The day the politics of no transformed Brazilian protests in riots

Before I start, I make a request to international friends who want the World Cup in their countries: engage positively with Brazil as it democratically debates with protesters, like you did with pre-Olympic UK when rioters took the streets. It will be appreciated. 

Think of political awareness in a scale of ten. If you are reading a blog post written by a Brazilian journalist who has barely set his foot into the English-speaking media, you score very high. That is not the case for two thirds of Brazilians who made protests swell since last 13 June. For most of them, politics is basically rejecting or defending platitudes. It wasn’t a bad thing when the demonstrations were peaceful. It was as if police violence and out of touch political parties had given people a voice they didn’t have. Now that the protests became proper riots, a day after local governments revoked the rise in transport fares, the whole movement transformed victory in defeat. They will struggle to show there is a reason to carry on.

About one million people went to the streets on 20 June. Many of them thought that would be a celebration for the victory on the night before. To many of them it was — being in the protests was mostly fine and even the elderly were attending. After they saw what happened on TV many must be doing some soul-searching: where did it all go wrong? Those that were predominantly peaceful demonstrations became proper riots — and that includes attacks to public buildings just for the fact of being public buildings, looting, aggression to minorities and political party members and even the bold reappearance of neonazis. My best guess is that the politics of no to everything is taking its toil. The solution might be protesters getting tired.

Either the protests will end in a sad tone or the overall scenario will be even worse than when it all began. The facts are all there. An 18-year-old died in the first night the protests became riots. Violent police response is being legitimized by looters and angrier protesters who have no agenda. The media is under attack by all sides despite playing a very low key role since the first major protests. Middle class seems to have second thoughts about their support. Political parties started a reaction to distance themselves. Mothers are telling their children not to go to the protests anymore. Fifa is suspicious of Brazil, despite the fact more than 70% of Brazilians support the World Cup there. And the protesters have no positive agenda left.

By politics of no I mean not only the protesters’ rejection of political parties. It is the no against any kind of politics, which is clearly represented by people singing the national anthem as if patriotism and political affiliation were half a world away from each other. It was possible to engage positively with the peaceful protesters because most of them want a bigger role in Brazil’s democracy. But that requires proper dialog, not banners with platitudes such as “fight against corruption” or “no to excessive investments in the World Cup.” There is no way of reaching solutions with those who believe protests themselves are going to make any difference. That has become the tone. If there is still a voice in this, it now says nothing.

A good example of a voice saying nothing is a pretty naive girl named Carla, who lives in the United States and made a video asking foreigners to boycott the World Cup in Brazil. It got more than 2 million hits. Her reasons: there have been allegations of corruption, excesses by police and tactless decisions by politicians. Those are the same reasons that would justify cancelling all big sporting events in the last decades. And that has been the standard for Brazilian politicization in the recent past: look good, make a compelling speech on YouTube, hold banners with inscriptions that seem to come from Hollywood films and  say no to something. No to the new dam, no to gay marriage, no to peacekeeping in Haiti. Now no is on the streets.

Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota on CNN before the protests turned violent

Despite the fact the majority of Brazilians still support the World Cup, the politics of no made by these Brazilians who can’t offer solutions is already bringing about aspirations by foreigners interested in taking the tournament from Brazil. That is also dangerous because casting away a stable democracy which is debating its future is, no doubt, bad news for a more diverse global view. Notably Americans and English who want to take that opportunity should probably bear in mind that putting Brazil away from them also puts Brazil, the wealthiest, biggest and most populated country in Latin America, closer to China — its undemocratic friend, which has become its biggest trade partner.

Brazilians have always been very self-absorbed. And the politics of no are a very good sign of how much Brazil is divided between those who don’t want the country to take any responsibilities on global issues and that of modern Brazilians who want to engage positively and find solutions to thrive on what they’ve achieved. Now the protests became riots, the next few days will decide if catharsis against all government goes on or if some reasonable expectations are put forward. Regrettably, even if the best happens, it is undeniable 20 June transformed the victory of the peaceful protesters in a sour defeat with a very violent and irrational taste.

About Mauricio Savarese

I am a Brazilian journalist who got tired of reporting only in Portuguese. Politics and football, these are my turfs. Twitter: @msavarese. Email: savarese.mauricio@gmail.com

Posted on 21/06/2013, in Football, Politics. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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