Colloquium to Celebrate 50th Anniversary of Historic Turning Point

A person holds a gun with a carnation flower in the barrel overlooking a crowd. Image by Qbernardo collection
The Saab Center for Portuguese Studies and Department of World Languages & Cultures is hosting a colloquium to mark the 50th anniversary of Portugal's Carnation Revolution on Thursday, April 25, starting at 2:30 p.m. at Coburn Hall.

By Ed Brennen

On April 25, 1974, military officers staged a peaceful coup in Portugal, ending four decades of authoritarian rule by the Estado Novo regime.
In a show of solidarity, civilians placed carnations in soldiers’ rifles, a gesture that led to the name the “Carnation Revolution.” It marked a significant turning point in Portuguese history, leading to the decolonization of the country’s African territories and initiating a transition to democracy.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution, UMass Lowell has organized a colloquium called “Transitions to Democracy in Portugal and Spain.”  
Presented by the Saab Center for Portuguese Studies in collaboration with the Department of World Languages & Cultures, the colloquium is examining the similarities and differences of the democratic transitions in Portugal and Spain. 
Keynote speaker Maria de Medeiros, a celebrated Portuguese actor, singer and director, will join via Zoom to discuss her 2000 film about the Carnation Revolution, “April’s Captains,” which will be screened at the event.  
Colloquium participants also include António Costa Pinto from the University of Lisbon, a leading authority on the Carnation Revolution; Paul Manuel from Georgetown University, a prolific author on the subject; Assoc. Prof. Daniel Arroyo-Rodríguez from World Languages & Cultures at UML; and Bernardo Pinto da Cruz from the University of Lisbon, who is this year’s FLAD/Saab Visiting Professor in Portuguese Studies at UML.
A person poses for a photo with their arms folded while standing next to a sign for the Saab Center for Portuguese Studies. Image by Ed Brennen
Bernardo Pinto da Cruz from the University of Lisbon, who is this year’s FLAD/Saab Visiting Professor in Portuguese Studies at UML, is among the colloquium speakers.

Pinto da Cruz, a Lisbon native who is teaching a course on Portuguese colonial violence this semester, coordinated the colloquium with Arroyo-Rodríguez and Saab Center Director Frank Sousa. Pinto da Cruz sat down to discuss the colloquium, where he will give a presentation on how the colonial wars in Angola and Mozambique affected the revolution. 
Q. What do you hope to achieve with the colloquium?
A. We have two goals. The first goal is to acknowledge the importance of the Portuguese American community here in New England. The second is to celebrate the revolution, not only academically but also from a cultural perspective, by bringing together people from Portugal and Portuguese Americans. We will be having the Consulate-General of Portugal in Boston, which is supporting the colloquium, as well as Camões, I.P., a public institute that is also a partner. So, this is a big thing for us.
Q. For someone who is unfamiliar with the Carnation Revolution, how do you describe its significance?
A. It was the first democratic revolution to occur in many years, ending a 40-year authoritarian regime of first António de Oliveira Salazar and then Marcelo Caetano. The famous American political scientist Samuel Huntington coined the term “third wave,” and Portugal would be the pioneer of the third wave of democratization in the world. It was a bloodless revolution, at least in continental Portugal, where there were only three or four deaths. But without the anti-colonial wars that were occurring in Guinea-Bissau, Angola and Mozambique at that time, we wouldn't have had the coup d'état in Portugal. The country sent so much manpower to fight these three wars — actually rivaling what the U.S. sent to Vietnam in terms of proportions — so I don’t know that it was a bloodless revolution, when we take that into account. But if we take the definition of revolution as state crisis being accompanied with social upheaval, that restructures the state apparatus and the whole of the society, I think the Portuguese revolution can be considered one of the biggest revolutions of the 20th century in Europe, and that includes the Soviet revolution and the Eastern European transitions of 1989.
Q. How did the revolution transform Portugal politically, economically and socially?
A. One important thing politically was that the communist forces became integrated with the democratic regime. That’s relevant today because we are witnessing the ascendancy of right-wing extremism in Portugal. And one comparison that is constantly made between the communists during the revolution and the extreme right today is that they would be somehow domesticated — as you had with Donald Trump as president — by the institutional checks and balances of the democratic regime. In the case of the communists, we can say that was true. In the case of the extreme right, we don't know. Let's see what happens. Economically, it was a huge advance in terms of sanitary infrastructure and health care. Portugal has now one of the most solid health care systems in Europe. Socially, women’s rights became a very important issue. Women were legally constrained to be the objects of men during the authoritarian regime. And of course, we didn’t have free and fair elections before. So everything was built anew.
Q. What lessons do you think can be drawn from the Carnation Revolution for current struggles for democracy and social justice?  
A. We are living in more polarized societies today than in the past. This is a given. The problem is how to strike the correct balance between demanding social justice and lowering the political temperature in our societies. That's something that I think our revolution became a model for. The proportional representation system that exists today was a direct legacy of the revolution. But how can you maintain and preserve this representational system if you cannot talk to each other? I think the Portuguese revolution is a model to be followed. Even during a revolution, you can integrate people instead of pushing them away. That is, I think, the basis of a democracy that tries to navigate this really difficult time of extremism and populism.