Portugal's April 74, the last romantic revolution

Portuguese Carnation Revolution of 1974 was important not only for Portugal's own transformation from a dictatorship to democracy but also for its influence on global perceptions of nonviolent change, decolonization, geopolitics, and democratization.

Apr 25, 2023 - 06:34
Portugal's April 74, the last romantic revolution
Image by CD25A Archives

The Carnation Revolution, also known as the April 25th Revolution, was primarily carried out by a group of Portuguese military officers and soldiers. They were members of the Armed Forces Movement (Movimento das Forças Armadas or MFA), a clandestine organization within the military sought to bring about democratic reforms and an end to the colonial wars in Portugal's African colonies.

A large group of young officers, mostly captains, was discontented with the authoritarian regime ("Estado Novo") created by António Salazar and continued by Marcelo Caetano. The captains were especially worried with the course of the war that Portugal was waging in three African scenarios - Angola, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique, which were fighting for independence.

The revolution took place on April 25, 1974, when a group of MFA officers initiated a coup against the government of Prime Minister Marcelo Caetano. The coup was largely peaceful, with the military taking control of key points in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. The symbol of the revolution, the red carnation flower, came to represent the peaceful and nonviolent nature of the movement.

The coup was supported by a significant portion of the population, including civilians who took to the streets to express their support for the military's actions. The combination of military pressure and civilian support contributed to the success of the revolution.

As the coup unfolded, the authoritarian government quickly lost control, and Caetano surrender. The revolutionaries established the Junta de Salvação Nacional (National Salvation Junta), a provisional government, to oversee the transition to democracy. Over the following months, the MFA played a key role in negotiations, political reforms, and the dismantling of the colonial empire.

The success of the Carnation Revolution led to a period of political upheaval and change in Portugal, ultimately leading to the establishment of a democratic government and the drafting of a new constitution. The military, under the MFA's leadership, played a crucial role in ensuring a relatively smooth transition from authoritarian rule to democracy.


Global Influence

The Portuguese Carnation Revolution of 1974 was a significant event that had important implications not only for Portugal but also for the world. The peaceful nature of this revolution, with soldiers and civilians cooperating and displaying carnations as a symbol of peace, inspired other movements around the world that sought to bring about political change through nonviolent means. It demonstrated that change could be achieved without resorting to large-scale violence or armed conflict.

Portugal had a significant colonial empire, particularly in Africa. The revolution led to a rapid decolonization process, as the new government sought to disengage from colonial conflicts. This had implications for other colonial powers and anti-colonial movements, as it signaled a changing global perspective on colonialism and the right to self-determination.

The fall of the authoritarian regime in Portugal had implications for the global geopolitical landscape. Portugal was a NATO member and had close ties to Western powers, including the United States. The revolution's outcome led to a period of uncertainty about Portugal's future alignments, which was of interest to both Western countries and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

The Carnation Revolution was part of a larger wave of democratization movements that swept through various parts of the world during the late 20th century. Its success added momentum to this wave, encouraging people in other countries under authoritarian rule to push for their own political freedoms. After the Portuguese Democratic Revolution, Spain and Turkey, the two other remaining dictatorships in Europe, quickly turned into democracies as well.

Portugal's shift towards democracy and its desire to integrate more closely with Western Europe aligned with the country's eventual accession to the European Economic Community (EEC), now the European Union (EU), in 1986. The democratic reforms and stability brought about by the revolution were crucial factors in this process.

The Carnation Revolution holds cultural and historical significance within Portugal. It is commemorated annually on April 25th as a national holiday. The event is a symbol of the Portuguese people's ability to come together to demand change and challenge oppressive regimes.

Camila Cienfuegos Member of EA Coordination Team