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Carnations and Revolution

Giant Liberdade banner over a shop.

Carnations and Revolution

Several times during our travels over the past few years, we’ve found ourselves amidst unique events, protests, and celebrations, from war protests in Geneva to transportation strikes in Paris and Fashion Week in Milan. 

We felt fortunate to be in Portugal for the 50th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution, when the Portuguese overthrew their long-standing fascist regime. Our new friend, Renee, was staying with us before embarking on the Camino de Santiago with Esther, a mutual friend. Renee hadn’t experienced the magic of Porto, so we decided a stroll through old-town Porto was in order. The timing was excellent, as we were able to experience this national holiday with locals and tourists alike. Following the city’s parade, we saw dance performances in front of a sculpture of Almeida Garrett (a revolutionist and leader in Portuguese Romanticism) and, framed by the Porto City Council building. We also listened to the opening songs at a nearby public concert and saw red carnations everywhere.

Almeida Garrett was a revolutionist and leader in Portuguese Romanticism.

A peaceful revolution

Also known as the 25th of April Revolution (25 de Abril in Portuguese) or the April Revolution, it occurred on April 25, 1974, marking the end of the Estado Novo regime. In power since 1933 under the leadership of António de Oliveira Salazar and later Marcelo Caetano, the regime was characterized by authoritarianism, censorship, political repression, and economic stagnation.

On the morning of April 25, the Armed Forces Movement (MFA), a group of military officers, launched a coordinated coup. With the support of the civilian population, they took control of key locations in Lisbon, including radio stations and strategic points. The revolution unfolded relatively peacefully, with minimal violence compared to other revolutions.

Paper carnations adorn the fence
along the elementary school.

A combination of factors triggered the revolution, including dissatisfaction with the colonial wars in Africa, economic hardships, and a desire for political freedom. The military, particularly younger officers, played a crucial role, with their growing disillusionment with the war effort in Portuguese colonies like Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau, which drained resources and led to significant loss of life.

One of the most iconic moments of the Carnation Revolution was the distribution of red carnations to soldiers and civilians, who placed them in the barrels of guns and tanks to symbolize peace and non-violent resistance. The image of soldiers with carnations became a powerful symbol of the revolution’s peaceful nature.

From Community Life Magazine: “In order to understand these events, it’s useful to appreciate the very turbulent start to the 20th century that Portugal experienced. In 1910, the centuries-long, decaying monarchy was abolished and the democratic but highly volatile First Republic was established. It was short-lived as a coup d’état in 1926, put in place a National Dictatorship, soon to be followed by the highly repressive New State (Estado Novo) in 1933, led by António Salazar. Nationalist and conservative values were imposed on the population under the motto of ‘God, Fatherland and Family’ as cornerstones. There was strict censorship, and PIDE, the secret police, was ever-present to enforce adherence to the regime by repressive means. The long-lasting colonial war took its toll on a weary population and exhausted the country’s resources.” 

“The peaceful revolution of the 25th of April
changed the country forever.”

The revolution ended decades of dictatorship under Estado Novo and ushered in a new era of democracy and freedom. The day is celebrated as Freedom Day or Revolution Day, with red carnations symbolizing the revolution and a peaceful transition of power.

After the Coup

Signs of the celebration are everywhere, including store displays.

Portugal underwent a transition period following the revolution, known as the Processo Revolucionário Em Curso (Ongoing Revolutionary Process). This period saw the establishment of democracy, political reforms, and social changes, including decolonization efforts in Africa and the recognition of civil liberties and human rights.

Celebrations include ceremonies, parades, and concerts across the country, to remind people of the power of unity, democracy, and the ongoing pursuit of freedom and human rights.

In recent years, there has been a growing emphasis on recognizing the diversity of voices and experiences within Portugal’s April 25 celebrations, including those of the LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities. 

We very much appreciate Portugal’s commitment to equality and inclusion, and we were thrilled to be there for the 50th anniversary of this important day.

Clay has worked with advertisers and marketers to find unique solutions to their business challenges. His insight informs clients’ choices across several mediums, including direct mail, print, branded merchandise and digital advertising.

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