Four decades free

By Carrie-Marie Bratley, in News · 23-04-2014 14:20:00 · 3 Comments
Four decades free

Four decades ago, on 25 April 1974, a military coup ripped the country from a long-enduring dictatorial grasp in what can only be described as one of the most peaceful uprisings in history. It is alleged that no gun shots were fired; instead, red carnations were stuffed down the barrels of guns. Those flowers are to this day symbolic of the Carnation Revolution that brought democracy and freedom to the people of Portugal, and which on Friday this week celebrates its 40th anniversary.

Organised by the Armed Forces Movement (MFA) – military officers who opposed the autocratic regime implemented by António de Oliveira Salazar in 1933 – the Revolution also had the unanticipated widespread backing of the nation.
After nearly half a century of oppression, during the early hours of 25 April 1974, the MFA and its civil supporters took to the streets to take back what was rightfully theirs – freedom and democracy.
There were, according to records, two secret signals that indicated the start of the military coup: first the airing by the ‘Emissores Associados de Lisboa’ the night before, of the song ‘E Depois do Adeus’ by Paulo de Carvalho, Portugal’s entry in the 6 April 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, which alerted the rebel captains and soldiers to begin the coup.
Hours later, on 25 April 1974, at 12:20 am, Rádio Renascença allegedly broadcast the second signal, the song Grândola, Vila Morena by Zeca Afonso, an influential folk and political musician-singer banned from Portuguese radio at the time and whose songs are still played at political rallies to this day.
This was reportedly the signal given by the MFA to take over strategic points of power in the country and mark the start of the revolution.
While the claim that not a single shot was fired is contested – it is reported that four people were shot by the feared PIDE secret police – the uprising nonetheless overthrew the despotic New State regime (Estado Novo) that had weighed heavily on Portugal since the 1930s.
This led to the sudden and rapid withdrawal of Portugal from its African colonies where it had been fighting independence movements since 1961, in what is referred to as the Overseas or Colonial War, and opened the floodgates for the return of thousands of soldiers and Portuguese citizens who had been born and raised abroad, but now had no country to call their own but mainland Portugal. On 15 January 1975, the signing of the independence accord between Angola and Portugal took place in the Algarve at the Penina Hotel, in Alvor (Portimão), in what is today referred to as the Alvor Agreement. Today, both the hotel and the agreement still stand, both unblemished by the passing of four decades.
By granting independence to the likes of Cape Verde, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe, Guinea-Bissau and Angola, the Carnation Revolution in Portugal also triggered a mass exodus of Portuguese citizens from those territories, creating over a million Portuguese refugees who became known as the retornados.

Ironically, forty years later, following the recent downwards economic spiral, a vast number of Portugal’s graduates and qualified professionals are presently turning their backs on their homeland in favour of the former colonies, in search of greener pastures.
However, despite the enormity of the event the Revolution went very much unnoticed in parts of Portugal, particularly in the south.

