Carnation Day in Portugal: generating hope?

Inspector Casino 25.04.2014 23:56 Themen: EU Gipfel Thessaloniki Militarismus Soziale Kämpfe
Portugal is celebrating today its 'Carnation revolution' of 40 years ago. In 1974, initiated by some groups in the army, there was a 'democratic coup' against the decade long dictatorial regime, headed for most time by Antonio de Oliveira Salazar.

Now, it takes some time to understand what really was going on in Portugal. I heard many different stories for what were the reasons of this revolution, because we might ask, in what way was it a revolution? Is this really the proper word?
Portugal is celebrating today its 'Carnation revolution' of 40 years ago. In 1974, initiated by some groups in the army, there was a 'democratic coup' against the decade long dictatorial regime, headed for most time by Antonio de Oliveira Salazar.

Now, it takes some time to understand what really was going on in Portugal. I heard many different stories for what were the reasons of this revolution, because we might ask, in what way was it a revolution? Is this really the proper word?

When people revolt against oppressors, we could call it a revolution, even when the revolters are mainly some officers and soldiers. So, in this sense it might be called revolutionary, although disputable. The next question then is about what were the results of the revolution? Was there a redivision of property for example, was there more democracy also in companies, in the public sector and so on?

Reading, listening and talking to Portuguese people on the revolution is the first thing you have to do. It turns out that the revolt of 1974 was also transferred to politics: the communist and social democratic parties became big and started to battle for control of the country and for which policies to follow.

The communist party, under the leadership of Alvaro Cunhal, tried to redivide the land, especially in the Alentejo region in the southern part of the country. They succeeded for a while to disown big landowners who were controlling the countryside for decades under the dictatorship. As the social democrats were also fighting for the installation for democracy, under the leadership of Mario Soares, but were against land redivisions and communism, there was even a short period of danger of a civil war, at least this is stated by Soares later. The power base of the social democrats was more centered in the northern part of the country, close to Oporto, and it was not that clear what part of the military would choose which side.

In an interview with Dutch politician Frits Bolkestein in his 'The borders of Europe" (2004), Soares gives his interpretation of what happened. He states that the communists were heading for a coup and gained control over Lisbon, among it the airport. Soares' strategy was to block this 'coup', based on the fact that he succeeded in taking away the military airplanes stationed there and to start negotiate with the communists, who had a strong power base at that time, to form a provisionary government. Soares was even threatening with bombing Lisbon, as he states also in the interview. Whether he should be seen as the "father of current Portugal ' as some claim him to be, is then also not undisputable. Who would bomb the capital of his homeland, only lunatics or extremely power driven people willing to sacrifce human life to achieve their goals, not? It could also be a proof of the political genius of Soares, a master in bluffing and a politician of great influence in later years.

The threats of Soares succeeded in the end and a deal was made with the communists. The first government had a strong communist direction though, as was proven by its agricultural redivisions of land in the south of Portugal, which even Soares could not stop and which lasted for around 2 years. In an interview I did with current communist parliamentarian Miguel Tiago, the view is different. The communists see the actions of the social democrats, especially after 1976, in which Soares restored original big landownership, as a beginning of a 'reactionary period' in democratic Portugal, in which the original division of power, land and financial influence was restored close to the times of the dictatorship, except for the fact Portugal now had a parliamentary democracy.

The PCP, the communist party of Portugal, seems to be more into the total dismantling of capitalist society. That means the socialisation of the means of production (so no more private ownership of factories and other productional units, like in agriculture), almost according to classical marxist principles. The PCP is still rather big in Portugal, in comparison to other European countries like France, Italy and also in the north, like in The Netherlands, were the "classical" communist parties almost all vanished. Although these other countries still harbour left wing parties that originate from fusions of communist, pacifist and even maoist movements (like the Dutch SP, Socialistische Partij), the PCP has still 12 seats in the Portuguese parliament.

What all left wing parties in Europe have in common is a critical approach of capitalism and its latest branch, neo liberalism called by some, although liberal Bolkestein says he has no clue what this should mean (the neo of neo liberalism).

