Posted: Apr 25, 2014 1:41 PM
Updated: Apr 25, 2014 1:42 PM
LISBON, Portugal (AP) Euphoria gripped Portugal during the 1974 Carnation Revolution, when junior army officers swept away a four-decade dictatorship. The almost bloodless coup brought what for the Portuguese were novelties the right to vote, universal health care, public education, old-age pensions and labor rights.
On the coup's 40th anniversary Friday, the prevailing mood among the Portuguese is anger at how their government is now stripping away those cherished entitlements amid a financial crisis.
"Many people are feeling very cheated," said Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho, a former army captain who masterminded the pre-dawn military takeover. "What we're living through now, it's like it's signing the death warrant of the hopes and values of (the revolution)."
As commemorations began, around 2,000 people listened to speeches given by some of those who participated in the upheaval four decades ago. In the afternoon, several thousand marched in downtown Lisbon, many wearing red carnations as a symbol of the revolution.
April 25, an annual public holiday, has this year provided a lightning rod for those keen to voice their discontent at austerity measures. It's a sentiment also encountered in other European Union countries feeling the pain of public spending cuts aimed at defusing a recent debt crisis.
Portugal, like Greece and Ireland, had to ask for an international bailout in 2011, needing 78 billion euros ($107.8 billion) to avoid bankruptcy. It became a ward of foreign creditors, who have compelled the country of 10.5 million people to slash social programs and job protection laws established in the revolution's aftermath.
The Carnation Revolution, which saw a million people fill the streets in a mass celebration, is regarded as one of the glorious moments of Portugal's 20th-century history. It is named for the red flowers in season and plentiful at the time which people stuck in the barrels of soldiers' rifles on that landmark day. Within a year, elections were held.
For most Portuguese under 50 years old, the revolution is a milestone they learned about at school. But with youth unemployment at 35 percent, the anniversary has struck a chord with many young people. Nationwide commemorations include dozens of protest events organized on social media.
Miguel Januario, a 33-year-old street artist painting a commemorative mural on a wall of Lisbon's New University, said he held dear the changes brought by an event he didn't live through, "but since then we've allowed new forms of dictatorship in this case financial to take over."
Portuguese of all ages have plenty to complain about after three straight years of recession.
Budget cuts have, for example, forced the closure of local health centers and reduced subsidies for prescription drugs. High schools have seen staff levels fall and the purchase of new equipment postponed. New laws have made it easier and cheaper to hire and fire workers.
The government has cut the salaries of government workers, lowered old-age pensions, and introduced what the finance minister conceded was a "brutal" increase in income tax. Meanwhile, unemployment reached a record 17.7 percent last year, though it has now slipped back to 15.3 percent.
The scrapping of rent controls another bailout demand has left many in danger of losing their homes.
Conceicao Pequito, a sociology researcher at the University Institute of Lisbon and co-author of a study examining public attitudes amid the crisis, says people feel their rights have been "confiscated."
"There's a lot of pessimism about what living in a democracy means these days," she said.
Just as in the revolution, when only four people were killed, there has been little violence despite the upheaval.
A small and muted number express nostalgia for Antonio Salazar's long dictatorship. They note that he kept the country's public finances in order and wasn't guilty of the kind of brutality witnessed under Gen. Francisco Franco during his almost simultaneous dictatorship in neighboring Spain.
But even those people don't want a return of Salazar's secret police, political prisons and censorship.
Harold Heckle in Madrid contributed to this story.