Brazilians are no longer satisfied with the current panorama of the country – at least, that is what they have been showcasing in various ways. Ultimately, on March 15th, more than a million citizens took the streets around the country and abroad to protest over issues such as corruption, weak economy and contradictory measures taken by the government of Dilma Roussef, the left-wing President re-elected at the end of 2014.
The political pressure comes at the time in which the country is shaken by the scandal of Petrobras, the Brazilian state-run oil company. It has been revealed under investigation that more than 40 politicians, some of them from the President’s Workers’ Party and the ruling coalition, including the speakers of the House and the Senate, former executives and construction companies were involved in a massive bribery scam and money-laundering case that embezzled billions of dollars. Even though the President was not accused of wrongdoing, it was during her years as Energy Minister and chairwoman of the company that the alleged corruption probe happened. The publicity of it provoked heated discussion among Brazilians – the faithful party’s supporters, the incredulous middle class and the afflicted industrialists. It is hardly shocking that such action applied this particular reaction, if anything we can be relieved that it did. Democracy is still alive and kicking.
A ‘Dilmother’ lode of opinions
The citizens are outraged not only because of the political situation – which they tend to summarize with one word, ‘corruption’, no matter what kind of scandal it is – , but also over Brazilian economy facing tough times, since it is nose-diving in one of the highest inflation rates in the last decade (7,7%) and the currency plunges. All those factors have led the President to take unpopular measures that were previously proposed by the opposition, but promptly condemned by her staff during the campaign- the ’I am in charge now‘ discrepancy, witnessed in every political system all over the world all the time.
All this instability resulted in the political dissatisfaction that gathered people in many capitals across the country. Curiously enough, the events were organised through Facebook and websites by non-partisan groups, thus following the patterns of the manifestations in 2013 and 2014, and reunited a myriad of opinions that longed for changes in the government, despite the differences amongst them.
Once again, we witnessed Brazilians absolutely and passionately divided as in a football match between the ruling parties and the opposition. Many times and regretfully enough, they were not able to understand the similarity of their demands, which is probably due to the way information is ruled and consumed in loco.
In spite of having plenty of information, people tend to absorb it in a passionate, sometimes dangerously non-critical way. In Brazil, an instructive example is that whereas some call President Dilma a ‘mother’, others tend to demonise her and her government, demonstrating that in a country where the number of magazines and newspapers greatly surpasses the number their consumers, press has its share when it offers incomplete and, sometimes, heavily biased analysis on the latest news. On top of that, citizens do not make a habit of going deep into the facts and are prone to adopt a political posture by following closely only one side of the story, deeming those who have different opinions as ‘political illiterates’. At this point, it is clear that willingness to make changes in the way the country is ruled abounds to the degree at which the process of political thinking lacks fruitful, open discussion.
Before the rally on March 15th, about 40 thousand marched on March 13th in defence of Petrobras and the Workers’ Party. Two days later, those chanting on the street were mostly right-wing oriented, but their claims were not homogeneous and the experts would actually arrange the citizens into democratic, moderate and even ultra-conservative right-wings. Accordingly, several asked for impeachment, others for democratic changes, while some even supported military intervention and secession.
Although the demonstrations were not alike when it comes to the profile of those involved, be that for economical class or political orientation, Datafolha Institute indicates that their reasons, not their views, were convergent. In the contemporary world where 99 % of people live in a different micro cosmos than the remaining 1 %, this is not at all a surprising fact. Moreover, this fusion of views into one voice should be viewed as a positive sign towards a possible future rebellion against the current (political, economic, social and cultural) world order.
The story before March: the 20 cents that woke up the giant and the Cup that tucked him in
It would be ignorant to say this newest manifestation of dissatisfaction is an isolated episode. It has been two years since the first action took place, at that time because of the increase in bus fares, and the authoritative measures taken against the protesters stemmed a series of other protests for bigger and deeper political changes that lasts until today. The Brazilian giant was awake again, craving for changes and, in a cathartic 2013, sure of what he wanted. Today, he still has legit demands, but his voice lowers as the people cannot reach a consensus on what to protest for, which has been making him numb ever since. Hopefully, 2015 will be the wake-up call for every Brazilian to reflect on their political principles and move together towards a common objective.
