50 years after Portuguese Revolution: Did it produce all the goods?

50 Years after the Portuguese Revolution

April 25, 1974. The song Grândola, Vila Morena by José Afonso played on the radio, signalling the beginning of the end of Portugal’s Estado Novo Fascist regime

Fifty years ago, in 1974, a military coup d’état, the 25th April Revolution, took place – a tremendous victory for the Portuguese Communist Party and other political and social movements, ending the Fascist, authoritarian, corporativist and repressive Estado Novo regime founded by Dr. António de Oliveira Salazar in 1933. It was an economy based on the oligarchy of forty families, one of the haves and the have nots. Salazar had a stroke in 1968 and died in 1970 and Marcelo Caetano took over, opening the regime slightly but slowly.

The Revolution spelt the end of the Colonial War in Guinea-Bissau, Angola and Mozambique and started the process of decolonisation in these Portuguese colonies and the remaining two in Africa, Cape Verde and São Tomé and Principe Isles. It brought freedom of speech and expression, it meant full suffrage for women. It released the political prisoners, many from the Portuguese Communist Party, founded in 1921 and persecuted by the regime; members were imprisoned, tortured and murdered.

The first fully free democratic election took place one year later on 25th April 1975, won by the Socialist Party under Mário Soares with 38% of the vote. Second was PPD (now PSD) with 26% and third, the Communist Party (PCP) with 12.46%.

Long-term effects

The main victories of the Revolution are mentioned above. As far as social and economic progress is concerned, it is pointless to compare Portugal 1974 with Portugal 2024 because fifty years have elapsed and since then Portugal has become a member of the European Union (it joined the EC in 1986).

The visible political effect of April 25th 1974 is that Portugal is an example of a pluralistic, Parliamentary democracy, with parties from left to right represented proportionally, the percentage of Members (seats) more or less representing the percentage of votes. On the left there are the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) in coalition with Os Verdes (The Greens), forming CDU (Coligação Democrática Unitária, or Unitary Democratic Coalition); Bloco de Esquerda (BE) or Left Block (Socialist Left); Livre (Free), a pro-EU ecological Party; then a purely ecological Party, PAN (People, Animals and Nature). From Centre-Right to Right, there is PS (Socialist Party), PSD (Partido Social Democrata), liberal-conservative; then CDS-PP (Christian Democrats), Conservative; IL (Iniciativa Liberal), a Rightist, Market Economy Party defending Economic Liberalism and CHEGA (Enough! Or It arrives!), a populist right-wing Party, basically a protest vote, one-man show based around its charismatic leader, André Ventura.

Since 1974, the same three parties have governed Portugal, namely PS, PSD and CDS-PP as a minor partner of PSD when the Right needed to come together and so responsibility for Portugal’s position in Europe and the World must rest squarely upon their shoulders.

The good news

Apart from being a pluralistic Parliamentary democracy with all colours of the political spectrum represented, Portugal is a very interesting, varied and pleasant country to visit, offering something for everyone. Every city, town or even village has a point of interest, be it a local museum or monument or story, or gastronomy and Portugal offers everything from sandy beaches to snowscapes, from green meadows to hikes in the hills, from dolphin watching to birdwatching, whale watching in the Azores Islands, spectacular seascapes and landscapes in Madeira, fabulous wines of every category, the most varied gastronomy whose jewel in the crown has to be the city of Setúbal, 48 kilometres south of Lisbon with its unique fresh fish, cuttlefish and fries and pastries offering dishes from Uzbekhistan to Portugal, from Brazil to Bangladesh but retaining its Portuguese characterisation.

A key intangible asset is that Portugal is also safe, and basically you can walk anywhere at any time (there are obviously exceptions but very few) and nobody will disturb the visitor and this, in a general climate of agreeability and pleasantness. It is a holiday worth having and a place worth exploring.

The education system is, in general, quite competent, the human material produced by Portugal is very well qualified for the work market and the Portuguese workforce is in general adaptable, hard-working and innovative, reliable and efficient.

So far, so good…but

50 years on,tremendous room for improvement

One thing is Portugal being a pleasant and agreeable place for foreigners to come and spend holidays, or to retire in what has been described as Paradise with the advantage of not having to die first to get there. With a decent retirement pension. Marks out of ten? Ten. For the foreigners.

Another thing is what exactly have these governments from the same Parties produced for the Portuguese people themselves to live in? And here, the register is far less positive. Prices from utilities to basic foodstuffs are way out of sync with the average salary, retirement pensions are in many cases an insult and payment in many cases comes a substantial period of time after the person has retired. What are they supposed to do after receiving the last pay packet? Wait? And pay their bills, how?

This is why one third of young people emigrate, which must be the business card of the Parties which have governed Portugal over these fifty years, with smug smiles on their faces, thinking they have done a good job. Young people, as a rule, have extreme difficulty in renting a room while at University, then extreme difficulty in renting a house when they start work, if they can find a job, and then extreme difficulty in getting a loan to buy a house, for which they have to present a deposit of at least 10 per cent.

The general economic climate has known ups and downs since 1974 but Portugal has slipped in the European Union Ranking in terms of GDP per capita to 20th out of 27 and has been surpassed by countries which have joined well after Portugal.


With the human potential, with a solid education system, with one of the largest Exclusive Economic Zones in the EU, surely Portugal could have done more and better in these 50 years. Marks out of ten? 5, at most.

Conclusion: The Revolution fifty years ago was almost bloodless, and was known as the Carnation Revolution because a flower seller on the streets of Lisbon, selling carnations, gave out her flowers for free to the soldiers who put them in their guns. Flowers yes, bullets no and this sums up the Portuguese and Portugal perfectly.

As José Afonso said in his song which heralded the Revolution, written three years before in 1971, O Povo é quem mais ordena (The People are those who are in charge). They are, but have the last fifty years of government given them what they deserve?


Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey can be reached at [email protected]


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Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey