In the history of civilization, there have only been a few significant political upheavals that took place without any violence or military force. Some of the better known examples of such nonviolent revolutions are the Velvet Revolution that took place in Czechoslovakia and Die Wende, which marked the fall of communism in Germany. Earlier than both of these, however, was the Carnation Revolution, which took place in Portugal in 1974.
The Carnation Revolution
The Carnation Revolution was an important turning point in the political history of the Portuguese nation. For 50 years, Portugal had been ruled by a fascist dictatorship characterized by social oppression and unpopular, bloody foreign policy. Around the time of the revolution, the nation was engaged in a war against the people of its colonies in Africa. The unpopularity of this war was due not only to the large number of Portuguese soldiers engaged in armed conflict but also to the fact that Portugal was, at that time, one of the last European nations to maintain colonies on mainland Africa. Ideologically, colonial empires were out of fashion, which contributed to the events of the Carnation Revolution.
One of the factors that contributed to the success of the Carnation Revolution was the fact that the revolutionary movement was begun by a large section of the Portuguese military. In order to protest changes that the fascist government (called the Estado Novo regime) proposed the way the Portuguese military was run, a group of professional soldiers organized protests. Soon, the protest group, called the Movimento das Forças Armadas, developed a plan to overthrow the government. The plan involved taking over important areas around the country, including military operations centers and television and radio broadcasting stations.
The military coup began just after midnight on April 24th, 1974. Within 24 hours, a large portion of the Portuguese population had demonstrated in support of the coup and the fascist government was abolished. The popular support of the movement is one of the more interesting facets of the Carnation Revolution. Military coups, whether violent or not, are often undertaken without popular support or at the behest of the populace. In Portugal, however, neither was the case. There had been no protests or significant displays of public unrest before the military opposition began its coup. Once the coup was underway, however, Portuguese civilians demonstrated in large numbers against the fascist government. The passion of the population is evidenced by the fact that the revolutionaries had implored citizens to stay at home via radio broadcasts.
Symbols of Nonviolence
As unusual as nonviolent revolutions are, nonviolent military coups are even more rare. A well-coordinated military, having the power to use force to achieve its goals, can often overthrow an incumbent government easily. However, the Portuguese insurgents declined to use violence, preferring instead to use strategic occupation to force the fascist regime to capitulate. Again, the importance of Portugal's war-weariness is evident here. The military and the civilians alike were tired of the fascist regime's violence and chose to take a different approach. The carnation, the revolution's symbol, is related to this ideal of nonviolence; some of the soldiers involved in the revolution placed these flowers in the barrels of their guns, and civilians carried carnations in the streets, as well.
The Power of Nonviolence
Four people died in the Carnation Revolution, as a result of the fascist police force's last stand. Considering, however, that the Estado Novo regime was the longest-standing dictatorship in European history, and considering its history of oppression and censorship, the nonviolent nature of this revolution is truly remarkable. As with the small handful of other nonviolent revolutions that have occurred throughout history, the events of April 24th, 1974 indicate that it's possible for people to enact democracy and achieve freedom and just political goals without resorting to bloodshed.