The initial demonstrations in 2013 can be divided into three distinct acts, all of them organised and sponsored via social media. The first of them counted mostly with students that were outraged about the raise in the fair related to transports. In a non-violent march, those students were brutally supressed by the local police and deprived of their rights. The second phase involved representatives of the society as a whole – old people, children, teachers, workers – that were not only dissatisfied by the way the students had been treated but also demanded broader improvements, better hospitals, well-trained policemen, education for the people and the end of corruption, chanting that the Brazilian giant was finally awake. The third phase was led by a group of black blocks, who acted violently and destroyed several public and private places. This was the first time Dilma’s approval rates amongst electors have fallen significantly since her presidential inauguration.
In 2014, amid the preparation for the World Cup in the country, Brazilians found themselves in a huge scandal for misusing the public funds, corruption and overbilling for the construction of stadiums.
The general tension also mounted with the leaks about the shabbiness in public healthcare and education. As opposed to what was done in the countries that hosted the World Cup before Brazil and also in contrary to what the government announced, most part of the public money was destined for stadiums, whilst the public facilities needed for the event did not receive many investments.
All those reasons incensed the citizens to go to the streets once more in peaceful, yet persistent protests that took place in the first semester of the related year, including during some of the matches.
This time, however, the event was successfully executed and the aftermaths were at the same time confusing and astonishing. Besides having increased the number of tourists and, thus, the money they spent in the country, some of the work was arguably necessary, such as the Stadium in Amazonas, where there is a lack professional soccer teams and the weather is challenging.
It is paramount, therefore, to make it clear that these latest local protests did not occur out of the blue, green and yellow. They happened as a result of sequential factors that led to new political consciousness and habits that include a wider and wider range of citizens, even if this process is still ongoing. By sharing their views through social media, spreading the news in a rapid and effective way and allying themselves with potential supporters who share the same mind-sets, protesters could on the one hand hold a big event and, on the other, increase the power of pressure.
A government that is half of a kind
Now President Dilma has to deal with an ever increasing part of the population that does not feel properly represented by the government, which is especially true for the Brazilian middle class. Researches show that rejection rates achieved 62%, the highest percentage since September, 1992, right before President Fernando Collor de Mello suffered impeachment. Experts disagree on whether impeachment would be a legal or even an acceptable solution, with the population having similarly polarized opinions.
The Worker’s Party, known for its social policies, constantly relates the resistance from the middle class to wealth redistribution – hence, the desired improvement for those in need. Yet, the President now loses adepts in the lower economical layers of society, too, which evidences that her acceptance rates have decreased even among less favoured and illiterate electors.
At this point, it is as important to remember that President Dilma won re-election by a tiny margin as it is worth noting that it happened less than half a year ago. This shows us that even though social media recently played a major role in exposing the government’s weaknesses and pushing it for changes, we should also be reminded that political consciousness should have been taken seriously ages before the chants, and that is on polls.
At that tumultuous Sunday night, the government reacted to this rejection by recognizing the democratic legitimacy of demonstrations, but downplaying their suitability, claiming that the protesters were not able to win during the elections– the demonstrators responded by banging pots and pans and honking car horns.
Now it tries to put the country back on track and desperately hopes to find a magic bullet for the animosities, such as the quick sanction of an anti-corruption law that aims to penalize enterprises involved in corruption scams. Moreover, since the beginning of her new four-year term, the President has changed some of the ministers in her staff, being the newest of them the Education Minister, the philosopher and Ethics professor Renato Janine Ribeiro.
Nevertheless, the next steps in Brazilian politics remain very unclear. Despite making some changes, the government still receives heavy criticism, especially from the organisers responsible for the manifestations, who believe it did not quite understand the needs presented. They claim the government responded insufficiently, by designing fragile policies, and demand more energetic measures towards themes like corruption and the number of ministries. Even they suffer the pressure from the right-wing now, and some of them have recently adjusted the movement’s premises, consequently supporting impeachment.
Some citizens will be rallying against the government again, on April 12th. Until then, we still need to expect few shiny new moves from both sides, the governmental and the protesting part of population. Then, hopefully, the clouds will clear and we will see how much of it is just hot air in our tropical fall.
