On the morning of the 25th of April 1974, a group of courageous army officers known as the Young Captains managed to seize power by overthrowing Portugal’s repressive dictatorship to trigger a new era of democratic progress.
It all began when a song called Grândola, Vila Morena was broadcast on Rádio Renascença just after the stroke of midnight as a signal to the revolutionary armed forces movement – Movimento das Forças Armadas (MFA) – to begin operations against the country’s strictly authoritarian government.
Commanding almost thirty rebel units, the movement swiftly held several strategic points across Lisbon, including the central police headquarters and the studios of the state television station, RTP.
Still regularly played on the radio today, the song Grândola, Vila Morena is a haunting ballad sung by José Afonso (himself a respected member of the opposition to the dictatorship) about a charming town (indicated on the Google map below) in the Alentejo region of southern Portugal where people governed themselves.
Less a coup and more a full-blown revolution, the revolt sparked a frenzy of political rallies, street demonstrations and public debates – all the things that had been forbidden in Portugal for almost fifty years.
It marked an end as well as a beginning because Portugal announced that it was officially abandoning its extensive overseas empire on the 27th of July 1974, little more than three months after the revolution, a decisive act that reduced the nation’s land mass by 95% and its global population by 65% in a single stroke.
The revolution had a striking effect on people’s lives: the regime’s notoriously ruthless secret police force (PIDE) was dispersed, censorship was lifted, financial institutions were nationalised and around four million acres of prime land was expropriated, much of it in the fertile Alentejo region.
One of the main talking points is the small number of fatalities. Despite the chaos, only five people lost their lives throughout the entire country, and two of those deaths were accidental. Rarely in history has an entire nation changed hands in such a short time at so little cost of human life.
The name Carnation Revolution derives from the placing of red carnations in the soldiers’ rifle barrels by the people of Lisbon who purchased them from local shops and markets, and the flower remains a symbol of the uprising and the country’s liberty to this day.
For almost half a century prior to the revolution, Portugal endured an overpowering regime established and driven by António de Oliveira Salazar, whose rise to power in 1932 followed two long decades of political turmoil.
Salazar ruled for thirty-six years until a disabling stroke incapacitated him in 1968, thus forcing the appointment of his successor, Marcello Caetano, who served as Portugal’s prime minister until he was overthrown at the beginning of the revolution, during which he was rapidly driven to the airport in an armoured car and subsequently lived the rest of his life in Brazil.
During the six years that followed the Carnation Revolution, Portugal had no fewer than a dozen different governments, most of which were doomed to eventual collapse, with six of them provisional and another Communist-controlled.
Today, almost fifty years after the revolution that changed the face of modern Portugal, every city, town and village has its own street named Rua 25 de Abril in remembrance of a truly monumental chapter in the country’s long and chequered history
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