April 25th

This monument to the revolution of April 25th 1974 was inaugurated in 1997. Conceived by the portuguese sculptor João Cutileiro, who never made clear which meaning he gives to this sculpture, arguing that it for the viewers and not the artists to interpret a work of art.

It’s phallic format, as well as the fact that from the top of the monument a boast of water would flow allows me to consider two alternative interpretations:

Either the sculptor wanted to pay its tribute to the fact that during the months immediately following April 25th 1974 the greatest number of babies ever registred in Portugal were born, including myself;

Or the sculptor was simply making a mockery of all of us, citizens of Lisbon, by placing this tasteless ensemble of stones in one of the best places to enjoy the magnificent view of the city.

Although I should probably stick to the first interpretation, and even feel flattered that my generation would be thus honored, I tend to the second one, because, for the last 15 years (if not more) the commemorative celebrations of the revolution that brought democracy to Portugal and the independence to the country’s colonies have been nothing but a mockery.

During the fascist regime, the political police, PIDE-DGS, kept files of hundreds of thousands of citizens. In its headquarters, located in the centre of Lisbon, Rua António Maria Cardoso,n.20, thousands of persons were detained and brutally tortured.

On the day of the revolution, PIDE’s headquarters’ officials refused to surrender and shot at the crowd who has surrounded the building, killing four people and injuring 45. Thus, despite the myth that the carnation revolution was a bloodless revolution, blood was spilled, not the blood of the opressors, but the blood of innocent civilians.

After the revolution, PIDE’s archives were transfered to the national archives, and the building was closed and left abandoned for some years.

Now, as I write these lines, a luxury compound of apartments for rich people is being built in that same building. Instead of a museum, were our children and those who visit Lisbon could learn about the true nature of Portugal’s fascist regime, the destiny of this building is to become home sweet home to rich people. I have nothing against people being or becoming rich, but this is an humiliation to all democrats, to all Lisboners and to the people of a country in which the minimum wage is 400 Euros a month.

However, this issue did not provoke outright indignation within the portuguese society, only among half a dozen people who tried to mobilize resources to prevent this insult on our collective memory, but by then it was too late. This ‘closed condominium’ had already approved by the democratically elected City council (Câmara Municipal).

Some days ago, I passed at its door. I was traveling in the tram 28, showing a foreign friend the wonders of Lisbon. The common humble people who use that tram engaged in conversation with us, and an old man asked me to tell my friend what that building was. All the people in the tram agreed that this was a treason to the ideals of the revolution, and a deep humiliation to all modest people who live in this area.

But who cares? Nobody, except those powerless people who use the tram 28 to go home. They are too tired, too weak to do something about it, and among those who could have prevented this, it may happen that some will actually buy a house there. This is why I made a post evoking April 24th.

I just hope that the lucky owners of such apartments will have nightmares every night, and that they wake up feeling a strange pain in their back, that they will surely think is caused by their too soft goose feather pillow. But of course, the pain will easy go away, because there must be a spa in the building where they will have a massage that will relieve them.

This true story inspired an italian artist and architect, Giorgio Fratinni to write a bande dessiné called “Sonno elefante – I muri hano orecchie” whose drawing I reproduce here. I am sure he will not mind the fact that I didn’t ask his permission.

For those interested in knowing more about April 25th, here is the link to a very good documentation centre maintained by the University of Coimbra.

15 Comments

Filed under Freedom, Portugal

15 responses to “April 25th

  1. “”During the fascist regime, the political police, PIDE-DGS, kept files of hundreds of thousands of citizens.””

    3.5 million persons were informants.
    And at least some or 5 million were in the “lists”.

    Sarah, é mais na área dos 4 ,5, 6 milhões

    Off topic : O template é engraçado mas não se perdia nada mais width.

    E se experimentasses isto mas com duas colunas, uma de cada lado; ou seja escolher um template com 3 colunas?

  2. sackcloth and ashes

    A very sad story of political neglect. It should have been made into a museum like the headquarters of the AVH in Budapest. This is now a memorial to the victims of both Fascism (in the form of the Nazis and the Arrow Cross) and Communism. I don’t know if you’ve visited Hungary at all, but it’s worth seeing nonetheless:

    http://www.terrorhaza.hu/en/museum/first_page.html

    Incidentally, have the PIDE-DGS files been opened for historical scrutiny, or are they still closed?

  3. sarahfranco

    yes, they should, and I don’t believe neglect is the reason that they didn’t.