Billionaires, Vanity and Modern Democracy
The bullying in Washington is the current trend. On Monday, the British ambassador resigned his post after Trump refused to deal with him. Well-liked in Washington and the halls of Congress, his downfall was an honest assessment of the Trump administration as ‘inept’ and ‘dysfunctional’. The letters were leaked in the U.K.
Suppose the president tweets comments contrary to current established policy, does that mean a policy change? Do departments adapt promptly. Nobody knows. That’s dysfunctional, and everyone knows it. In the meantime, he has enjoyed 17 golf outings since February averaging three a month. No wonder he is that rare president who does not seem to age in office from the stresses of the job. Obama’s hair turned gray.
But then a lighter hand on the tiller has kept us out of war, whereas Obama, the Nobel Peace Laureate, destroyed Libya and escalated in Afghanistan. The consequences are still being felt in Southern Europe particularly, through the hordes of refugees still continuing to arrive. Also in the resurgence of anti-immigration political parties in northern Europe.
The supreme irony is the fact of refugees being rescued from ramshackle boats and dinghies or often dying in one part of the Mediterranean while the Obamas cruise on a billionaire’s luxury yacht in another. Is that a metaphor for democracies in the modern world? One is also reminded of Mr. Modi’s specially woven pinstripe cloth repeating his name endlessly on the stripes in the material.
Fortunately, the current president does not like the sea, or we would never see him in Washington. As it is he has had 14 visits to golf clubs (not as much time on the course however) since the beginning of June. He once had a small yacht that lay anchored in New York until he sold it. His pleasures have generally centered on the more mundane: cheeseburgers and women — the younger the better, although perhaps not as young as those that have gotten his friend Jeffrey Epstein in trouble again. To be fair, Trump had a falling out with him ‘about 15 years ago’ he said recently. ‘I was not a fan of his, I can tell you,’ he added although he called him a ‘terrific guy’ in 2002.
At least one party had 28 girls to a so-called calendar-girl party at Mar-a-Lago (Trump’s estate and club) in Florida, meaning selection of a calendar girl. The male celebrities attending, according to the man assigned the task of finding the girls, happened to be Trump and Epstein, and no one else! So surprised, the man still remembers the story. The falling out between Trump and Epstein was rumored to have been a business deal.
It brings us to the second resignation, that of Alex Acosta the Labor Secretary. A Harvard-educated lawyer, Mr. Acosta was the US attorney for the Southern District of Florida when he made a generous agreement with Epstein who had been charged with sex crimes. For a 13-month sentence of mostly community work, usually from his mansion, Mr. Epstein was protected from further prosecution. In a clear rebuke to Acosta, the case has been re-opened with a new charge of sex-trafficking minors.
As a result, Mr. Acosta has had to bow to the chorus of calls for his resignation. The real question: How ever did Trump get elected? A mainstream press failure?
What has happened to Western liberal idea?
In the recent interview with President Putin, the Financial Times seems to have launched a discussion on liberalism only at its own peril. Inadvertently, a real problem was touched upon, whose pressing nature is no longer denied by anyone in the West. The newspaper had to admit it in its Editorial of 29 June. Its authors claim that the threat to liberalism comes from within, including President Trump and his policies, Brexit and, certainly, the rise of “populist nationalism”. They refer to voters’ disillusionment with liberalism and loss of confidence in the economic system and trust in political elites. The latter are invited to redouble their efforts to take into consideration issues raised by voters and “to renew liberalism”.
Hence, the Russian leader has only identified a problem that Western elites are unable to acknowledge, desperately defending the status-quo as having no alternative. But where is the problem?
The systemic crisis of Western society, if we are to call a spade a spade, has its roots in Reaganomics and Thatcherism. In early 1980s, disregard for the lessons of the Great Depression led to Anglo-American attempts to sort of try the pre-1929 Pure Capitalism. This unleashed the forcers of a “self-regulated market” with the state playing a minimal role – a key concept of liberal economics. The idea of social accountability of business had no place in that system.
At the same time, financial sector was deregulated through the step-by-step repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which was one of key elements of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Its architect was British economist John Maynard Keynes. It was only natural that the 2008 crisis also started in the financial sphere which had practically lost touch with the real sector of economy.
