Is a new Brazilian generation really awakening?

Mathilde Mossard and Andressa Pellanda
25 Juillet 2013

What are the messages conveyed by this sudden citizen rebellion in Brazil aside from the increase in public transportation fees? Le Journal International investigated to understand what is at stake in Brazil.

Credits: AFP Christophe Simon
Credits: AFP Christophe Simon
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff booed by a stadium during the inauguration of the Confederation Cup, 100,000 protesters dressed in white occupying the main avenue in Rio de Janeiro, 65,000 marching in São Paulo and an assailed Parliament in Brasilia. What is going on in Brazil? Aside from the opposition to a public transportation fee increase, what is the meaning of this sudden citizen rebellion? Likewise El País, Le Journal International tries to analyse the reasons behind these protests.
Were the readers to examine only the optimistic economic reports published on Brazil over the last ten years, they would seriously misunderstand the daily life of the Brazilian people. Full employment and economic growth might have improved the standards of living of a part of the population, but they did not solve the social violence inherited from the inequality and slavery relationship schemes on which the country was built. Geographical inequalities, urban organisation issues and violation of rights resist to economic indicators. Though, the blossoming Lula generation who attended university and joined the consumption society now refuses to remain inactive against perennial social injustice and corruption.


The protesters are now giving the authorities a lesson of democracy. Their message cannot be clearer: we are no longer docile and we will no longer remain passive.
Massive popular protests are a rare thing in Brazilian history despite the frequent small marches organised by the people and civil society organisations whose number have increased over the last decades (in parallel to the number of political incidences). Brazil’s independence was proclaimed by the daughter of the King of Portugal who wanted her own Empire. Without going back so far in time, it is interesting to notice that marches have always been harshly repressed therefore dissuading people from protesting. The Military Dictatorship (1964-1985) saw a dramatic reduction in political liberties. In addition, the country faced multiple repeated economic crises, food price fluctuations… But the social hierarchy remained the same, inherited from the colonial and slavery system. Due to the constant repressions and the continuous poverty (from generation to generation), the Brazilians form a rather resigned population. Brazilian sociologists (notably Walquiria Leão Rego) theorise the “resignation culture”. Better entrust God or fate. What good would it change anyway? But the recent events show a radical change in this resignation culture.
Another trait of Brazilian culture is the “complex of the bastard”. For a long time, samba and carnivals were considered as poor people’s events while the elite preferred the US cultural model. Nowadays, however, Brazilian folklore participates to national identification and to Brazil’s image in the world. Young people from wealthy families march in the streets, in the name of Brazil, of which they’re proud.
During Lula’s two mandates, the country became opened enough to enable its students to widen their horizons and imagine a Brazilian future for Brazil. It was no longer necessary to copy the European or American model. In other words, during the last few years, parts of the Brazilian society developed a different vision for their own country.


In the protests, a large number of university graduates can be found. They all benefited from social mobility thanks to the economic growth. They are now marching for this benefit to be extended to all. Social misery is no longer bearable, even for the wealthiest members of the middle class. They are marching for a united Brazil and are opposing, through their behaviour, a divided society with, on one side, the elite which monopolises all the wealth and, on the other side, the people.
Workers are also participating. To show their support, inhabitants hang a white bed sheet at their window. An idea which spread thanks to social networks. In Rio, the employees have thrown white copies from their desk windows. White became the symbolic colour of the peaceful protests which were held downtown.
Obviously Brazilians did not become more aware in one day. There are lots of citizen associations which work to promote social progress and the rights of all. However, it is rather new for these organisations to defy the local authorities and use the streets to voice their claims.
In September 2012, the municipal elections served as a tool to denounce corruption in public transportation companies. These elections paved the way which led to a political fight on behalf of the civil society. At least, it contributed to increase collective mobilisation. The debates and political meetings organised within the universities led progressive citizens to voice clearer claims. Therefore, when 9 months later a new increase in the public transportation fee is announced, the preliminary political work has already been done.
Civil society, supported by youth, rush in this political window of opportunities. Nobody can neither legitimate nor justify these increases which suffocate a population which already spends up to one third of its revenues in an inefficient transportation system. Transportation symbolises the daily difficulties imposed on all Brazilians. In a word, it fuels the protests.


At the beginning of the last protests, the claims were clear: fight against the precarious public transportation fee increase. However, the more the protesters joined the streets and were repressed by the police, the media and the government, the more the protests’ profile changed. The political and ideological approaches of the different social groups were set aside to emphasise on common causes: firstly, the public transportation fee increase; secondly, the police and governmental repression of the protesters; thirdly, the calls to police violence against the protesters in the conservative media.
It is still early to analyse deeper causes and more durable consequences. Old and new claims appeared on the protesters’ signs. The demonstrations are indeed very diverse both in terms of social classes and political ideologies. The claims of some groups are sometimes radically opposed, which raises the question of the movement’s future. “The Brazilians want to get united”: that is the message they tried to convey on June 17. But it remains to be seen how long and how this unity will last. The danger is great for the protests to be manipulated by politicians and conservative media, who would modify the protesters’ message, and defend their own interests against new public policies. The tip of the iceberg starts to appear in the horizon.


At local level, Brazil’s political system remains as old as its independence: it’s colonelism which sums up in this axiom “The wealthy control the country”. Power has always remained in the hands of a small elite until, perhaps, Lula’s election. But at local level nothing has changed. Powerful and populist candidates are elected and help their friends’ transportation businesses. The elite administer the territory as feudal lords: the idea of common goods does not exist, the public sphere is only seen as a way to get richer. The phenomenon according to which even the State is a means of enriching yourself has its own theory called patrimonialism.
The protesters directly target this system. Students and young adults are conveying the message of the middle class: they are fed up with the cronyism which defines local politicians who do not care about the living standards of the people.
The change is on its way and it will not be stopped. There cannot be any democracy without the people. And the people are there, in the streets, calling for democracy.

Translated by Maxence Salendre