Well, to come back to the celebration of Carnation Day in Portugal. it is still a national holiday, for the remembrance of the liberation of the dictatorship, which according to some analysts only crumbled because of its failing colonial policies, for which especially miltary groups paid a hard price in the colonial wars in Angola and Mozambique. According to this vision, the dictatorship failed to estimate in time the new wave of anticolonialism in a proper way.

While other European countries still tried to control economically the former colonies after independence and financed even coups to topple many African president for example (Lumumba, Nkrumah and many others), Portugal was fighting colonial wars as the last former European empire to 'keep its possessions'. Thinkers like Samir Amin analysed the post colonial world which Portugal failed to switch to in time in an interesting way. Also Andre Gunder Frank was an influential thinker with his version of the dependency theory, which is also more based on economic relations within a former colony and internationally with a mother land, that influenced in a great deal the infrastructure of the former colony. According to these visions, the economic dependency relations keep on existing after independence of the colonies. In case of Portugal, though, there started decades long wars for the control over the rich natural resources, mainly in Africa, which from some perspective are still going on till today. The Portuguese were not fighting these postcolonial wars, but more mercenaries financed by the USA and the former Soviet Union and even Cuba. In short the former colonies became the fighting scene by the main opposing powers of that time.

It was not for nothing the Portuguese colonial wars were so ferocious, because homeland Portugal was expected to impoverish greatly after the rich natural resourced colonies would be lost. After the communist take over of 1974 in Portugal it self failed, the restoration brought back the economic barons whose families still have a strong influence in Portugal of today, but not the colonies, as the communists were fierce anti colonialists and the military seemed to be too weary to fight.

In current Portugal income inequality is still one of the highest in Europe. It is not for nothing the intuition of the Portuguese ruling classes was right, decolonization would lead to general impoverishment and the claims for social reform. Although the EU membership in 1986 brought some , Eu subsidized, prosperity, this could not conceal the inherent weaknesses of the Portuguese economy. Portugal being within the EU, even former strong sectors like fishery and agriculture, started to decline, because of European subsidy policies and political deals at an European level which lead to the almost collapse of these sectors in Portugal.

Anno 2014, Portugal is one of the countries in Europe struck most by the crisis, that according to some started in the financial sector. With an unemployment rate of around 17% and a economic policy of austerity, which cuts public spendings, like salaries, pensions, education, health care and many other sector according to a deal made with the IMF in exchange for a loan, the opposition is steadily growing. In the year that I was in Lisbon, I saw the demonstrations enlarge. In the beginning only a few thousand demonstrators were a year grown to around 15.000 people, where hardcore demonstrators were walking side by side with family fathers, (former) state employees, like firefighters carrying children on their shoulders. In March 2014 even the national police started to strike, ending in a fight with the military police. If you read these messages on Africa, you know there is a serious challenge to the power balance. Although the current Portuguese government likes to commmunicate it is business as usual and they are improving the economy, that might be far from the actual truth.

Via the link below you can see photos of one of the, by the way, very peaceful demonstrations that ended at the Praça de Comerçio in downtown Lisbon in 2013. The (perceived) gap between government deals with the 'Troika' (IMF, the ECB and other EU states) and the daily consequences for the Portuguese people seemed to get to a boiling point. When you would read Portuguese media (especially the more serious ones like Diário Economico, Publico, Diário de Notícias), you will see that the focus is more on the success of the government in making the right deals, maybe even on their success in postponing harder costcutting of public services. TV channels like RTP report on the demonstrations and organise long discussion programs, in which 'specialists' discuss potential solutions and a proper analysis of the current problems, while in more popular programs, mothers can complain on their financial problems because of the crisis. Everything seems to be covered, only basic problems seem not solved.

So, Carnation day might be celebrated, in general, many people have to focus much more in solving their day-to-day financial problems. The comparison with the situation in France might be striking in this case. The remembrance of the revolution there seems to be a state affair, almost used for propagandistic reasons symbolising unity, while social conflicts might be enlarging. While the government is celebrating recovery, the common people are left with facing bigger financial and moral challenges every day, slowly turning to boiling point....

More info and demonstration photos:!/2014/04/celebration-of-carnation-day-in.html
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