Then neoliberalism (as it became known) came to be imposed by Anglo-Saxon nations on the whole of the EU through the Lisbon agenda. The then Prime Minister Tony Blair was pretty good at it. When asked what she considered as her key legacy, Margaret Thatcher pointed to Blair who continued her economic policies under the “New Labour” slogan.
For instance, everyone knows what the nationalization of British railways led to. Profits are reaped by operators, while costs are borne by taxpayers who finance UK Rail, the state-run company responsible for railroad infrastructure. And this is not the only way to privatise profits while collectivising costs. In fact, globalisation has become one such practice for Western elites. Its original motive was quite liberal and far from being altruistic or even geopolitical (Donald Trump has reassessed this part of it when he blamed globalisation for China’s economic rise). It was about cheap labour for increased profits. The jobs that were to be transferred abroad should have been compensated for by a new technological revolution. But it’s not happening, not even in the second generation. Information technologies do not create as many jobs, and we are already talking of robotisation and artificial intelligence, as well as a universal minimum living allowance as a solution to the problem of poverty and unemployment. It was Keynes who said: “Free trade assumes that if you throw men out of work in one direction you re-employ them in another. As soon as that link is broken the whole of the free trade argument breaks down”.
Liberalism in politics, especially after the end of the Cold War, has degenerated into averaging and alternative-free policies in the “end of history” spirit. Even Henry Kissinger admitted in his “World Order” (2014) that Western elites had again relied on automaticity, as was the case with the market. But as it was shown by Karl Marx supported by modern economists (Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, Thomas Picketty and others), free markets always give advantage to the investing classes, which only leads to more inequality.
In this respect, the 45-year post-WW2 period was an exception to the rule due to the creation of a social welfare state – the one that is now being destroyed by the neoliberal economics. Along with it the middle class is being destroyed – the pillar of Western democracy. For these reasons the real discourse of democracy is being substituted in the West by a discourse of liberalism. This involves labelling all protest voters as “populists” and “nationalists”, allowing to side-step the issue of the inability of the actual political system to represent this silent majority. Yet, that is what’s going on when differences blur between the Right and the Left, Tory and Labour in Britain, Republicans and Democrats in the US, or Christian Democrats and Social Democrats in Germany’s “Grand coalition”. Is it any wonder that when an opportunity arises to have a say, this majority votes for Brexit, Trump, or newly-created anti-system parties and movements, often with marginal ideologies?
In social terms, as BBC is trying to explain in this ongoing debate, liberalism is about protecting the rights of minorities of all kind, including transgender persons. It turns out that there’s nobody to protect the interests of the majority. Yet, we are speaking of the post-war “social contract”, which simply does not work in liberal economics. Anglo-Saxons are on the path of further liberalisation, which the continental Europe cannot afford. Boris Johnson, contributing to the discussion, has said the other day that Brexit is precisely aimed at giving a new lease of life to it by following the US in income tax reductions for business and private individuals.
British political analyst David Goodhart (in “The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics”, 2017) shows another perspective of the issue. In his opinion, the elites have become cosmopolitan, but the majority has remained rooted in their own countries, regions and communities. In other words, the majority sticks to its national identity, unlike the elites. Even the European middle class, united by similar living standards and occupations, becomes aware of its nationality when hit by bad economic times.
Those who accuse Russia of meddling in internal affairs of Western countries are essentially denying their voters the right to vote, while the genesis of the liberalism crisis clearly points to its roots and origins inside the system. It was no-one else but Angela Merkel who in 2010 spoke of failure of multiculturalism in Germany, while calling for intensifying efforts at integrating immigrants into German society.
It was not Moscow that drew the attention to this problem. As early as 2007, the Economist wrote of a “secular overreachl” in the West, while today many are voicing concerns over a “liberal overreach”. Speaking broadly, it can be said that in the absence of a competitive environment in the realm of ideas after the end of the Cold War (which ended up doing a disservice to Western elites), liberalism has mutated into a dogma, a totalitarian ideology which does not tolerate dissent or pluralism of ideas. No wonder that the elites have resorted to political technologies, media control and political correctness to tighten the grip on the freedom of speech and generate semblance of an alternative-free existence. Social media have put an end to this, becoming a tool for politically alienated electorate to self-organize. As a measure to protect the status quo, the elites are now constructing an artificial dichotomy of liberalism vs authoritarianism, i.e. if not one, it’s definitely the other.
