The Carnation Revolution. Causes, Process and Consequences

Term Paper 2013 11 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Region: Western Europe


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. The Prehistory of the Carnation Revolution
2.1 Estado Novo and António de Oliveira Salazar
2.2 Economical and social minus development
2.3 Colonial Wars
2.4 The summarized causes for the revolution

3. The transition to democracy
3.1 The ongoing revolutionary process
3.2 The political development after 1975
3.3 The final consolidation of democracy

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography


Nobody could have thought when on Thursday, April 25, 1974 in Lisbon, shortly after midnight the catholic Rádio Renascença played the song Grandola Vila Morena, it would lead to such consequences. The song was the signal for the young military officers of the Movimento das Forcas Armadas (MFA) to carry out the plans for a coup d’état. Only minor resistance from the security police occurred, so that by late morning the crowds were flooding the streets, cheering the soldiers, and putting carnations in the barrels of the rifles. The coup was efficiently and successfully and still on the same day, the deposed dictator Marcello Caetano surrendered to the new military leaders and already the next day flew into exile. This coup d’état marked the death of the oldest, over 40 years old dictatorship in Europe, lead by António de Oliveira Salazar (Ferreira, 1986).

On the one hand marked April 25 the beginning of transition to democracy in Portugal and later even lead to a consolidated democracy. On the other hand this day marked the beginning of the third wave of democratization. The fall of communist regimes in Eastern Europe, the breakdown of the Latin American authoritarian regimes followed after Portugal brought the ball rolling. And the snowball effect influenced many other authoritarian regimes in the world to democratize as well. States like Spain, Brazil and Hungary were to follow the example of Portugal.

It is the aim of this paper to analyze what the causes were, that lead to the revolution, how the process of the transition occurred and what the consequences of April 25 were.

2. The Prehistory of the Carnation Revolution

For classifying and understanding the events of the 25.04.1974 it is important to have some historically previous knowledge about political, social and economic aspects in 20th century Portugal. The following parts will introduce into the prehistory of the Portuguese revolution, especially of the Salazar regime, and will try to explain the causes for the transition to democracy in contemporary Portugal.

2.1 Estado Novo and António de Oliveira Salazar:

In 1910 the First Republic of Portugal was proclaimed. But the following years were more characterized by politically instability than by a good working democracy. Hence, in 1926 became General Òscar Caromona through a military coup President. It was him, who two years later appointed the young professor for economics António de Oliveira Salazar to be minister of finance. The striking economically success Salazar had, brought Carmona to name Salazar in 1932 Prime Minister. In 1933 a new constitution by Salazar was established, this date could be seen as the real beginning of the Salazar dictatorship and the Estado Novo (Schell, 2007).

With the constitution from April 11, 1933 Salazar managed it as Prime Minister to install an authoritarian-corporate regime that should last more than 40 years. The people directly voted the President for a seven-year term and he appointed the Prime Minister, a one-party-system with the only party União Nacional (UN) was installed. That way, Salazar created an authoritarian-regime with the role model of the fascist state of Italy. Apart from that, strikes and workers´ trade unions were forbidden, as well as a brutal political police, the Polícia Internacional e de Defesa do Estado (PIDE) was created, that is to say a strict censorship characterized the Estado Novo. The striking fact about the Estado Novo is, that Salazar governed the state the whole time only as Prime Minister and not as President. Nevertheless, at no time Salazar managed to install mass movements in Portugal. All attempts, via UN or through Legião Portuguesa as well as through youth and women organizations never led to the desired result of mobilized masses. Hence, the ideologically mainstay of the regime was the Catholic Church, who paid its part to strengthen the stability of the regime (Costa Pinto, 1991).

All opposition movements were strongly oppressed, so that an opposition until the end of the 1950s nearly did not even appear. Only in 1958, with the president´s election a first sign of the weakening of Salazar´s power could be seen. The military were the only institution Salazar feared. Indeed, General Humberto Delgado who lead the opposition could not win the president elections in 1958, but he obtained significant results, this marked the first step towards a new political climate in the Estado Novo (Costa Pinto, 2005).

2.2 Economic and social minus development:

When Salazar took over the power, Portugal could be classified as an underdeveloped country and lacking far behind the other western European countries. Most people were employed in the primary sector. There was nearly no industry, only textile industry made an important part of the GDP. Apart from that, communications were inadequate, medical services poor, infrastructure bad and the illiteracy rate was high and widespread. One can say that Portugal missed the industrial revolution (Robinson, 1979).

Salazar as a studied economist, in fact tried to improve the economy and social development and to catch up his forerunners. But one can say that the anti-modern dictator Salazar was not fast enough to lift the country from the bottom end of Europe in terms of economy and social development. Salazar did not manage to improve Portugal´s position relatively to others. The differences between urban and rural regions maintained. While rare population, strong religiosity, high infant mortality and death rates and a high level of illiteracy characterized the south, was it the north, where a growth of a middle class could be observed (Goldblatt, 1997).

In the 1960s, Salazar could not resist of liberalizing and opening the country to foreign investments. Portugal became one of the founding members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). This membership had an important consequence in the immediate future, since it initiated the process of opening the Portuguese economy up to the rest of the world. During these years the colonies lost of importance for the Portuguese economy and were replaced especially by Europe as trading partners. With the membership in the EFTA and a liberalized economic policy, Portugal underwent a qualitative leap in modernization. So replaced the tertiary sector the primary sector in its leading position according to employed people, and Portugal made a step towards a post-industrial country. The national per capita income grew between 1960 and 1973 on average at 6.5% per year. This marks one of the highest economic growths of Portugal in history. But the higher living standards, better medical facilities and greater educational opportunities that went along with the economic growth during the 1960s, almost only could be recognized in the both urban areas of Lisbon and Porto. Nevertheless, Portugal of these years, although it underwent some modest modernization, still can be described as a backward and poor country in relations to the other western European countries (Barreto, 2005).

2.3 The colonial wars:

In the 16th century, Portugal started to discover the world and so established colonies in Africa, Asia and South America. But as many other colonial empires did the Portuguese also oppress the peoples of the territories under Portuguese administration. So was it in 1961, that after some rebellions in Angola the colonial war broke out and swept to Guinea and Mozambique. Only in 1974, after the coup d’état the wars should end. The Estado Novo was shocked by the outbreak. Although the militaries, especially General Spínola commander-in-chief in Guinea, recognized early in 1968 that these wars were lost. Spínola´s book “Portugal and the Future” should have warned the dictator, since it was an indication of the seriousness of the crisis in Africa. Nevertheless, the Salazar regime wanted to win these hopeless wars and so did the war cost more than one-million dollars and thousands of lives of young Portuguese soldiers (Kiesenhofer, 2010). Maxwell summed the viewless situation in Africa for mainland Portugal up:

“A backward, isolated nation of a little over eight million people which was struggling to industrialize could not go on committing 50 percent of national expenditure to military operations and supporting an army of 170.000 […]” (Maxwell, 1995).

The tensions between the prime minister and the army grew due the hopeless fighting in colonial wars. Especially under the young officers lead it to a growing dissatisfaction. In fact, the bottom line of Salazar´s policy is that only one successful opposition could come about: inside the armed forces. Thus, the regime was only tolerated by the military and finally it was them who should start the coup d’état (Maxwell, 1995).



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Nelkenrevolution Carnation Revolution Portugal Revolution Konsoldierung Demokratie



Title: The Carnation Revolution. Causes, Process and Consequences