With protests in the large emerging markets of Turkey and Brazil still to some extent ongoing, numerous keyboards and capacitative touchscreens have been worn out in reporting on two of the really significant unforeseen events of 2013 to date. But to our disappointment, very few cogent analyses have been produced. A recent example was an open letter to the Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, signed by a collection of international luminaries and published in The Times (24th July 2013); while making some interesting points, the missive by and large completely failed to understand the intricacies of the protests, instead rehashing the tired and largely irrelevant secular-religious dichotomy that does not even exist in today’s Turkey in the sense posited therein. Coverage of the Brazilian demonstrations, meanwhile, has been if anything even feebler, genuinely struggling to compute a reality beyond samba and soccer and evincing a profound lack of historicity.
There are numerous reasons why commentators worldwide have not even begun to get to grips with these respective protests; after some contemplation, we at Mediolana believe that there are at least three reasons why developments in both Latin America’s largest country and Europe’s BRIC are of truly groundbreaking importance:
1. Qualitative Protests. The catalysts for both sets of demonstrations – the razing of a park to make way for a military barracks encasing a shopping mall in Istanbul, and increases in transportation fares in some Brazil cities – were qualitative. They showed that the respective publics of Turkey and Brazil are fully aware that for all the relative progress their societies have made in the last decade, there exist glaring lacunae in consultative mechanisms – and these publics can utilise technology to make their concerns over these deficiencies heard.
2. More Advanced than the West? Perhaps another reason why so many commentators have struggled – badly – to comprehend these protests is that despite the generally poor international standing (though for very different reasons) of both Brazilian and Turkish democracy, the grassroots movements organising the demonstrations in these countries have in general been amazingly creative, witty and restrained, and have given their ruling classes genuine pause for thought. The contrast with countries such as Spain and Portugal is particularly telling: both of these nations are enduring sensational levels of unemployment and real impoverishment, but despite widespread frustration at the macroeconomic policies being pursued in Iberia, their protest movements have been sorely lacking in imagination or coherence.
3. The Rise of the Index Civilisation. As detailed in this blog on 18th July 2013 (‘The Index Civilisation: Why Governments Must Exceed Expectations‘), through the widespread availability of qualitative indices on everything from human rights to gross national happiness (‘GNH’), citizens around the world are increasingly aware exactly how well (or poorly) their polities and cities are performing, and are unlikely to put up with serious lagging on universal rights and governance issues. The Istanbul-based analyst Ceylan Özbudak expressed this succinctly in a recent article: people will no longer be satisfied by politicians who point to their glorious (or otherwise) past achievements. They will compare their lot to their global contemporaries, and are likely to ask increasingly uncomfortable questions in the event of non-performance by politicians, bureaucrats and corporations.