Carnations yesterday and today

Mural of the Carnation Revolution in Lisbon.


A carnation, a rifle and a symbol remained for eternity. It broke out beyond borders, inspiring democratic movements around the world

An unusual action ended up symbolizing the Revolution that transcended borders, created new scenarios and gave rise to new characters. It was supposed to be just a coup against the government, but the population joined in and decided to take to the streets to support the military. Maybe because the Portuguese don't keep many secrets, so the military thought they were acting in mystery, but the population already knew and also supported. The support was perhaps inevitable, after all there was not a Portuguese who did not have a family member who had fought in the colonial war or “fled” from being drafted.

It was spring in Portugal and an unusual scene had taken place in Chiado. A soldier had asked Celeste Martins Caeiro, a “waitress” at a restaurant in the iconic Edificio Franjinhas, for a cigarette. Coup d'état in the country. As Celeste was not a smoker, he offered her one of the cloves that was placed on the end of the rifle. And so Celeste got rid of all the nails, distributing them to the soldiers on their way to the Carmo Barracks. The romantic image was born, which lends meaning to democracy and freedom in Portugal, and which embodies the famous Carnation Revolution.

A Portuguese woman, a soldier, several images, emerged for the Contemporary History of revolutions, in the same way that other characters and popular images made happen in other moments of History. Through her gesture, Celeste Caieiro allowed the creation of one of the greatest symbols of contemporaneity, which stamps the flags of various parties around the world and the Socialist International itself.

A carnation, a rifle and a symbol were then for eternity. A symbol still so strong that even after more than forty years of this Revolution, which is called the April 25th Revolution, it is still present in the great youth demonstrations in 2014, which shook not only Portugal, but the whole of Europe.

The symbol of the April Revolution began when Celeste Caieiro presents a carnation to a soldier who places it on the barrel of his rifle and the gesture spreads. People on the streets are looking for carnations, which soon flowered the paths of the military and the popular. Lisbon at that time had tanks and carnations. A really different landscape. 

Celeste's gesture was a gesture of support, of simple participation, but it demonstrated what the Portuguese people wanted.

Her bosses told her to go home and avoid confusion, but she decided to go see what was going on and took several red and white carnations. 

In a short time he found the tanks and the rebels in Largo do Carmo, after an early morning of negotiations and waiting for new orders.

At that moment, one of the soldiers with whom Celeste was talking asked her for a cigarette. “I never smoked, but at that moment I regretted not having one. I checked to see if anything was open, but it was too early, everything was closed and there was no one on the street.”

“I looked at the carnations and said, I'm sorry, but there were only flowers. I picked up a carnation, the first one was red, and he accepted it. As I am so small and he was on top of the tank, he had to reach out, grab the spike and put it in his rifle”. “I never expected that the carnations would lead to all this, it was a gesture without ulterior motives”.

This gesture took on the dimension we know today, as it spread throughout Lisbon. The rifles didn't fire, and the image became classic. Celeste was part of the crowd of people who took to the streets to see what was happening, but her gesture created one of the great icons in history. The revolution started in the barracks spread far beyond its walls; changed Portugal and interfered in the world.

The scenario of revolutionary Lisbon was marked by people in the streets, by tanks, rifles and carnations. The Portuguese fado, or rather fate, wanted the symbol of this revolution to be the carnation, a flower that had great meaning for the Greeks and Romans, being known as “Jove's flower”, because Jove was the kindest and most admired of the gods. It means "I admire you" or "my heart cries out for you". And it was like this, with this message, that the Portuguese people welcomed the Captains on the 25th of April.

But revolutionary romanticism did not end there. The circumstances in which the Captains' conspiratorial movement took place are profoundly inspiring and their chronology impressive. At 22:55 on the night of April 24, 1974, a military survey was carried out, meticulously constructed by the Armed Forces Movement (MFA), which began with the transmission of the song “E tarde do Adeus”, by Paulo de Carvalho, through the Associados Emissores from Lisbon; the first sign of progress in operations. At 00:20 on the 25th, the military occupying Rádio Renascença gave the second signal, with the transmission of “Grândola Vila Morena”, by José Afonso, and on Rádio Clube Português, at 4:XNUMX am, the first Communiqué of the Movimento das Forças is read Armed Forces (MFA), guiding the population not to occupy the streets.

