Home / Sezioni / globi / Brazil, a crisis of representation

facebook-link twitter-link


Registrati alla newsletter di sbilanciamoci.info


Ultimi link in questa sezione

Turni di 12 ore e dormitori, l’Europa di Foxconn sembra la Cina
La vera tragedia europea è la Germania
Redistributing Work Hours
Institutions and Policies
A Finance Minister Fit for a Greek Tragedy?
I dannati di Calais
Are creditors pushing Greece deliberately into default?

Brazil, a crisis of representation


It was, is, a political earthquake. Suddenly, on 17 June 2013, more than 150,000 people appeared on the streets to protest in eleven major Brazilian cities. The day will be remembered as the biggest political demonstration in the country since 1992, when the young cara pintadas ("painted-faces") pushed for the impeachment of the president, Fernando Collor de Mello.
In Rio alone, it was estimated that around 100,000 people went to the downtown area to walk side-by-side and sing political slogans, while a few decided to press harder and fire homemade bombs at the state assembly. The gathering also recalls the last popular assembly of this size in the city, in 1968, against the then military dictatorship.

In São Paulo, an estimated 65,000 people came onto the streets. The polling institute Datafolha Research found that most of them were around 26-35 years old and had no political party preference; more than 80% said they were following the movement through Facebook.

Even detailed surveys of this kind can't figure out what exactly lies behind such a huge public display, especially when Brazil has experienced almost two decades of improving prosperity, political stability and social inclusion. In this sense, no short article can claim, metaphysically as it were, to explain "what is really happening in Brazil". At most, one can offer some fragments that, put together, make some sense of reality.

A new voice

A good starting-point is the ideas and arguments that have been expressed on the streets and in social media. These represent a fresh voice in Brazil, one unrepresented in the country's media or its political parties, and counterposed to its old, centralised social-political structures. This voice is attempting to constitute new concepts of political community in a context where at present there is no institutional path available. It is a clash of the new Brazil with the old.

The story began on 6 June in the city of São Paulo. A few thousand people took to the streets, ostensibly to protest against a twenty-cent increase in the price of a bus-ticket. The paulista state police and Brazil's establishment media, taken by surprise, were quick to define (and to smear) what was going on as a "gang riot". Both reacted violently, symbolically or in fact, with vehement media (especially TV) condemnation and injuries to eight protesters and two policemen.

This exaggerated reaction was counterproductive. The protesters rersisted this attempt to trap them in a corner by continuing their demonstrations. As they did so, so did the repressive police behaviour and the number of casualties. On 11 June, thirty-eight people were hurt, including eight policemen, and nineteen people were arrested; two days later the protests reached a turning-point, when 105 protesters, eighteen policemen and fifteen journalists were injured in the clashes.

As the people poured onto the streets during these first five days, there was equally prolific mobilisation on social media, with thousands of posts being shared and linked against the repression and the dominant media coverage of the events. The social media were also used to schedule major gatherings for 17 June in the biggest Brazilian cities.

This time, it would be about far more than "twenty cents". In fact, the issues raised on all the demonstrations - though especially on 17 June - have been at once multiple and complex, vague and sparse. Yet if they are viewed in a wider context - of the Brazilian state's historic inability to provide public services and the mass media's over-centralisation, as well as the costs involved with the 2014 World Cup - then taken together they raise legitimate questions about both political communication in Brazil and representation in the country's democratic regime.

read more