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The 1974 Revolution: a look back

THE 1974 REVOLUTION: A LOOK BACKSo much has changed in Portugal since the revolution 49 years ago, and even the revolution itself will be better understood with a special study to be published as part of next year’s historic 50th anniversary.

Here we glance at events before and since the coup d'état that have brought about profound political, economic and social changes beyond all possible pre-revolution recognition. The Portuguese now live in a decolonised, democratised and developed nation. Long gone is the African empire that made Portugal a world leader.

The dictatorships of António de Oliveira Salazar (1932 -68) and Marcello Caetano (1968-74), who had insisted on continuing many years of colonial wars in Africa while turning their backs on Europe, are but distant memories. No longer is Portugal going it alone globally.

In a way, the dramatic event in April 1974 was sparked by a book: Portugal and the Future by General António de Spinola, the Portuguese army’s second in command. He strongly criticised the government’s African policies. The book was quickly banned, but for the authoritarian politicians it was too late. Modern times were on their way.

The imperial legacy that eventually emerged some months after the military coup on the morning of April 25th meant a pluralistic liberal democracy and a socialist state. Elected officials, not the armed forces, were to take control.
They did, but there were years of confusion and inept governance involving the far left, far right and centrist parties. The centrist-socialists, who eventually prevailed, are still the main parties today.

Once Portugal had a majority government in the 1980s it was able to forge ahead with focus on economic growth and attracting foreign investment as it was then within the European Economic Community. Major improvements were made to such things as neglected infrastructures, medical facilities and rail networks.

The 1990’s brought a period of declining growth, a slump in foreign investment and a sharp drop in employment. Redundancies and wage freezes were further complicated by tourists spending less money during their visits. Strikes and worse - allegations of political and business corruption – were other serious setbacks.

The political turmoil of the 70s and 80s, together with the economic problems of the 90s, are almost forgotten history. Of course, various problems persist. They always will in Portugal and everywhere else, but the sense of social security and stability is strong, as is the crucial relationship with the European Union.

The journal Lusotopie is asking researchers to contribute to a special 2024 issue on aspects of the revolution that have been understudied. Preparations have already started to produce this 2024 in-depth review. The journal wants abstracts to be submitted for proposed articles by September this year. The abstracts may be in Portuguese, French or English.

Meanwhile, at least one thing is crystal clear from the pre-revolution era: Portugal is no longer a war mongering state. It is on good terms with its former colonial territories. Taking its lead from the way members of the public placed carnation flowers in the barrels of soldiers’ guns on the 25th April, 1974, this is one of the most peaceful nations on the planet.


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