Today, April 25th, we have a holiday in Portugal. No, not another religious holiday: it’s the celebration of the April 25th 1974 revolution, also known as the “carnation revolution”, and which put an end to a 48 year long right-wing regime. As you can imagine you have plenty of online information about this day, but let me just give you a quick recap.
On April 24 1974, at 10:55 p.m., the song “E depois do adeus”, by Paulo de Carvalho, was played on the radio. This was the first secret signal by the MFA (Movimento das Forças Armadas / Armed Forces Movement) telling the military rebels to stay alert. The song was chosen simply because it was mainstream and famous at the time, so it wouldn’t seem suspicious.
A few hours later, on April 25th, at 12:20 a.m., Rádio Renascença broadcast “Grândola Vila Morena” by singer/songwriter Zeca Afonso, who had been banned from having his songs played on the radio. This was the second secret signal indicating that the coup would, indeed, go ahead.
Shortly after that, tanks rolled into Lisbon. The airport, radio and television centres as well as the Salazar Bridge (over the River Tagus) were seized by the MFA.
A Lisbon florist named Celeste Caeiro had plenty of red carnations to sell on that day, but she gave them away to the soldiers and civilians on the streets, as a way of celebrating. This is how the red carnation became associated with the revolution.
Despite being a coup led by military forces very few shots were fired and, all in all, it was quite peaceful if you take into account all the details. If you wach the videoclips above you’ll see plenty of photos of the military in Lisbon and you’ll see the crowds of people and even kids side by side with soldiers.
Political prisoners were released and a (too) quick programme of decolonisation began, with Mozambique, the Cape Verde Islands, São Tomé and Príncipe, Guinea-Bissau and Angola becoming independent over the next few years.
Obviously life in Portugal didn’t go from grey to pink overnight and the following years would prove difficult. Still, there was now a kind of freedom there hadn’t been before, which included the freedom to… write on the walls!
Mainly associated with anarchists these writings on the walls spared no one, criticising both the left and right wing parties. Although some were just plain offensive, most were funny and became quite popular well into the mid-80’s. Ask your Portuguese friends/family who are at least in their mid-thirties and I’m sure they’ll know a few of the phrases I’m showing here. One of the reasons why they became so famous was because these phrases were not only funny but they echoed the feeling a lot of people had towards politicians: they all want a slice of the cake and care very little for the people.
So today I’m bringing you some pages from a book published in 1975 called “O livrinho vermelho do galo de Barcelos”, which my mom bought at the time. The title is a joke on Chairman Mao’s “Little Red Book” (“livrinho vermelho”) but in the Portuguese context (“galo de Barcelos“). They published only 500 copies and the truth is the book is a wonderful portrait of that time in Portuguese history.
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