Portugal marks 50 years since overthrow of the dictatorship amid rise of far-right

One-fifth of those polled in a recent survey hold a good opinion of the days of dictator António de Oliveira Salazar and his successor, Marcelo Caetano

Revolución de los Claveles
Soldiers and civilians celebrate the victory of the military uprising, April 25, 1974.Reuters
Tereixa Constenla

For every year of Portuguese democracy, there is one ultra-right-wing deputy in the Assembly of the Republic. Fifty years and 50 deputies. It is a random coincidence that, nevertheless, exposes the contradiction in which Portuguese society lives today — proud of the democracy it achieved in 1974 and yet surprised by the rise of the disenchanted who at the last elections embraced right-wing populism. April 25 marks the 50th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution, a happy milestone in the gloomy history of 20th-century Europe. The whole country has turned out to commemorate the end of the repression that lasted nearly half a century, following a military coup d’état in 1926.

The dictatorial terror lasted until another military coup was staged to achieve the opposite and bring democracy to the country, in addition to sweeping away nostalgic Portuguese imperialism, which explains why many heads of state of the former colonies are participating in the events in Lisbon. The pacifism displayed by the military officers in the 1974 uprising, added to the civil effervescence that soon turned it into a popular revolution in its own right, gained a groundswell of admiration and worldwide recognition. The program of events to mark the anniversary, which includes lectures, exhibitions, walking tours, historical recreations, concerts, official sessions, and an unusual military parade in the Terreiro do Paço in Lisbon, also features public installations such as the one at the entrance to the municipality of Montijo, where a giant luminous carnation can be seen.

Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, Portugal
The dictator António de Oliveira Salazar, in an undated photo.Alamy/ Cordon Press

One-fifth of Portuguese hold positive opinion of dictatorship

That is why it was striking that last March 10, 18% of Portuguese voters who went to the polls opted for Chega (Enough), a right-wing populist party that has gained considerable support in only five years of existence. These voters may not be the same Portuguese who consider that the dictatorship should go down in history as a regime with more positive than negative aspects, but the percentages are similar. One-fifth of those polled in a recent survey published in the weekly Expresso hold a good opinion of the days of dictator António de Oliveira Salazar and his successor, Marcelo Caetano.

At a dinner with foreign correspondents in Lisbon, Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa preferred to highlight the positive side of the survey: 65% of Portuguese citizens consider the 1974 revolution to be the most important event in the country’s history, ahead of entry into the European Union (formerly the European Economic Community) in 1985; the establishment of the Republic in 1910; the recovery of independence in 1640 after a brief spell under the rule of Spanish monarchs, or the arrival of Vasco da Gama in India in 1498. Appreciation of the events of April 25, 1974, has grown steadily over the last two decades.

Nor has the percentage of Portuguese who regret the benevolence shown to those who carried out the repression of the population ceased to grow. Today, 59% believe that they should have been tried, compared to 51% who thought the same 20 years ago. The evaluation of the changes registered in democracy is almost always positive, especially in health care, standard of living, education, or social security. Only 13% of those surveyed consider that the political process toward democracy is not a source of pride.

The unanimity that existed among the political class regarding the legacy of April 25 has been shattered by the emergence of Chega. Without attacking the date head-on, or displaying open nostalgia for Salazarism, its leader André Ventura has chosen to undervalue its symbolism. “What went wrong with April? That April with which we fill our mouths to say 50 years of April 25. In [Portuguese] homes nobody wants to know about it anymore, they want to know about pensions that don’t go up and increasing corruption. At home, they do not want to know about the carnations or ride in armored cars on Liberty Avenue. At home, they want their children to have a safe school where they are not assaulted on their way. Those who are in Odemira or Beja don’t want to know about April, they want to know about the invasion of immigrants,” he said in the Assembly of the Republic during the plenary session that debated the program of the new government.

In the opinion of the president of the April 25 Association, Vasco Lourenço, the rise of populism also explains the interest aroused overseas by the commemoration. “Suddenly — perhaps because people feel more frightened by the rise of the extreme right and are wary of democracy being questioned — the will to reaffirm April is intensifying. Not only in Portugal, but also overseas. In the Western world, perhaps because of the rise of the extreme right and neo-fascists, April 25 has become a democratic reference,” Lourenço said in a recent interview with the Público newspaper.

Revolución de los Claveles
Citizens cheer soldiers in armored vehicles on April 25, 1974, on a street in Lisbon.Jean-Claude FRANCOLON (Gamma-Rapho/ Getty Images)

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