Today is the 25th April. “So what?” you might say, but in Portugal it’s quite significant, because it’s the day of the Carnation Revolution, which happened 36 years ago today in 1974. On that day, a group of military officers called the Movimento das Forças Armadas took over strategic points and overthrew the authoritarian (it’s not quite fair to call them fascist) government. They broadcast a song over the radio called Grândola Vila Morena, which had been banned by the government because its lyrics about brotherhood within a provincial town was associated with socialism. This was a sign to others that the revolution had started in Lisbon and that they should take over the other strategic points around the country. Here’s a slideshow with the song in the background.
As you can see from the pictures, people rushed out into the streets to celebrate and to support the troops, placing carnations into their gun barrels. One remarkable thing is that very few people were killed, I think it was just the 5 killed by the regime’s political police, PIDE.
I woke up at 5am this morning (a long story involving an 18 hour drinking session), and decided to go and watch the city wake up. Normally in the early morning there’s a bustle around the market, but today was Sunday so the entire city was silent except for the few people making their way home from the clubs. I walked around for a while and then sat in the square, waiting for the shop to open so I could buy a newspaper, and the only person there was a drunk homeless guy who was shouting at the top of his voice “Viva libertade! Viva a Republica! Viva democracia!” Two policemen walked past and ignored him.
I found it strange that this man of all was being so vocal about it. What liberty does he have, really? Yes, he’s not locked up, but he’s still trapped in an economic sense. He may have the right to say what he wants but why does that matter when noone’s going to listen? And what does it matter to him if the government is democratically elected or not? Either way, the state has failed to get him off the streets. Even the rest of us don’t have democracy in a very true sense, in that in the UK at least there are really only 2 feasible choices in government (well, 3 now). A socialist living the UK can’t choose to live as they please. Now I’m not saying that these things are all morally wrong, or that some of them aren’t necessary practical considerations, but it’s important to remember that countries aren’t just either ‘free’ or not, they’re not just either ‘democratic’ or not. It’s a spectrum involving a lot of different issues and we are not all the way over on one side of it, as much as politicians like to claim we are.
In fact, spreading this false idea is one way of making people blind to some of the big problems democracy has in many western countries. Our ‘democratically’ elected government helped carry out an illegal, unjustified and unpopular invasion, and it will probably never be held to account over it. It regularly lies to the public, and does things that are in its own interest rather than supporting the ideals of democracy (like supporting the Salazar regime, for example). It’s laughable to consider our system democratic when no government has had a majority of the vote since before the Second World War. Voters are torn between voting for the candidate of their choice and voting for the government of their choice, since there’s no separation between Parliament and the Cabinet, and that’s not even taking tactical voting into account.
So don’t think we live in the west and therefore everything’s ok. A lot of work went into the system we have now, and I think we’ve still got some way to go.