At that moment, the Captains publicized their objectives consistent with the fall of the dictatorship and the end of the colonial war, with the consequent implementation of democracy. Then the unexpected occurred. Prepared for a bloody battle, the Captains were surprised by the immense support of the population that massively occupied the streets on that April 25th. Worn out by years of democratic resistance and by a deep economic crisis accentuated by the colonial war that began in the 1960s, the regime could not resist the association of the military uprising with popular mobilization, which formed the driving force of the peaceful revolution.

It was the last hours of the 48 years of dictatorship established by the Military Coup of May 28, 1926, and consolidated by a Constitution of fascist nature in 1933. Censorship, political police, repression and torture, propaganda, repressive laws, imperialism and economic isolation marked the years of António de Oliveira Salazar at the head of Power, until he was removed from office due to his fragile health in 1968. In his place, Professor Marcello Caetano took over, who would lead the regime until the historic morning of 1974, when surrounded by Salgueiro Maia in the Carmo Barracks, was deposed and sent into exile in Brazil.

Of course, the process in which the Carnation Revolution resulted is complex, as were the months that followed, marked by the intense ideological polarization present in the European and world scenario of that period. But the program of the MFA – Movimento das Forças Armadas, consisting of the 3 “Ds”: democratize, decolonize and develop, was successfully implemented. In short, the Militares de Abril seized power and returned it to its rightful owner, the Portuguese people. Free elections were called and on April 25, 1976, the Portuguese Republic instituted its Democratic Constitution, still in force, and which was one of the inspirations for the weakened Brazilian Constitution of 1988, tirelessly defended by Brazilian democrats.

The Carnation Revolution broke out beyond Portuguese borders, inspiring democratic movements around the world, including resistance to the military dictatorship in Brazil, a fact immortalized in the song “so much sea” by Chico Buarque.

After living 50 years in the midst of a fascist dictatorship, Portugal reaches 49 years of democratic life celebrating the Carnation Revolution and preparing the celebrations of its fiftieth anniversary in 2024. The Carnation Revolution built “common ground” in Portuguese politics, a deeply committed society with Democracy and the Welfare State, and a country fully inserted in the international political and economic context.

After the budgetary crisis at the end of 2021 that overthrew the government of António Costa, the Portuguese, far from any institutional crisis, went to the polls and gave the prime minister four more years in office with an absolute majority, chasing away the European extreme right that threatened to put the "claws out". With a popular center-right President, the great jurist and constitutionalist Marcelo Rebelo de Souza; and with a center-left Prime Minister, the socialist António Costa, Portugal demonstrates a profound political and institutional balance, which provides the necessary stability for the consolidation of the promising economic and social scenario that is projected for the country.

If the Portuguese celebrate the conquests of April, from yesterday to today, we, on this side of the Atlantic, will have decisive years for democracy and for the economic, institutional and social future of Brazil, we have a reconstruction to be conducted, through which the Fraternity of the Carnations of April, must motivate our hearts towards union and for which democracy always prevails.

The year 2023 is the beginning of a new era in which we believe that the Brazilian people should no longer flirt with authoritarianism. In the celebrations that took place in Portugal, mainly, with the delivery of the Camões prize to our dear Chico Buarque, in his acceptance speech for the award he was quick to establish two distinct times, a (mis)government that passed and the inauguration of a new one of union and reconstruction: “It comforts me to remember that the former president had the rare finesse not to soil the diploma of my Camões prize, leaving the space blank for the signature of our President Lula” (…). “I receive this prize less as a personal honor and more as a disgrace to so many Brazilian authors and artists humiliated and offended in these last years of stupidity and obscurantism”.

We believe that in the coming years, Brazilians will be able to see “in every face equality”, a “land of fraternity”, where “the people are the ones who give the most orders”.

Thus, we join the poet to sing and celebrate, who knows “this land will still fulfill its ideal / It will still become an immense Portugal”.

*José Antonio da Costa Fernandes he is a social scientist, postdoctoral fellow at FGV-SP and director of the Centro Cultural 25 de Abril and Casa de Portugal.

*Renato Afonso Goncalves is a lawyer, professor at IDP-SP and vice-president of Casa de Portugal.

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