Shy rebel put carnations into Portugal's revolution

Elizabeth Nash
Sunday 25 April 1999 23:02
Comments

FEW CELEBRATED the anniversary of Portugal's "Carnation Revolution" yesterday with as much pride and emotion as Celeste Martins, who gave the first bloom to the first soldier on that momentous morning 25 years ago, and created the symbol of an era.

"It was such a simple gesture. I never dreamt it would be something important," says this tiny, timid woman, now 66, revisiting the spot in the heart of Lisbon where rebel soldiers gathered before dawn on 25 April 1974.

"I just did it on the spur of the moment and then I began to see everyone wearing a carnation, and it became the symbol of our revolution."

A clutch of young captains defied their senior officers in a bloodless coup that toppled within hours a 50-year-old fascist dictatorship.

Their action, prompted by catastrophic colonial wars in Africa, aroused a response of unprecedented fervour among the laid-back Portuguese. Celeste worked in a Lisbon cafeteria at the time, which on 25 April 1974 was to celebrate its first year of business. The manager had laid on cigars to give to customers, and flowers that happened to be scarlet carnations - "because they were the cheapest", recalls Celeste with a smile.

"But when he saw tanks in the street he decided to close for the day and send the staff home, telling us to take the flowers with us."

Celeste was curious to see what was happening, and went to downtown Carmo Street where at 7.30am she came face to face with armed troops who had seized a nearby barracks.

"`Do you have a cigarette?' one asked me. Well, in those days it was not usual for a woman to go to a tobacconist. So I said `have a flower' and he took it and put it in the barrel of his rifle. I was happy as I was against the regime, and I walked on and gave the rest of my carnations to other soldiers," she said.

Life in April 1974 was hard for Celeste, a single mother with a four- year-old daughter, who cared for her elderly mother. "We had very little money and we never felt able to say what we thought."

None the less, when she worked in a newsagents, before her restaurant job, she helped to distribute illegal literature. "When the Pide secret police questioned me I hid the material among the newspapers and said I'd received nothing. They were a tough bunch but they didn't suspect me and they never harmed me."

Now retired, and with her daughter happily married, Celeste has some respite from a life that she says was full of cares. Portugal is a stable democracy and enjoys moderate prosperity.

"Some promises of those days were not kept, there is still a lot of poverty. But we have liberty, the freedom to speak freely," she said.

Celeste's voice trembles as she revisits the corner of Carmo Street with a bouquet of carnations. "I live each anniversary of 25 April with the same emotion as that morning. And I will do so for a very long time," she said.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in