Carnation Revolution

The Carnation Revolution (Portuguese, Revolução dos Cravos) was an almost bloodless, left-leaning, military-led coup d'état, started on April 25, 1974, in Lisbon, Portugal, that effectively changed the Portuguese regime from an authoritarian dictatorship to a liberal democracy after a two-year process of a Left-wing semi-military administration. Although government forces killed four people before surrendering, the revolution was unusual in that the revolutionaries did not use direct violence to achieve their goals. The population, holding red carnations, convinced the regime soldiers not to resist. The soldiers readily swapped their bullets for flowers. It was the end of the Estado Novo, the longest authoritarian regime in Western Europe (but not the last to fall; Francisco Franco ruled Spain until 1975).


In February 1974, Caetano was obliged by the old guard to remove General António Spínola and his underlings as the General tried to change the direction of Portuguese colonial policy, which had become too expensive. The divisions of the powerful elite became visible, at which point the Movimento das Forças Armadas (MFA, "Movement of Armed Forces"), a group of army officers, headed by Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho and joined by Salgueiro Maia, chose to lead a revolution. This movement was born in secrecy in 1973 through the conspiracy of some army officers of leftist tendencies who had been radicalized by the colonial war. Some say that Francisco da Costa Gomes actually led the revolution.

There were two secret signals in the revolution: first the airing of the song E depois do adeus ("After goodbye") by Paulo de Carvalho, Portugal's entry in the Eurovision Song Contest, which alerted the rebel captains and soldiers to start the revolution.

Next, on April 25, 1974 at 12:15 am, the national radio broadcast Grândola, Vila Morena ("Grândola, brunette town") a revolutionary song by Zeca Afonso. This was the signal that the MFA gave to take over strategic points of power in the country and "announced" that the revolution had started and nothing would stop it except "the possibility of a regime's repression".

Six hours later, the dictatorial regime caved in. Despite repeated appeals from the "captains of April" (of the MFA) on the radio inciting the population to stay at home, thousands of Portuguese descended on the streets, mixing themselves with the military insurgents. One of the central points of those gathering was the march of flowers in Lisbon, then richly stocked with carnations, which were in season. Some military insurgents would put these flowers in their gun-barrels; an image which was shown on television around the world. This would be the origin of the name of this "Carnation revolution".

Caetano found refuge in the main Lisbon military police station. This building was surrounded by the MFA, which pressured him to cede power to General Spínola. Both Caetano (the prime minister) and Americo Thomaz (the President) fled to Brazil. Caetano spent the rest of his life in Brazil, while Thomaz returned to Portugal a few years later.

The revolution was closely watched from neighbouring Spain, where democrats and totalitarians were planning for the succession of Francisco Franco, who died a year later, in 1975.

Freedom Day

Freedom Day on April 25 is a national holiday in Portugal, with official and some popular commemorations, though some right-wing sectors of the population still regard the developments after the coup d'état as pernicious for the country. On the other hand, some of the military leaders lament that the leftist inspiration of the uprising has since been abandoned. The carnation is the symbol of this revolution, since soldiers put these flowers in their guns, in what came to symbolise the absence of violence in changing the regime in Portugal — a regime that had been one of the longest single right-wing party regimes of the 20th century.