November 25th. The day democracy began to breathe again

November 25th.  The day democracy began to breathe again

At a time when the identities of moderate political forces are difficult to define, when polarization is a daily reality and when extremes take over programs, political debate and parties, polarizing voters, November 25th is the date, the landmark that everyone clings to to define which side they are on. For reasons that younger generations have difficulty understanding, November 25th is increasingly a controversial date. At stake is essentially its relevance. If for some it is the date on which Democracy actually began, for others it is just a remnant of the 25th of April and the rest a kind of right-wing counterrevolution that aborted the consolidation of communism in Portugal. Whether or not to celebrate the 25th of November is, after 48 years, yet another controversy that divides the political class.

A year after April 25, 1974, Portugal was on the brink of civil war. The banking sector had been nationalized, the fields and farms occupied, and agrarian reform was underway. Decolonization counted as the first accomplished D of the April revolution. The colonies had been handed over and the country was frighteningly divided between North and South, between communists and sympathizers and non-communists. On one side were the rifles of the military left, dominated by the extreme left, the PCP of Vasco Gonçalves, then prime minister, and the COPCON of Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho. Protagonists of the Ongoing Revolutionary Process (PREC). On the other side of the barricade, the so-called moderates – that is, everyone else – led by Mário Soares, Salgado Zenha, Sá Carneiro and others. This year and a half, between April 25, 1974 and November 25, 1975, was filled with coups and instability, attacks and persecution. The high point was March 11, 1975, when Vasco Gonçalves and the PCP took over the country’s institutions. That summer, in the north, bombs exploded in the far-left headquarters and in the south and center, occupations and nationalizations took place. It was the Hot Summer.

On November 12, 1975, a demonstration organized by construction workers surrounded São Bento for two days and the Government led by Pinheiro de Azevedo went on strike on the 20th. After 5 days, Vasco Lourenço, who belonged to the moderate group, He is declared commander of the Lisbon Military Region (RML) by the Revolutionary Council (CR) replacing Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho.

The paratroopers from Base Escola then took action in protest against the threat of the Air Force Chief of Staff, General Morais da Silva, to dissolve the regiment. And they quickly occupied several air bases, as well as the General Staff of the Air Force, of the Lisbon Artillery Regiment (RALIS); troops from the Practical School of Military Administration (EPAM) occupy the RTP studios. In the early hours of the morning, the paratroopers still occupy command of the 1st Air Region and arrest its commander. The Presidency of the Republic was then warned that “the coup is on the street”. And civil war is an imminent danger.

The military group of so-called ‘moderates’; of the Armed Forces Movement, which includes the leader Melo Antunes and Vasco Lourenço, as well as Ramalho Eanes, as operational coordinator, and Jaime Neves, at the head of the Amadora Commands, had been preparing for months a military plan to respond to a predictable coup by radical left. They are received in Belém by Costa Gomes, who they want to convince to support their military plan. The President takes charge of the situation and tries to calm things down, retaining Otelo Saraiva Carvalho, who is prevented from contacting COPCON, and postponing the negotiations. The danger was that the PCP would take to the streets in support of the paratroopers. A state of siege is declared in the middle of the afternoon. The coup is contained and the rebels lose positions. On the 26th, the CR dissolved COPCON and the arrests of dozens of officers, as well as members of COPCON, followed.

After 48 years, there is little consensus around this succession of events, which put an end to the PREC: there is a consensus that the military movements began with the departure of the paratroopers and that they were not just motivated by a corporate demand. But doubts remain about who actually gave the order for the paratroopers to occupy the military bases, what was the role of the PCP and Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho, if there was in fact an attempted coup d’état and what was Costa Gomes’ commitment? . Opinions differ and the protagonists disappear, leaving historians with the record of our most recent History.

This year, the discussion returned to the corridors of power: should November 25th be included in the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of April 25th? Carlos Moedas, Mayor of Lisbon, kicked things off, announcing that “this year, in addition to the historic date of the 25th of April, we will also celebrate the 25th of November with a great initiative”. But the opposition rose up against this initiative and the PCP councilors, João Ferreira and Ana Jara, proposed the lead “to the intention of the Mayor of Lisbon to celebrate the 25th of November and the consequent attempt to diminish the 25th of April when 50 years of the Revolution are marked.” PS, BE, Livre and Citizens for Lisbon agreed with the PCP. The communists say that the intention to celebrate the 25th of November “above all appears to be a discomfort with April, with the freedom, democracy and social progress that April brought us, using the 25th of November and the falsifications that, from Certain sectors, in their own right, have become chains to cover up those who do not forgive the fact that the April military and the Portuguese people put an end to fascism”. But Carlos Moedas does not give in and guarantees that he will maintain the events as well as the tribute to the two soldiers who were killed that day. “The 25th of November is our democracy, that is, the freedom we gained on the 25th of April. Democracy in Portugal is solidifying, but this is not against the 25th of April. Strange that the left is becoming radicalized and the moderate and centrist left of the Socialist Party is allowing itself to be carried away by the extremists, the extreme left. I am shocked that this cleavage was made,” he said.

In the Assembly of the Republic, the topic was raised by the Liberal Initiative. Rui Rocha criticized Augusto Santos Silva for having excluded the celebration of the 25th of November from the official program of celebrations in Parliament for the fiftieth anniversary of the 25th of April. The leader of the liberals defended that celebrating the 25th of November “is a moral imperative”, and that the decision of the president of the AR “reveals a profound disregard for the history of the consolidation of democracy in Portugal and constitutes tremendous political cowardice, deplorable opportunism and enormous hypocrisy.” Augusto Santos Silva justified, regarding a question from social-democratic deputy Hugo Oliveira, that “when we discussed this issue in the organizing committee, which we did, I remember very well saying, ‘I realize that consensus is not possible but I must say that I hope my party celebrates November 25th’”. And he insisted that Parliament’s official program is the result of a consensus between all parties: “In the organizing committee we decided that the dates and events that had a consensual reading between us would be assumed as the program. Therefore, we decided to focus on the aftermath of the revolution of April 25, 1974, the first free elections, approval of the Constitution and the first elections for the Assembly of the Republic, President of the Republic, regional and municipal autonomies”, he explained.

Joaquim Sarmento, however, went public to show his displeasure with this decision: “It shocks us that the President of the Assembly of the Republic does not want to celebrate the 25th of November, perhaps for fear of irritating former ‘contraption’ partners, but This decision was made and remains exclusively within the sphere of the President of the Assembly of the Republic”.

IL, Chega and PSD, on one side, PCP and PS, on the other. For IL and Chega, the idea is clear: the 25th of November freed Portugal from a “left-wing dictatorship”, argues Chega. This date should be considered a “fundamental milestone for the implementation and consolidation of a democratic regime in Portugal”, says IL.

Giving the floor to the protagonists, opinions remain divergent. According to Vasco Lourenço, speaking to TSF: “The 25th of November was essential, but how essential the victory on the 28th of September and the 11th of March had been so that the 25th of April could be consummated and we could reach the situation where we could freely approve on April 2, 1976, the Constitution of the Republic. Therefore, I argue that celebrating the 25th of April. All the other dates were important events that should be invoked, should not be forgotten, but I ask: why only the 25th of November and not the others”.

Major General Carlos Chaves reminds i that “the 25th of November, for a young ensign from the Practical Infantry School of Mafra, was the day I started breathing again”.


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