    I have been in Budapest, but the only monument I visited was the Sinagogue.

    no, the files are closed. they will not be opened for another 20 years.

    as you can read in the above comment, millions of people were informers. most of them are alive. there was no process of lustration. how could it be? you would have generated a major crisis.

    after the revolution, there was an attempt by the communists to take power. as it happened that they didn’t get the results that pleased them in the first free elections, the tried to take power using a faction within the military that, but they didn’t control all the military either…

    civil war was avoided at the last moment, on November 25th 1975.

    the country also had to receive and integrate more than one million refugees that came from the colonies as they became independent.

    so, the need to close a chapter and normalize the country was stronger that any worry about the preservation of collective memory.

    latter, from 1985 onwards, the people who held power couldn’t care less about this. in fact ever since then all the legacy of April 25th is being eroded.

    We have the chance that the reforms that were carried in the first 10 months after the revolution were so well done that they still haven’t been all dismantled.

  4. sackcloth and ashes

    Sarah, I’ve just read your comments and I can’t say I disagree with them. I’ve never lived under any form of authoritarian or totalitarian system – the closest I got was working in Poland in 1994, where memories of the Solidarnosc years and martial law were still fresh, and I got to hear recollections from that very grim time in Polish history.

    I suppose one of the hardest questions for any country making a transition from dictatorship to democracy is how to make a proper accounting with the past. In Portugal’s case, of the millions who were PIDE informers, I would expect that their reasons for acting as they did would be varied. Maybe some would have acted out of venal motives, but I would expect that others would have acted out of fear for themselves and those they loved. Who knows what I would have done in their position, if a secret policeman propositioned me and told me to work for them? I certainly can’t judge them – I’m not very sure I would have acted in a moral manner.

    But the key point is to make a clear break with the past, and to make it clear what happened under the old regime and why. The system itself (and the key persecutors and torturers) can and should be indicted, but perhaps a South African-style TRC offers the best opportunity for accountability without recriminations to allow lower-level people (informants, rank-and-file police) to make amends. Again, I emphasise that this is just an outsider’s perspective on this very thorny issue.

    Incidentally, have you seen ‘The Lives of Others’?

    All the best,

    S&A

  5. sarahfranco

    I haven’t lived in a totalitarian society either, because when I was born my country was already a free country.

    But I am a good observer. April 25th was a revolution in the most profound sense. Everything changed, and this affected all levels of society, nobody passed through it with indifference. The only significant detail is that the level o violence was low. There were people who died, people who put bombs, but not a generalized violence.

    This was a major achievement. In one and half years, the moderate democratic forces, supported by the population, were able to defeat both the fascist regime and the communist threat.

    This was also the first democratic revolution to succeed in post- WW2. All latin america was subjected to dictatorships, there was the communist block, and there was the cold war, Portugal being of important strategic value due to its geographical location.And there was also an important economic crisis due to the oil rising prices of the 70’s. And the overthrown regime had lasted for 48 years!

    The democratic revolutionary ideal and its symbolical legacy was betrayed much latter, during the late 80’s and the 90’s, when the country was experiencing a huge economic growth.

    What failed was that there was no clear policies to help build a civic minded society. On the contrary, the new values that prosperity brought with it significantly eroded the idea of solidarity, equality, social justice. It was the idea of success at any price.

    This was one more missed opportunity for the people of this country. While it is true that lots of things improved, now we have the most unequal society in all Europe, with 80% of the wealth concentrated in 20% of the population, and it will get worse. 20% of the population lives in poverty, and the middle class is shrinking. Half the country has to count every cent, while the other half lives in the land of plenty.

    The issue of this building is a paradigmatic example of what this country could have become and did not.

    No, I haven’t seen that, I imagine it’s a film.

  6. sackcloth and ashes

    I must get hold of a good English-language book on the 25th April revolution – as a Cold War historian I should know more, but I’ve only read about it in the context of NATO politics and the end of the Portuguese empire in Africa.

    Incidentally, I never knew that there was bloodshed outside the PIDE HQ when the secret police fired on demonstrators. A similar incident in Budapest during the 1956 revolution led to a full-scale battle between the AVH and the revolutionaries, which the latter won. It says much for the restraint of those involved in the Carnation Revolution that the killing of unarmed demonstrators did not lead to reprisals.

    As you say, the fact that the Portuguese revolution vanquished both fascism and the threat of Communism was a significant achievement, and I expect it set precedents for the rest of Europe.

    ‘The Lives of Others’ is a German film about the Stasi, and is well worth watching if you get hold of it on DVD.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0405094/

    All the best,

    S&A

  7. sarahfranco

    It is interesting that you mention books in english about April 25th, because, as I am trying to study Serbia and ex-yugoslavia through the internal perspective (I mean, I am trying to ‘walk in their shoes’, as the depeche mode song says), I am also very curious to see what has been written by foreigners about internal political dynamics in portugal, but,

    as you are surely aware, people don’t care much for cases that prove successful.

