Saturday, April 26, 2014


Portugal: The Carnations Revolution, 40 Years On
Mozambique on the coast of southeast Africa that was colonized by Portugal.

April 25, 1974. The Portuguese Revolution was heralded by the transmission of the songs E Depois do Adeus and then Grândola, Vila Morena, an indication that a military coup was under way to oust the Estado Novo (New State) political regime, paving the path for change. Today, the strategists may be satisfied, the idealists horrified.

It is as difficult to pack the last four decades of Portuguese history into an easy-to-read internet article as it is easy to fall to the temptation to take matters out of context and ignore socio-economic, political and contextual vectors which provide a fuller understanding of the broader picture.

Broadly speaking, the Portuguese Revolution of April 25, 1974 was a complete success in that it fulfilled its two immediate objectives: ending the Colonial War which Portugal had been waging in Mozambique, Angola and Guinea-Bissau since 1961 and changing a repressive political regime which had banned the only opposition party based in Portugal (the Portuguese Communist Party, led by Álvaro Cunhal) and which to all intents and purposes, made anti-regime political activity a crime, punishment being carried out by the political police, PIDE - Polícia Internacional e de Defesa do Estado (1945 to 1969) and then DGS - Direcção-Geral de Segurança (1969-1974).

In a nutshell, the Revolution was a Portuguese Revolution, carried out with Portuguese values and therefore it comes as no surprise that the bloodshed was minimal (five people lost their lives and up to 50 were injured) and in a nutshell, the Carnation Revolution (so called because the soldiers of the Armed Forces Movement, who carried it out, had carnations in the barrels of their guns), put Portugal on the geopolitical map of the times, bringing it out of an anachronistic fantasy.

This fantasy was the vision of Dr. António Salazar, Finance Minister from 1928, then President of the Council of Ministers from 1932 until his death in 1970, followed by his successor Dr. Marcello Caetano, a vision of an autarky (economic self-sufficiency) in a Portuguese-speaking world in which Portugal was considered as the Metropolis of a pluri-Continental State, where Angola, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and São Tomé and Príncipe Isles (Brazil had gained its independence in 1825) were not Portuguese colonies, but indeed provinces of Portuguese territory. It was a vision which envisaged full employment, self-sufficiency of goods and resources and which provided a powerful propaganda machine, such as gigantic posters showing the African "Provinces" copied and pasted onto the map of Western Europe, covering most of it, with the slogan "Portugal is not a small country".

This vision neither took into account the geo-political movements of the times, with independence movements gaining ground across Africa and Asia as the European Imperial powers imploded, nor did it entertain the notion that Portugal was isolated from the rest of the world, due to the Colonial War.

Militarily, despite fighting against tremendous odds and powers far greater than Portugal itself, the situation was under control in the two fronts in Angola (North and East), the two fronts in Mozambique (North and West) and in Guinea-Bissau, the Portuguese Armed Forces maintained the capital and the port in operation. However, after 8,827 deaths over 13 years, the Portuguese population and the Armed Forces themselves could not see an end to the prolonged conflict, although military, in 1974, the situation could only be described as a victory.

There were other issues, besides the lack of political freedom. One of these was the backwardness of Estado Novo Portugal compared with the rest of Europe in terms of competitiveness and in terms of Education. In 1974, before the Revolution, the majority of the population had universal access to primary school education and at the age of eleven, families were faced with the stark choice, if there was no middle or secondary school in their area, of supporting the costs of sending the child(ren) to one or else the child was sent to work. The percentage of those holding University degrees was around one per cent.

The isolation of Portugal, the lack of political freedom, the Colonial War, the institutionalized backwardness and maladjustment of political vision to the world in which the Portuguese Estado Novo was inserted, gave rise to increasing tensions which exploded in the military coup of April 25 and the political and economic developments which followed.

To what extent the idealism of the Revolutionaries was achieved, or to what extent their legitimate hopes were dashed, is debatable, yet surely those who carried out the Carnations Revolution had expected, forty years on, far more than what we see today.

And what do we see? Without engaging in political mud-slinging, four decades of governance from the CDS-PP (Conservative), PSD-PPD (Social Democrats, Right) and PS (Socialist Party, Centre-Right), have seen Portugal move away from its cultural and linguistic heritage (the CPLP, or Portuguese-Speaking Community), and then U-turn and try to recover the space but without any practical advantage at all.

The last four decades have seen Portugal enter the European Club but at the expense of being burdened by a massive debt after several bail-outs and at the expense of seeing its industries, fisheries and agriculture sectors financed to destroy themselves, nodding obediently as Lisbon received pats on the head and was called a "good student".

Salaries continue to be risible (the average salary is at most and using the most favourable calculations around 1,000 EURO), in a country where the cost of public utilities has been allowed to rise to unsustainable levels for many families, where rents have risen to a higher level than mortgages, which in turn are extremely difficult to get. The buying power today of the minimum salary is less than what it was in 1974.

The last four decades have seen workers' rights gradually chipped away, to the extent that timetables are more often than not unfulfilled (if a worker dares to go home at 18.00, as it says on his or her contract, there are raised eyebrows or questions like "Where do you think you are going?") and the general notion is that you are lucky to get a job at all, so here are 500 Euros, shut up and be happy.

The last four decades have seen massive political mismanagement, the absence of a sustainable national plan, infantile policies practiced by overgrown schoolboys who belong to the cloistered environment of academic institutions and not out in the real world, the growing control of the lobbies which rule virtually unchecked in Portugal and which dictate policy to a growing and frightening extent in some areas and degrees of party political influence which hinder the workings of the civil service and neuter any attempt at a sustainable national plan.

The last four decades have seen the growth of a new generation of Portuguese, the "nem-nems", (pronounced "nei-ng nei-ngs") meaning "neither-nor" generation, namely young people neither working nor studying, which numbers some 400,000 in a population of ten million and we are not speaking of the 16+ per cent unemployed, according to optimistic estimates which do not take into account several factors, otherwise the figure would be far higher. And when the nem-nems do get a job, it will probably be for some 500 Euros, meaning they will be living with their parents for the rest of their lives.

The optimism in the streets, in the conversation groups, in the popular clubs (tertúlias) in Portugal during and just after the Revolution, in which ideas were shared, in which a wave of enthusiasm to try new ideas of Governance was tangible, was gradually dampened down by the same degree of political mismanagement existing during Estado Novo.

True, in the mid-eighteenth century, when the quantities of gold and silver pouring into Portugal from Brazil and the colony of Sacramento were at their highest, the fiscal income coming to the Crown was at its lowest point. Portugal, at the end of the day, is and always has been a question mark, unfathomable for those who do not know or understand Portugal or the Portuguese.

That is why it hurts so much to see the country mismanaged to a point whereby today it is governed by foreigners and its policies are dictated by foreigners, who have no understanding whatsoever of the reality of the daily lives of Portugal's citizens. Come to think of it, neither has Portugal's governing class. Surely, this is not what the Revolutionaries in 1974 had envisaged for the future of their country 40 years on.

Photo: April 25 Bridge in Lisbon, formerly Salazar Bridge

Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey


No comments: