The International Writers Magazine: Portugal
TANK THAT GREW A CARNATION by James Skinner in Vigo,
take democracy for granted. No doubt about it. Ever since the end of
the Civil War, which was a turning point in their history, the United
States has thrived on those basic ingredients that make up the foundations
of the country. In simple terms these form a system of freedom and equality
for all, managed by an elected government that in turn swears to abide
by the laws established within a solid legal framework. On the other
hand, as civilization and progress developed, the American Constitution
was designed from the beginning to allow for any necessary change and
adaptation. Hence the powerful, creative and entrepreneurial strength
of its population can be attributed to this always-present flexibility.
Every citizen of America, native or adopted loves his country and its
flag. The sense of duty, honour and respect towards the homeland flows
through his veins. Slowly, over recent years the barriers such as race,
sex and religion have been broken down and equality now oozes from every
pore of the nation. But America is a young country, just under 250 years
old and like all young pups it keeps trying to tell the older generation
what to do. From Korea to Liberia, from Somalia to Afghanistan, United
States governments insist that their model of world management is best.
Deep down they are right. Its just the way they go about it that
keeps irritating non-Americans. Iraq is a classic example. Hence the
reason for much of the animosity in the rest of the world towards any
imposition of order dictated by America. Europe is no exception.
Like an old crock, Europe has been in a constant battle with itself
over the same human rights issues. It took two world wars and a cold
one to bring to an end centuries of stagnant decadence of freedom abuses.
Despite Uncle Sam bailing the old continent out on every
occasion, the envy brought out in the form of antagonism by Europeans
of Americas democratic achievements continues to this very day.
Apart from possibly Britain, they just cannot stop burning effigies
of the current US President or stamping all over mutilated US flags
whenever demonstrations flare up in the European capitals. It does not
matter what the protests or marches are about, America is always to
blame. But there were occasions when America put up with
anti-democratic regimes such as right-wing dictatorships and in some
cases, even propped them up. In recent history, and still within Europe,
Spain and Portugal were two typical examples. Most historians, especially
in America know all about the former, but very few about the latter.
In fact, how much is really known, internationally speaking about this
small European paradise that had, at one time, a huge world empire.
Portugal is hitched alongside the Western boarder of her
well-known neighbour, Spain and is considered by many as a poor Iberian
relative. The only similarity between these two European Union member
states is that both were colonial empires and at one stage of history
during the last century, suffered from long and distasteful fascist
dictatorships. Unless you are a wine drinker or like cured ham, this
is where the similarity ends. This delightful country with approximately
12 million inhabitants doesnt speak Spanish but Portuguese, sings
and cries to popular melancholic folk music known as Fados, not Flamenco
and produces the worlds most delicious after dinner drink, Port
wine. Spaniards wont touch the stuff. They dress differently,
dance differently and in general have very few of the traits of Big
Brother to the East. Up until recently they didnt even get on
well together. They also have been, over centuries, and still are staunch
anglophiles and supporters of Great Britain. Not quite so in Spain.
During the colonial days, Portugal had possessions as far East as Goa
in India and Macao in China, just a stones throw away from Hong
Kong. They had conquered part of Africa in Angola, Mozambique and Portuguese
Guinea yet the cherry on the cake was theirs, up until the 19th century,
on the American Continent. Todays Brazil was once part of Portugal
and was actually considered a Kingdom. Had it not been for a common
enemy from France known as Napoleon Bonaparte who kicked the royal family
out, Brazil might have become a very different type of country. As colonialism
throughout the world was dismantled, and unlike Spain, who went to war
with the USA over its remaining possessions, Portugal succumbed with
a more peaceful approach. It followed Britains method with a sort
of peaceful handover of sovereignty to the local people. That was up
until the mid-twenties.
Whilst the USA and Britain were revelling in the joys of peace between
the two World Wars, part of the political scenario in Europe began to
take on a different look. Fascist movements and right wing political
parties sprouted up all over. Germanys Hitler, Italys Mussolini
and eventually Spains Franco began to alter the course of history
of the Old continent. Portugal joined the club with the
advent of the Salazar regime.
A military government took over Portugal in 1926 and as their minister
of finance they called upon Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, a prominent
professor of economics at the University of Coimbra. As the holder of
the countrys purse strings, his economic policies soon won the
favour of most factions of the country such as business leaders, clerics
and the armed forces. He also proclaimed himself minister of colonies
introducing the infamous Colonial Act that placed all possessions under
direct rule from Lisbon. In 1932, Salazar became prime minister. A post
he was to hold for the next 35 years. Then, in 1936, the Spanish Civil
broke out. During the following 3 years of toil and bloodshed in the
neighbouring country, Salazar backed Francos Nationalists. It
was to be his first stroke of luck in the turmoil that followed. Franco
In the following years, and as Hitlers tanks rumbled across the
plains of Europe, Franco played cat and mouse with the Fuehrer making
him believe that Spain was a German ally. He nevertheless maintained
neutrality throughout the conflict. Salazar, hiding behind Spains
broad shoulders, shrewdly went one step further in his own method of
non-involvement. He secretly sided with Britain. Once the WWII ended
and Europe was liberated, the Iberian Peninsula continued to be governed
by two staunch fascists, Franco and Salazar. All during the fifties
and sixties many cooperative and economic treaties were signed with
their newly acquired democratic friends. Yet the emerging European Economic
Community, later to become the European Union was way out of reach.
Both countries were still under the rule of a dictatorship and this
was just not kosher. Another cloud loomed above the horizon.
It was called decolonisation.
Despite all the hoopla and joy at having regained democracy in most
of Europe, the remaining empirical nations such as Britain and France
were penniless. Their colonies knew it. Soon independence messages were
being received from such far away places as India, Nigeria and Angola
to name but a few. Over the next three decades most were granted their
freedom, some under heavy bloodshed or civil wars. This is where our
Iberian nations differed yet again. Spain had long lost its possession,
yet Portugal continued to battle with the freedom fighters in Western
Africa. The armed forces were tired of fighting a losing battle against
African independantists. Their families back home were sick of both
losing their loved ones and not having bread on the table. They had
all had enough. Then came the 25th of April, 1974. A date that would
change the destiny of its people and allow Portugal to rid itself of
its colonies and finally join the ranks of democracy driven countries.
A few days ago, Portugal celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of its
famous revolution. I heard about it very early in the morning,
when my father called me and told me not to go out in the street because
the military were out, recalls Ms. Flor de Almeida, Portuguese
Consul in Vigo Spain. But everything was quiet. I was in Lisbon.
Whilst the military were driving around in their tanks, the people came
out into the street and began to distribute carnations. Some found
their way into the muzzles of the guns. The media in the weeks ahead
named the change with a simple slogan that is still in the hearts of
most Portuguese thriving in todays democratic system of government.
The headlines said: The day Portugal ceased to be a dictatorship
will be known as the Revolution of the Carnations. No blood
was shed during that day.
© James Skinner. 2004.
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