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Portugal marks 50 years of democracy with far right on rise

By AFP

April 25, 2024 06:08 PM


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Portugal on Thursday marked 50 years since a military coup ended a decades-long dictatorship and 13 years of colonial wars in Africa, an anniversary that comes as a far-right party gains prominence.

The anniversary of the Carnation Revolution -- named after the flowers protesters placed in soldiers' guns during the peaceful uprising -- comes a month after the far-right party Chega more than quadrupled its seats in parliament, cementing its position as Portugal's third-largest party.

The highlight of the celebrations will be a military parade through central Lisbon featuring some of the roughly 5,000 soldiers who were part of the putsch, as well as around 15 restored military vehicles used on the day.

On April 25, 1974, the oldest authoritarian regime in Western Europe at the time fell within a matter of hours, virtually without bloodshed, thanks to an uprising by non-commissioned officers that was immediately backed by the public.

The coup paved the way for the country's first free elections based on universal suffrage on April 25, 1975, as well as the independence of Portugal's remaining African colonies.

"The main motivation was to resolve the problem of the colonial wars" that had been going on for 13 years in Angola, and almost as long in Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau, said retired colonel Vasco Lourenco.

Lourenco, one of the officers who took part in the coup, now heads the April 25 Association that represents putschist soldiers.

As a young officer, he said it took almost a year to put together the "conspiracy" to carry out "a coup d'etat aimed at opening the way to freedom, putting an end to the wars and building democracy in Portugal", he told AFP.

Surprise 'reparations' call

The celebrations began with a military ceremony on Lisbon's central square beside the Tagus River.

As it does every year, parliament will hold a special commemorative session and there will be a parade. And this year the heads of African states that were once Portuguese colonies will join the celebrations.

They were scheduled to conclude with a meeting between Portugal's conservative President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa and his counterparts from former colonies Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde and Sao Tome and Principe.

In a surprise statement, Rebelo de Sousa this week raised the possibility that Portugal could pay reparations to its former colonies.

"We are responsible for what we did there... we have to pay the cost," he told foreign journalists on Tuesday, citing "unacceptable historic behaviour".

He did not give details of how this should be done -- and his position is not backed by the right-wing government that took power after last month's elections.

An unnamed government source was quoted as saying by news weekly Expresso on Wednesday that the subject of reparations was seen as "toxic" and "inappropriate".

'Poor, backward, illiterate'

Portugal's dictatorship years began in 1926, consolidated under prime minister Antonio de Oliveira Salazar and continued from 1968 by his successor Marcelo Caetano.

Many Portuguese believed the country's authoritarian past would offer it some protection from the rise of the far right, which has been seen elsewhere in Europe, but the breakthrough by Chega in a general election last month has dampened this view.

While its founder and leader Andre Ventura has criticised the dictatorship years, Chega ("Enough") has used the slogan "God, Homeland, Family, Work" -- an echo of the Salazar dictatorship's "God, Homeland, Family".

Set up in 2019, Chega promises tougher law and order and immigration measures and chemical castration for paedophiles.

It is the first hard-right party to gain ground in Portugal since the end of the dictatorship.

"I thought that 48 years of dictatorship would have made the country immune to this wave of populism and radical far-right movements, but the reality turned out to be different," said Maria Inacia Rezola, a historian who is overseeing the anniversary celebrations.

During the dictatorship Portugal remained "a poor, backward, illiterate country isolated from the rest of the world", Rezola said.

Despite the fact that the Carnation Revolution still appears widely appreciated, a sizable part of the population express nostalgia for the previous regime.

A survey published last week found that half of respondents said the former regime had more negative aspects than positive -- but a fifth said the opposite.

 

 


AFP


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