Speaking this week to The Portugal News author Jenny Grainer, who has lived in the Lagoa region of the Algarve, southern Portugal, since 1968, recalls the days of living under dictatorship.
“I was told before I came [to Portugal] that I would have a wonderful time and was free to go anywhere I liked and talk to whomsoever I wanted to but, to just remember one rule: Never talk about anything political or criticise the way the government runs anything. As long as we respected any form of authority, such as the GNR or Customs officers and especially the secret police the PIDE, we would be OK.”
Salazar’s PIDE police were in fact one of the most dreaded aspects of the regime; appointed as the Estado Novo’s political police, the PIDE – Polícia Internacional e de Defesa do Estado –persecuted opponents of the regime, who were said to often be tortured, imprisoned or killed.
Informants lurked everywhere: “Even the friendly barman at the hotel, the newsagent or the chambermaid might be an informant for the secret police. So a closed mind and mouth were essential for a happy, fun-filled life. We all stuck to the rules and had a great time”, Ms. Grainer recalls.
Reflecting on the day that changed modern-day Portuguese history, she continues: “We lived in the countryside with no electricity so I tuned into my battery-operated short-wave radio and heard on the BBC news that a revolution had happened in Portugal. I told the staff when they arrived for work on our small farm and they hadn’t a clue, neither did most people. Country people were too poor to have radios and it wasn’t announced for days. We got our information through the BBC and passed on to the local people by word of mouth.”
Despite never encountering “any violence of any sort anywhere”, the author recalls that most of the foreigners living in Portugal at the time “were scared that it might get nasty and started selling for whatever they could get.
“It was sad to see as the Portuguese were never a volatile race and here in the Algarve they just carried on as if nothing had happened. If you had money, that was the time to buy,” she recalls.
However, in other parts of the country, such as the Alentejo, attitudes among the local communities did start to change.
“Large farms were taken over by the workers from the rich owners, but although it took a few years they found out that it takes more than manual labour to run a productive farm. Machinery rusted. Trucks wore out and nothing was replaced. Seed wasn’t ordered, invoices remained unpaid and eventually after many years, owners came back and put things together again.”
Meanwhile, in the city, “whoever could, got out of the country grabbing whatever wealth they could carry with them before the secret police could arrest them and slam them in jail. Incriminating papers were being burned and a lot of people were running scared.”
But, Ms. Grainer also remembers a lighter side of the Revolution: “TV announcers had thrown off their restrictive suits and ties in favour of more casual wear, which was their way of showing new-found freedom, but they never really felt comfortable and eventually went back to their habitual formal attire and looked a lot happier.”
Once the dust had settled and transition was in place an apparent sense of ease fell upon the country, which remains to this day: “Life in general was certainly more relaxed and people began at last to understand what democracy was all about, and even if they took a long time to come to grips with the whole idea (and still haven’t got things quite right) I still love Portugal as it is today and learned a long time ago to put up with some of its irritating ways. Nowadays, I complain more about British red tape.”
‘Portugal and the Algarve: Now and Then’ by Jenny Grainer is available for download via websites:, or email:


I remember visiting my family in Madeira in 1969. I was 17 at the time and my brother born in Canada was about 6 years old. We were planning on staying our school vaction July and August in Madeira. When we got to Madeira we had to present ourselves to the PIDE police to let them know we were in the country. They gave my mother and I exactly two weeks to stay never mind our air line ticket was for September. My brother who was not born there, they gave him "carte blanche" stay. I think they were generraly "pissed off' that we had renounced our Portuguese citizenship for Canadian.

by MJFigueira from Other on 25-04-2014 07:21:00

I also remember living in Portugal (Lisbon) before and after 25 April 1974. I was in Lisbon on 25th April and will never forget the events and emotions of that day and the following 1st May 1974. While some of the hopes of that time might have been unrealistic, the Portugal of today is a much better place for most people than in the Salazar/Caetano era.

by Tony French from Algarve on 25-04-2014 12:58:00

In your latest email under the headline “Four decades free” you say “It is alleged that no gun shots were fired”. Shots, albeit not a great shooting match, but shots were exchanged, I know because I was there and was caught literally in the middle of the cross fire. As far as I know it was an isolated incident on 26th April near the Spanish Embassy where (as I understand it) members of the PIED were seeking asylum or sanctuary. On one side of the road there was a number of soldiers and a largish crowd. I was in a car with my wife, six month old son and mother in law and as I approached, without warning, the crowd surged forward across my path so I had no choice but do an emergency stop. Almost immediately there was some gunshots fired from the Spanish Embassy side of the road so the crowd turned round and ran back across the road where I was still stuck. The Army (MFA) returned fire and the crowd simply dropped flat in the road still completely blocking my way. At that time I was truly in the middle of the crossfire and my car was the highest object as all the people were lying flat in the road. It was a case of getting out, so it was a hand on the horn and the foot to the floor and just GO. Fortunately no harm came to me or my passengers nor as far as I know to any of the crowd lying in the road in front of me. A light side of this incident was during the whole of the time a young couple in the crowd were quite oblivious to what was going on as they were engaged in a deep embrace and “snogging” session!

The following days were also unforgettable. I recall the Cervejaria Portugalia in Avenida Almirante Reis re-opening and witnessing what my Portuguese friends told me was the first ever street march and demonstration in Lisbon – an everyday occurrence in London – but completely new in Portugal. Also unforgettable were the sights in the Cervejaria da Trindade in the Rua Nova da Trindade where the soldiers handed round their guns and hats to customers so that they could be photographed with them. Not so clever were sights of people laughing at the Police who had become powerless. And of course stuck in my mind is the song Grandola do Moreina used as the signal to start the revolution. I have so many memories of 25th April 1974 and those times of change but one thing I won’t forget is that I was able to get news of events on the BBC world service before they were given on Portuguese media.

Cliff Snelling

by Cliff Snelling from UK on 24-04-2014 10:31:00
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