I was fortunate to be in Lisbon, Portugal on 25th of April this year (2022). It was the day Portugal celebrated its 48th Liberation Day. This is the day in 1974, in what is known as ‘the Carnation Revolution’, some left-wing divisions of Portuguese Army rose up against the authoritarian, repressive military dictatorship, overthrew it and restored democracy.
The fascist dictatorship, called the Estado Novo (New State), was established by a coup on 28th May 1926. It was the longest dictatorship in Europe. While António de Oliveira Salazar was President for most of this period – from 1936 to 1968 – the dictatorship continued with Marcello Caetano, who held power till the liberation.
The special significance of this year – the 48th year since the restoration of democracy – is that the dictatorship lasted for 48 years: so, from this year onwards, Portugal will have been under a democratic system for longer than it was under dictatorial rule.
The carnation has a special symbolism for the revolution –
“The Carnation Revolution is so called because of its relatively peaceful nature. Flower sellers in Lisbon donated carnations for soldiers to insert into the barrels of their guns. It is said that the idea originated with one Celeste Caeiro in a restaurant in Lisbon. She began to hand out carnations from the restaurant, and the idea caught on” – Algarvedailynews.com 24-April 2019
In Lisbon, the annual day’s celebrations are marked by different events throughout the city but the main one is the parade through Avenida de Liberdade, the tree-lined, wide avenue and most important street in Lisbon. It was an emotional experience to watch the parade.
The previous day, my girlfriend and I had visited the Museu do Aljube, which used to be the prison in Lisbon, where anyone who the military dictatorship deemed a threat was imprisoned and subjected to the most inhumane treatment. The prison, now a museum, contains exhibits that depict the means the Estado Novo used to surpress any form of dissent, including torture, eavesdropping, coercion, surveillance and an informing network. It also contains a few shockingly tiny prison cells the prisoners were put into.
The atmosphere surrounding the Liberation Day parade, in which a lot of people take part is one where there seems to be a feeling that the democracy and the democratic institutions they now have and the liberal order that now exists, should be celebrated, protected and defended. As in Emily Dickinson’s poem ‘Success is counted sweetest’ -where success is valued most be someone who has lost it – the value of a democracy, its democratic institutions and a liberal way of life are cherished most by people who don’t have it or have lost it. This is what we now see in Ukraine and Hong Kong, and why people there fight so hard for democracy.
The Museu do Aljube isn’t just for tourists from outside Portugal to visit and get a feel for what it was like to live under an authoritarian form of government but to remind future generations of Portuguese about what the country went through and never to let it happen again.
“Portugal plans to turn a notorious prison where anti-fascist activists were once beaten and tortured into a museum to help ensure that the memories and experiences of its ageing survivors do not die with them. And as support for far-right groups grows across Europe, the survivors say it is vital that younger generations learn about their suffering under Antonio Salazar, Europe’s longest serving right-wing dictator.” – Catarina Demony, Reuters.com 29-April-2018 (on another notorious prison in the town of Peniche, about 100kms north of Lisbon)
Britain, fortunately, never went through the experience of a fascist regime. Maybe because of that, many people in Britain don’t seem to realise the growing threat to the liberal world order, nor to established democratic norms in this country. The current Johnson Government becomes ever more authoritarian with the introduction of repressive and undemocratic measures, such as the Police, Crime and Courts Act 2022 and the new Asylum bill, the proroguing of the Parliament et al, there sadly isn’t enough appreciation in Britain of why these developments are so troubling and the importance of opposing them. British people need to look at the lessons from Portugal and wake up to the dangers that now beset our democratic way of life