A Tale of Two Cities: Lisbon and Tunis

My memory of the Portuguese revolution of 25 April, 1974 vis-a-vis the current revolution in Tunisia is stark.  I don’t remember a level of violence close to the bloody scenes of street violence shown in the streets of Tunis.  

I was crossing the bridge across the Tagus North to South and amid the strains of Grândola and excited reporting on the radio I saw a Portuguese warship broadside to the city.  I recall it was a relatively bloodless revolution. The PIDE (state secret police) had a network of spies that sat in cafés, informed on neighbors, and cast a pall over this paradise on the Atlantic. I believe the hated PIDE were reported to have killed four people before surrendering.

At the time there were seemingly unending wars in Angola, Moçambique, Timor, and other colonies of the penultimate colonial power in the world.  It was in this context that I witnessed the end of  the Novo Estado.  This was the beginning of the end of a government begun by Salazar and run by Marcelo Caetano that can only be compared to that of East Germany.

The revolution was over quickly.  The Portuguese, at least in Portugal, have a strong sense of comunitas, the sense of being one people.  Portuguese 

25 Abril, 1974, Lisbon

troops refused to fire on fellow  Portuguese and to a large extent went over to the rebels (the Movimento das Forças Armadas).  The next day there were over 80 political parties and the streets were filled with people and soldiers with carnations in their gun barrels.

In the expected uncertainty of post-revolution political jockeying there were curfews, late-night running of roadblocks while barhopping (until I heard a machine gun chamber a round once), and shortages of basics like cooking oil, but there was little violence and things settled down as cooler heads prevailed.

In Tunis, by comparison there have been immolations, running battles in the street, beatings and by all accounts it is not over.  I know less about Tunisia than Portugal but they have about the same population and had similar oppressive regimes (Salazar/Caetano in Portugal and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia).  The mystery is the dynamics of the two societies and how one can be so peaceful and the other so bloody. – carlos

Tunis, 2011


About carlos

I'm a curious person, of reasonable intellect, "on the beach" (retired) and enjoying my interest in anthropology, language, civil rights, and a few other areas. I've been a hippie/student/aerospace tech writer in the '60s, a witness to the Portuguese revolution in the ‘70s, a defense test engineer and witness to the Guatemalan genocide in the '80s, and a network engineer for an ISP in the '90s. Now I’m a student and commentator until my time is up. I've spent time under the spell of the Mesoamerican pyramids and the sweet sound of the Portuguese language. I've lived in Europe, traveled in Brazil, Central America, Iceland, New Zealand, and other places. My preferred mode of travel is with a backpack and I eat (almost) anything local. Somehow, many of the countries I have been to have had civil unrest (for which I was not responsible). I'm open to correspond with anyone who might share my liberal, humanist interests. I live in San Buenaventura, California.
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