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.