It is, therefore, not about the end of the liberal idea, just as President Putin pointed out, but that it cannot claim to be a one-size-fits-all model negating the wealth of ideas in Europe and the world. The problem is that any ideology, as history has shown, is always aggressive when it claims the ultimate truth, exceptionalism and, as a result, becomes a threat to the world. The notion of a “liberal world order” has also been introduced only recently, as a defensive reaction of the West when its dominance in global politics, economy and finance is coming to an end. Everything could have been different, had Western elites bothered to make this order, Bretton Woods institutions included, truly liberal, open and inclusive. Nobody was preventing them from doing so.
From our partner International Affairs
Could Trump’s tricks boost his ratings and settle the Syrian conflict?
Recently the U.S. President Donald Trump formally launched his 2020 re-election campaign in front of a large crowd in Orlando, Florida. The campaign is gaining momentum. We have already seen the celebrities and politicians speeches, preliminary ratings and even the economic models of the New York Times predicting Trump’s victory. For his part, the candidate keeps on delighting the world community by posting promising Tweets to increase his popularity and to retake votes from his opponents. According to Gallup, 45% of U.S. adults said Trump should be impeached and removed from office over the matter, while 53% said he should not be. 45% is too much for the sitting president, so it has been decided to increase his positions in the eyes of freedom fighters.
In this case, we are not speaking about the strict implementation of all his statements, but only about election promises that can snatch the next agenda from competitors. For instance, the situation is so with Trump’s report on the withdrawal of the U.S. troops from Afghanistan. It looks like the White House analysts are working on the same scenario.
Last Monday President Trump told Fox News that he would leave an intelligence presence in Afghanistan, though he has long hoped for a full withdrawal of U.S. military presence from the country. So, according to Trump’s statement, the U.S. will retain intelligence in the region. That’s ridiculous! Washington has been trying to withdraw troops from Afghanistan for several years.
Boutros Marjana – the head of Syria’s parliamentary Foreign Relations Committee in response stated that this action was focused on the media, to make the average American to believe that the unnecessary and external conflict is over. “Tramp said the same on Syria. However, a radical change in the area of hostilities has not happened. The situation on the ground is quite different from what was stated. So far, in my opinion, the United States has not developed a strategy for the situation in the eastern coast of the Euphrates River”, Marjana said.
And while Trump is posting Tweets for his electorate, the U.S.-led international coalition carried out another air raid on the residential area in Idlib province. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) units were the alleged aim of the aviation. The details on casualties among civilians have not been reported. It worth noting, that during the previous bombardment, apart from the extremists, 49 civilians in a mosque were killed.
U.S. Central Command announced that the attack had been initiated in response to HTS terrorist acts in residential areas. It is unlikely that Trump will actually withdraw from Syria or Afghanistan because the killing of terrorists and civilians does not stop.
Moreover, telling the world about the withdrawal of troops the White House decided to put pressure upon Germany to expand its participation in the Syrian conflict (apparently instead of Washington).
Currently, Germany supplies weapons and surveillance planes to Syria. However, the United States insists on Germany to send its ground forces.
It is hardly surprising that some international coalition members suddenly proclaim their participation in the joint operation against ISIS terrorists under any pretext. In fact, their contingent will be intended to replace the U.S. troops that following Trump’s intention should be withdrawn from Syria. Wonder who will get all the U.S. military bases in Syria? In this situation, the obvious question arises: why should the EU troops be located in Syria instead of the U.S.? And who is going to replace the U.S. forces in Afghanistan?
At the same time, Israel is also playing an active role in the ‘peacemaking’ process in Syria. On June 1, at least 15 citizens, including five women and a child, were killed as a result of the Israeli air strike on Syria.
Anyway, illegal U.S. forces presence is a considerable obstacle to the political settlement of the Syrian conflict. And the cynical Israeli air attacks, as well as its international policy, break any hope for resolving all disputes peacefully. Trump may make the only right decision that will let him increase his ratings using the Syrian issue. The current president should do his best to reconcile the parties, suspend cooperation with Israel, and also establish a dialogue with Turkey, Russia, and Iran. That is very unlikely. Therefore Trump has to go on tricks with a contingent from other states.
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