The Orwellian dimension of the protests in Brazil

by Thiago Felipe Alves Pinto
and Douglas do Lago Westphal*

The book Nineteen Eighty-Four has seen an amazing increase in sales recently, due mainly to the NSA Prism surveillance scandal. However, the prophetic wisdom of George Orwell can also be applied to the on-going protests in Brazil. As Orwell writes in Nineteen Eighty-Four:

There are only four ways in which a ruling group can fall from power. Either it is conquered from without, or it governs so inefficiently that the masses are stirred to revolt, or it allows a strong and discontented Middle group to come into being, or it loses its own self-confidence and willingness to govern. These causes do not operate singly, and as a rule all four of them are present in some degree.1

Some people have argued that in a way Brazil is being conquered by a non-state actor called: FIFA. Indeed, some Brazilians are now taking to the streets to complain that FIFA’s only concern is with its own profits. This is obviously true, but the ultimate responsibility for the World Cup budget belongs to the Brazilian government, who begged FIFA to allow them to host the event. Nonetheless, this argument resonates with the population to some extent, especially because many of the protests are taking place close to the newly built coliseums in which football matches will take place.

The following reasons given by Orwell fit the actual roots of the protests in Brazil more precisely. The inefficiency of the government was precisely the reason why the protesters first took to the streets. The increase in transport fares by a few cents seems to be an unlikely reason for such sustained protests. The real problem unveils the governmental inefficiency that plagues Brazil. Commonly, the price of public transport is raised during the year that precedes the elections, which generates a good profit for politicians. In that way the money can be invested in campaigns which subsequently can secure a seat for another four years. Moreover, the price of the fare is raised but the quality never improves, and people pay ridiculously high fares to be transported like cattle.

The inefficiency of the government is certainly more oppressive to the poor, but it has also caused discontent among the middle class. Although the middle class seldom uses public transportation and is usually not exposed to police brutality, people do struggle with the burden of high taxes and the need to make use of private basic services such as transport, education and health. Those with means enough to buy a car will certainly get one in order not to depend on unreliable public transportation. The government is eager to support this move because it somehow reflects economic growth; however, it does not invest in infrastructure which results in a chaotic traffic. The same applies to health and education. The public services are so bad that those having means enough prefer to buy these services from private institutions. Public schools have a terrible record and are substantially worse than the private ones. The public health system is not bad in terms of service but it is insufficient to attend those who depend on it. In summary, the more you pay the better the service, but that does not exclude anyone from high taxes in any form. The result of such policies is an unhappy middle class which indirectly perpetuates social inequalities in the country.

Police officer pepper-sprays seemengly harmeless girl - AP / Source

As a response to the protests, the government has desperately tried to identify its causes that need to be addressed. The protests have shaken the self-confidence of the ruling group, which has recently announced that it will establish a constituent assembly and promote reforms on fiscal responsibility, education, health and public transport. This move is an attempt at a dialogue with leaders of social movements, probably in order to delimitate the popular demands and to limit the implementation of such reforms. Nevertheless, now that the protesters have realised that they have the power to reclaim the streets and make their voices heard, it will take more than superficial political measures to appease the masses.

1 1984, Part II, Chapter IX

Thiago Felipe Alves Pinto holds a law degree from Unicuritiba and a master's degree in international human rights law from Åbo Akademi University. His main research interests are in the areas of freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression.

Douglas do Lago Westphal holds a law degree from Unicuritiba, a medical degree from Universidade Federal do Paraná, a post graduate diploma in public health and a master's degree in environmental law and economics from Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Paraná. He currently works as a medical expert for the social security agency in Brazil as well as for the Office of the Prosecutor.

Readers are encouraged to quote, reproduce and share this content for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. The views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the HR&D team.


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