Saturday, April 09, 2005


Letter from Lisbon

After dinner on April 25, 1999, the streets of Lisbon were filled with Portuguese wearing red carnations. Those in traditional regional costumes danced, sang, and played lovely stringed instruments and drums. Then, at precisely midnight, in the large public square on the Tagus River, slides of army and police attacking Portuguese civilians were projected onto the three-story buildings that enclosed the other three sides of the square. A soundtrack of gunfire, screams, and sirens was broadcast from the top floor windows. All the dancing stopped. Fifty thousand people stood in silence, old and young, remembering together.

The occasion was the 25th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution in 1974, when the Portuguese Army defied orders by refusing to fire on their own people who were protesting in the streets. All over Portugal, tens of thousands had marched in city after city to express opposition to Portugal’s colonial wars in Angola, Mozambique, and East Timor that were hemorrhaging the national treasury and slaughtering innocent people at home and abroad.

In 1974, young army officers quietly organized the Carnation Revolution; instead of loading their weapons with bullets, they placed red carnations in the barrels. The dictatorship was over.

In April 1999, a new protest was underway in Portugal. Banners hung across boulevards, and graffiti graced city walls. This protest was against the NATO bombing recently begun in Yugoslavia. For the Portuguese, there was no glory, no smug satisfaction, and no marvel at "smart bombs” striking terror into the hearts of innocent civilians.

The Portuguese had come to treasure freedom, democracy, peace, and kindness. Americans could learn a lot from them.


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