The Algarve moves right

Franklin Nelson

Undergraduates gathered outside the New University of Lisbon’s Faculty of Human and Social Sciences last month. As traffic sped by on the Avenida de Berna, they used stencils and aerosols to spraypaint red carnations on the bare white walls, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Carnation Revolution.

On 25 April 1974, a band of junior Portuguese officers known as the Movimento das Forças Armadas (Armed Forces Movement), tired of the torpor the country was stuck in and the wars it was fighting in Angola and Mozambique, toppled the Estado Novo (New State) dictatorship. The fascist regime was brought down in a single day and with only four deaths, caused by the secret police (PIDE) opening fire on protesters outside their headquarters.

Within hours of the start of the coup, thousands of people were on the streets: film footage shows boys handing out bread rolls to the MFA, and other young people smiling and running around. Helena Santos was employed by the state as a tax officer. She recalls going to work that day, looking out of the window at the office car park and seeing tanks.

If the revolution that installed democracy after 48 years of corporatism was triggered by the military, the defining image of 25 April soon became one of peace: the red carnation. As they marched through the capital in 1974, Celeste Caeiro, who worked in a restaurant, gave flowers to some of the soldiers. The carnations had been bought to mark the restaurant’s first anniversary but her boss had decided against opening because of the coup. Now in her nineties, Caeiro – carrying carnations – joined several thousand other men, women and children at a rally on the Avenida da Liberdade in the centre of Lisbon on 25 April this year.

In Loulé and Faro, two cities in the Algarve where I spent the national holiday, carnations were everywhere. Loulé marked the day with a formal council session. There was singing by local choirs and a speech by the novelist Lídia Jorge before local politicians took to the podium. Left-wingers and right-wingers spoke of how far Portugal has come since 1974. About 3 per cent of today’s population cannot read or write, down from 33 per cent in the years before the revolution. There is freedom of speech, a free press, and free and fair elections. Unlike under Salazar, a woman can go abroad, use contraception and work without her husband’s permission. A handful of speakers dwelled on how much is still to be done: increase opportunities for young people to stem emigration, curb violence against women and ethnic minorities, and ‘level up’ so the big cities do not leave the provinces even further behind.

Faro’s city council followed a similar schedule of music and speeches, until António Luz, a representative of the far-right Chega party, took to the podium. He described 25 April as Portugal’s ‘original sin’, criticised the way the country had decolonised ‘without glory’ and warned against abandoning ‘Judeo-Christian tradition’. He also cited the great replacement theory and complained about gender ideology. Some people heckled him and others left the chamber, but most remained in their seats even if they (possibly) shut their ears.

Chega, led by a former football pundit, is a serious test of Portuguese democracy, both because it harks back to Salazarism and because it is increasingly popular. The general election in March saw an alliance of right-wing parties form a minority government after nine years of Socialist rule. But Chega more than quadrupled its presence in parliament, winning fifty seats, and became the dominant force in the Algarve. The new prime minister, Luís Montenegro, has refused to enter a coalition with the party, but that principled position may not last.

Though there were only four deaths in Lisbon on the day of the revolution, it came about after the deaths of more than a hundred thousand civilians in Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verdea and Guinea-Bissau during the wars for independence. Portugal’s president, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, told foreign correspondents on 23 April that the country needed to ‘pay the costs’ of slavery and colonial crimes. Chega quickly accused Rebelo de Sousa of a ‘betrayal of the Portuguese people’ and called an emergency debate in parliament that was opposed by all other parties, but Montenegro’s administration waited until 28 April to respond, saying it had no plans to pay reparations, in line with ‘previous governments’. Rebelo de Sousa had doubled down the day before, telling journalists that Portugal had to ‘assumir a nossa historia’ (‘take on our history’). But not long afterwards he seemed to be trying to walk back his remarks, arguing that co-operation with former colonies was a form of reparation already in action.


  • 19 May 2024 at 9:01pm
    David Lobina says:
    The Estado Novo regime was many things - a dictatorship, corporativist, nationalist, etc - but to just call it 'fascist' tout court is bad scholarship and simply manipulative.

  • 22 May 2024 at 12:31pm
    Ben Carver says:
    Why was the title not "Al(garve) the right moves"?

  • 22 May 2024 at 12:34pm
    Ben Carver says:
    To be more serious, I lived in Lisbon from 1999 to 2001. It wasn't unusual to overhear the older generation regretting that Salazar had been overthrown. I thought at the time that that generation would be the last to hold sentimental views about the regime.