The 25th of April is the anniversary of the 1974 revolution that put an end to more than four decades of a dictatorship regime in Portugal.
It also changed my life and that of my family forever and that’s why even after so many years I still have mixed feelings about it, and get emotional when it is discussed.
For me there is a life before that day, a peaceful one, of a happy privileged childhood and endless summer days, a life under the sun. We were loved and felt safe. A promising future lay ahead of us as the fortunes of our family were rising. Occasionally we heard there was some war in the North but as children we felt it was far away, and it was not something that upset our lives.
The Carnation Revolution
Then suddenly, abruptly, violently all our world was turned upside down and we understood we could take nothing for granted, the promising future was there no more and, worst of all, violence became the order of the day and we began to live in fear.
And that was brought by the revolution of 25th April, that began as an uprising of some military quarters who were dissatisfied with their careers and soon became an unstoppable tide that threw down the government and declared freedom. Political parties – forbidden until then – came out in the open, their exiled leaders returning to Portugal ( such as Mário Soares, then leader of the Socialist party and who would be a major political figure in the decades that followed) and the usual revolutionary unrest that necessarily follows these events.
Although this revolution was a “peaceful” one, meaning there were no people killed on that day, and instead of shooting bullets the military wore red carnations in their lapels, throwing them to the people, its consequences brought many excesses and violence, namely in the Portuguese colonies, such as Angola and also in Mozambique where we lived.
The end of a way of life
The revolution was immediately followed by negotiations for independence with the liberation movements. The colonies issue was a hot optic- indeed it had been so for several years. All the other colonial countries had granted independence to their colonies and only Portugal resisted. The guerrilla wars that began in 1961 in Angola and in 1962 (the year I was born) in Mozambique led to a considerable movement of troops sent to the colonies in order to fight the “terrorists”, as the government called the liberation movements. Not even the fact that many citizens who lived in the colonies, with several generations already born there, would like to evolve to a system of autonomy, and then independence, changed the view of the Portuguese government. I remember Granddad telling us that once, when he was a member of the Portuguese parliament representing Mozambique, he and other colleagues had flown to Lisbon to try and dissuade Prime Minister Antonio Salazar of exonerating his Minister of the Overseas Provinces, who was precisely trying to make some changes towards a gradual autonomy. They were ushered into S. Bento Palace one evening for an audience, but the stubborn old dictator would not compromise. Granddad said he listened to them attentively, thanked them for coming, and then proceeded to do exactly what he had in mind.
When the revolution came it was too late for compromise. Granddad and his peers soon realized there would not be an independence for Mozambicans of all races and creeds, but only for the Communist liberation movement, Frelimo. At this point I must say that the communist party had become very influential in Portugal and the political situation was very tense. In 1975 Portugal was on the brink of civil war and the negotiations for independence of the colonies were hurried and did not safeguard the safety of the Portuguese people living there, and much less their assets. Soon almost one million people had to leave their homes, some destitute, some with the clothes they had on, some not so desperate but still deprived of the homeland they loved, all of them deprived of a future they had been promised.
But the revolution brought many good things as well. After a difficult year and a half Portugal became a democratic country where we can truly say we are free. We can say what we want, have whatever religion we choose, we vote freely and our fundamental rights are respected. For me, the most important change brought by the revolution was total equality between men and women in the law. Before 1974, in Portugal women were treated as incapable beings, especially those married who according to the law were little more than the property of their husbands. But of course there were many other positive consequences that gradually opened Portugal to the world transforming it into the country it is today.
I expect these mixed feelings about our revolution will go on forever as far as I am concerned. Whenever I listen to “Grândola Vila Morena“, the song that became the symbol of the revolution, I am immediately transported to those days of fear when we looked out of the window to our garden and prayed that we would not see the mob coming to attack us as they did to so many persons who lived in the city’s suburbs. I remember not being able to sleep as I listened in terror to the smallest of sounds in the night. I remember the anonymous calls to our house saying a bomb was going to explode. The song triggers so many memories of a time we would rather not have lived through.
But then when I look at my boys and see how free they have been all their lives, how many opportunities they have in this country of ours, how we live in peace, freedom and equality, I think it must have all been worthwhile.
As you see, there is no way I will ever decide for, or against, the revolution. Mixed feelings it has been, mixed feelings it will always be.