40 years of flower power – the Carnation Revolution

Friday was the 40th anniversary of the “Carnation Revolution” that took place in Portugal in 1974. Portugal might be a small country but the revolution had implications far beyond its borders, most notably in what were in those days its colonies in Africa. Portugal could no longer afford to keep fighting to retain its colonies, and after it pulled out of them in haste, civil wars broke out in Mozambique and Angola as various factions (some backed by the Communist countries, others backed by the West – this was the era of the Cold War, remember) tried to get control. These civil wars dragged on for ages, as did the guerrilla/liberation wars in other parts of southern Africa, where I was growing up at the time. It was an ugly time and, of course, there was a huge cost to bear in terms of human life.

salgueiro maiaIn contrast, the events in Portugal were relatively peaceful. The revolution got its nickname from the fact that much of the troop movement in Lisbon took place near the flower market, carnations were in bloom at the time, and the flowers were put in the rifles of the soldiers (who, thankfully, did not have to use them in what was largely a bloodless coup) and in the gun barrels of the tanks. The YouTube item above is the trailer to a film made in 2000, Capitães de Abril (The Captains of April), about the event. One of the most famous “faces” of the revolution is that of Salgueiro Maia (pictured), who was one of the captains involved and played a crucial part in its success.

An interesting aspect of the Carnation Revolution, for those who like trivia, is that those planning to overthrow the government chose two songs that were to signal the start of the revolution. One of them I have already mentioned in Ships, saudades, secret signals … the sounds of José Afonso (this is the link) so now it is time to focus on the other.

Yes, it’s Portugal’s 1974 Eurovision Song Contest entry, E Depois do Adeus, by Paulo de Carvalho. The contest was held in Brighton, England, a couple of weeks before the revolution. I would have thought that it might have been dangerous to pick this song, in case some disc jockey played it at random and thus unwittingly started the revolution process. But since the song came joint last at Eurovision (ABBA won with Waterloo) perhaps it had sunk without trace on the Portuguese airwaves come 10.55pm on April 24, when it was played as the first signal, to be followed by José Afonso’s Grândola, Vila Morena, 85 minutes later.

This Eurovision footage comes from German television, I think, and offers some of scenes of Lisbon in the 1970s followed by Paulo’s performance. It’s not a bad song – if you like the big-band ballads of crooners such as Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck and Michael Bublé, you will like this too. The title would be translated as And After the Goodbye or Farewell, although in this clip the English title is given as And After Love.

Here is an interesting page that gives all the details of the revolutionary broadcasts and the lyrics to the chosen songs. If you have almost three hours to spare, and want to be transported back to the time of the revolution, below is a TV series A Hora da Liberdade (The hour of liberty) reliving the event. It is full of apropriately tense, nail-biting music. I cannot find a subtitled version of it, but three hours of Portuguese will be really good for your brain. The scene where they play Paulo’s song on the radio comes at 9 minutes and 35 seconds. The second musical signal is played at 12 minutes and 15 seconds.

In the past year or two, a couple of films with global releases have also examined this period of Portuguese history, both in terms of events in Portugal itself (Night Train to Lisbon, see my post about it here) or in Africa (Tabu, follow this link). Hopefully, there will be more.

portugal today

So, looking back now, what significance does the revolution have in 2014? This was a question put to a Lisbon-based academic, Mendo Henriques, by the Portuguese American Journal. The answers are here. And here is a provocative opinion piece from Russian news agency Pravda.

Lastly, for old times’ sake, you might like to look at the BBC News’ flashback to that day in history.



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