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Is it the same game in Turkey and Brazil? 1 juillet 2013

Posted by Acturca in Turkey / Turquie.
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Today’s Zaman (Turkey) July 1, 2013, p. 15

Şahin Alpay

In a rally of his party on June 22, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said: “The same game is now being played over Brazil.

The symbols are the same, the posters are the same, Twitter and Facebook are the same, and the international media is the same. They [the protests] are being led from the same center. … They are doing their best to achieve in Brazil what they could not achieve in Turkey. It’s the same game, the same trap, the same aim.”

Erdoğan’s statement provides a good starting point for a comparison and analysis of mass demonstrations that broke out in recent weeks in both Turkey and Brazil. Let’s start with the similarities: What is common to both Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdoğan and Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff is that while both of them in their youth were members of non-mainstream political movements (the former of the Islamist and the latter of the Marxist kind), both have as leaders contributed to significant economic growth and democratization in their respective countries, leading to the broadening of liberal-minded middle classes.

Protests in İstanbul began in reaction to trees being cut in Gezi Park in Taksim Square to make way for the rebuilding of an early 19th-century Ottoman military barracks, while in Sao Paulo they started in response to a 20 cent hike in bus rates and from there spread to the entire country in both cases. In both countries while protests seemed to be triggered by relatively trivial causes, they in fact reflected deep-seated political and socioeconomic grievances. In both protests were organized to a great extent through social media, although in Sao Paulo the “Free Transportation Movement” was launched eight years ago by teenager Mayara Vivian, who is now 25.

In both peaceful protests were originally led by educated youth from the middle and upper-middle classes. Militarists, racists and violent leftists in Turkey and looters and anarchists in Brazil, however, to a certain extent succeeded in hijacking the protest movements, causing tensions among the demonstrators. Protesters accused the media in Brazil of highlighting violence by demonstrators and in Turkey for underreporting the police violence. Similarities end here.

When it comes to dissimilarities, while Erdoğan named the protests a game played by “internal and external enemies and the interest lobby” with the aim of discrediting and toppling the elected government, Rousseff qualified the demonstrations as a sign of democracy’s maturing in her country, saying she took pride in and learned from the protests. While Erdoğan ordered the police to suppress the protests by disproportionate force, which led to the deaths of four people, the wounding of hundreds with 10 losing an eye, Rousseff promised radical reforms to fight corruption and improve public transportation, health and education services, even holding a referendum on these issues.

Erdoğan took the protests as an attack on majority rule and refused to see that they represented an explosion of accumulated discontent with his increasingly arbitrary and authoritarian style of leadership since the last general election two years ago, and by ordering the police to forcefully suppress the demonstrations helped aggravate tensions that had been building up. Rousseff, on the other hand, seized the protests as an opportunity to let off steam with regard to tensions stemming from accumulating grievances.

No politician in Brazil took the protests like Erdoğan — as a game played by evil foreign forces with the aim of harming the country’s economy and undermining its rise to global prominence — because it is generally known that sparks usually do not work without tinder. No politician in Brazil thought of calling social media a “curse” like Erdoğan did because it is generally agreed that social media serves democracy by providing means for broader citizen participation in politics, and that is why authoritarian rulers are quite scared of it.

I am indebted to my colleague Lourival Sant Anna of the O Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper for providing me with insights into Brazilian affairs.

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