Can 7 (euro-) cents change a country?
Can seven (euro-) cents change a country? This is a question that might be answered in the upcoming weeks in Brazil. Of course it isn’t an increase of 6,6% in bus fares that causes a revolution, but this matter was the straw that broke the camel’s back and finally made the people go on the streets and protest. There are many reasons to be upset with Brazilian politics: corrupcy, lack of investment in public education and the health system, violence, highly uneven distributed incomes etc. What was most shocking in my opinion was how obviously money was wasted, politicians corrupted and the people taken for a fool. Even though great parts of Brazil’s middleclass were upset with this situation, almost nobody protested publicly and no kind of revolution formed.
But let’s start at the beginning. Almost two weeks ago this started, when the announced increase of bus fares of 20 centavos (round about 7 euro cents) provoked a first wave of relatively small riots in various cities. In São Paulo, at this time, I was at the cinema and when I left it the police asked everybody to leave the shopping center through the backdoor. Outside there was a vast presence of police men. This was on Avenida Paulista, one of São Paulos principal avenues, where a lot of banks and companies have their offices. Litters were burning and the atmosphere was quite tense. At this time I thought, well some crazy guys who just want to rampage used the fare increase (which is pretty much in the boundaries of inflation) as a justification. At this time this was also common sense in media and great parts of the population (as far as I can tell from my personal experience and conversations with my Brazilian fellows).
It all changed last Thursday, one week after the first protests, when the police went on brutally against another, already bigger, demonstration. The videos that appeared on the internet, showing attacks of policemen with teargas grenades and rubber bullets against peaceful demonstrants and journalists, rose broad social support for the demonstrants. Yesterday this lasted in giant manifestations all over Brazil.
Police attacking people who are shouting „sem violencia“ (no violence)
Interview with reporter who got injured by a rubber bullet. Shows some images of the violence.
People with different backgrounds, seemingly great part of which were from the middle class, but of all ages and without a common political notion, went on the streets and demonstrated against the political establishment, corrupcy, poor education and health system amongst other topics. Of course the increase of the bus fares and the waste of great amounts of public money in the context of the FIFA worldcup 2014 were still targets of the protests, but the real reason for great parts of the populations participating in it go far beyond this. Finally the population woke up and protests publicly against the many problems Brazil’s society is facing. Since my first Brazil experiences in 2010 and 2011 I already wondered how the system can go on like this, considering the dissatisfaction about misgovernment and corrupcy which many people I spoke to were criticizing.
When the manifestants passed in my street and went on to Av. Paulista I decided to go out too and take a look at it. I was really impressed! There were as many people on the street as on carnival and the whole demonstration occured in peace and harmony. No vanadalism, no agressiveness, and of course no more intervention by the police (municipal and state administration probably already regreted their principal error which they commited by commanding the police to put down the previous demonstrations agressively). Protestants huged policemen, shook their hands, applauded for their passiveness and chanted their slogans against the topics mentioned above. I Never whitnessed something similar in my life…
The big question that rises now is: what is going to happen? Will these protests lead to a change? Or will it be simply ignored? Maybe the fares will be decreased, but what will follow then? Will the politics go on with business as usual? The problem is that the manifestants don’t have further oficial postulations besides the re-decrease of bus fares. They show that they are upset with all kind of aspects, but they don’t have a leader, a political party or any other representation of their will. This way it will be difficult to bring in their demands into the democratic process. I always hear that corrupcy is rampant along all established political camps. Even if it would lead to new elections, what would be the options besides voting null?
Another point that becomes obvious in this context is that there is no independent media in Brazil. All TV channels and journals in some form depend on political and corporative interests. Who switched on the TV yesterday got another image of the protests than who went on the streets himself. Of course also despicable scenes happend during the demonstrations: people setting fire in front of governmental buildings, throwing molotov cocktails against those buildings (like in Rio), attacking policement etc. But on the other hand the vast majority of participants acted peacefully and deliberately. They simply exercised their citizen’s rights. This side was hardly shown by the media which focused on showing the bad side effects. There was also almost no mentioning of the wide-ranging reasons that lead the participants to the streets. I’m happy to take notice that the international media coverage is more sophisticated and neutral (which wasn’t the case in the beginning, when it seemed that they just copied the information provided by Brazilian news channels).
It will be exciting to follow the upcoming developments. I sincerly hope that the protests will lead to a sustainable change in a positive way. I will keep my fingers crossed. In any case, the 17th of June 2013 made history in Brazil, with the biggest demonstrations since the Impeachement of president Collor.
Source of the cover image: http://noticias.terra.com.br/brasil/cidades/vc-reporter-pm-usa-bomba-vencida-ha-quase-3-anos-em-manifestacao-de-sp,0eb2fcd3dc44f310VgnVCM10000098cceb0aRCRD.html Copyright terra.com.br / Gabriel Labilo