    I can only tell you that 2 years ago I met a Professor of political science from Bulgaria who told me that 25th April was included in her classes, and how in Bulgaria it worked as a source of hope. The communist regime made an extensive coverage of the revolution, but not everyone read the message as the regime was trying to sell it. Some people read it backwards, like: hey, these guys are liberating themselves from authoritarianism, maybe some day we can make it too. A croatian scholar that became embassador in portugal told me the same thing. He spoke a perfect portuguese, much better than most native speakers do, and I when I asked him why did he learn portuguese, he said, I decided to learn it on the day of April 25th 1974. But, being an ambassador, he didn’t provide me with more information about that, and i didn’t ask either.

    I know that in South America the peoples that were subjected to dictatorships saw this as an sign of hope.

    But I ignored, until recently, that in Eastern Europe too this event gave hope to at least some people.

  8. sackcloth and ashes

    As far as I’m aware, the only British historian who roughly specialises in this area of Portuguese politics is Norrie McQueen, and I think he’s primarily focused on African decolonisation.

    I think that the issue of how national revolutions (particularly democratic ones) can have a wider effect beyond their borders is a fascinating, but understudied one. Perhaps one of the problems is that it is not as easy to trace the transit of ideas between peoples as it is to (say) follow trading relations between countries. But there are sometimes indications that people in one authoritarian or totalitarian system may be inspired by popular demand for change in another. Examples include the Red Square protest in August 1968 – following the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia, and also the concerns of the Soviet, East German and Czechoslovak governments over the rise of Solidarity in Poland in 1980-1981.

    One apocryphal story involves Czechoslovak police being deployed in the Tatra mountains to stop Polish activists from trekking South with leaflets for the neighbours – I have a mental image of fat, out-of-condition policemen wheezing their way up the steep, Alpine-like passes of the Tatra range as they try to halt the spread of ‘subversion’.

    Another tale concerns the railway route which links the South-Eastern tip of Poland (the Bieszczady Mountains) with the main route to Przemysl, to the North. The route used to run entirely through Polish territory, but thanks to Stalin’s land-grabs in the 1940s part of the railway ran through the former Ukrainian SSR. Throughout the 1980s, trains running along this track were heavily guarded, and passengers were forbidden to leave the train under any circumstances. However, this did not stop some cunning Solidarity activist from distributing a pack of Russian-language leaflets by flushing them down the toilet in one of the carriages. Someone pulled the emergency cord, and all these poor soldiers had to spend the next couple of hours along the track – hunting down all the offending leaflets.

    These minor examples show how petrified oppressive governments are of overthrow, and how determined they are to isolate their people from any ‘corrupting’ influences. Sadly, these characteristics can still be seen today (hence the readiness of the Burmese government to let the victims of Cyclone Nargis die of starvation or disease).

  9. sarahfranco

    a friend who read your comment has just provided me with the film you advised me to see!!!

    my friend tells me that many parallels can be drawn from the film and applied to the Portuguese experience.

    I am very sorry that I didn’t take the chance to ask my father about his activities before the revolution, because I believe he was deeply involved in subversive activities, namely protecting our providing background for others. He died some years ago, and I have this problem on whether it is ethical to ask for his PIDE file, because I am sure he had one.

    about Burma, something exactly like that happened in Portugal in 1968, but (fortunatelly) in a lower skale.

    the metheorological services predicted major floods and repeatedly warned the authorities who took the option of doing nothing, not issuing any alert.

    more than 400 people died, who could have been taken out of their homes in time.

    the scale of the disaster was known only after the overthrown of the regime.

    I have this deal with a friend from Cape verde that we will make a research about this issue after we get our PhD, so that we can criss cross the colonial experience, the freedom movements and the internal oppression and resistance in Portugal. The difficulty is that many of those people who could provide information died or will die without sharing their experiences.

  10. sackcloth and ashes

    ‘I have this deal with a friend from Cape verde that we will make a research about this issue after we get our PhD, so that we can criss cross the colonial experience, the freedom movements and the internal oppression and resistance in Portugal’.

    This will be very useful research into an understudied area. I’ll be interested in the results.

    Good luck with the PhD. It’s hard work, but worth it in the end.

    S&A

  11. sarahfranco

    you are not going to believe this, the film you recommended me is going to be shown this week in one faculty here, and it’s free entrance. I already have the dvd but it’s much better to watch it in a cinema (it’s not a cinema but it has a big screen and dark).

    this kind of thing happen to me all the time!

  12. sackcloth and ashes

    It’s well worth your time, Sarah. It’s a wonderful film – I’d be interested to hear what you think about it.

  13. sarahfranco

    my friend who saw it says it aplies very well to the portuguese case too…

    I am very curious

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