! Yes, we need more Carnation Revolutions!!!


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