The current mass protests across Brazil have confounded both domestic politicians and international observers alike. The largest nation in Latin America by both population and area has been a poster-child for all that is good about the twenty-first century, with the country regularly cited as a model emerging market possessing a glittering future. Yet the state which put the ‘B’ into ‘BRICS’ is presently in the international spotlight for demonstrations which have seen 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup placards being violently displaced, booming metropolises being disfigured by tear gas and rubber bullets, and the feasibility of Brazil hosting both next year’s FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games being openly questioned.
With the protests still gathering momentum and being constantly redefined, it is difficult to ascertain their real long-term significance with any precision. But after some contemplation, our CSO thinks he might have a few answers:
1. Control. As recently as the 1990s and 2000s, control over Brazilian society was exerted – as much as anything – by the seemingly omnipotent Rede Globo television network, whose mixture of soap operas and vulgar commercialism proved the perfect distraction from life in the favelas. With the rise of Internet penetration and social media, this method of societal regularisation is evidently no longer effective.
2. Development. Intriguingly (and with some parallels to the situation in Turkey), a more inclusive development model whereby the bottom 80% have made clear material gains is being rejected as insufficient to address the monumental chasm between the wealthiest and the poorest in what is still one of the world’s most inequitable nations.
3. Higher Meaning. While the protests have obvious material causes, Brazilians are also rallying against cross-ideological scourges such as corruption, police brutality, state inefficiency and institutional insensitivity. Ideological labels are no longer enough to insulate politicians and administrators in the event of severe underperformance. When millionaire footballers who live and work on the other side of the Atlantic are showing solidarity with their urban poor compatriots, you know that something is changing.