Institutional harassment in Brazil

Anna Boghiguian, Untitled, 2016. Pencil, ink and encaustic on paper, 114,5 × 210 cm


Presentation of the organizers to the newly launched book

The last few years have meant living in a state of constant alert. It was a period of conviviality of multi-level crises. Sanitary, political and economic crises came together to produce an environment of concerns and doubts about the future and, especially in relation to the conditions for consolidating the sustainable, egalitarian and democratic development projects expressed in the 1988 Constitution.

We all feel that decisive and irreversible ruptures were inscribed in the constitutional edifice of Brazilian society and in the institutional system in that period. The feeling of a slow drift of democracy and the distrust in relation to political representation were accentuated with the adoption of confrontational political discourses and practices in relation to institutions, services, public policies and the Constitution itself.

The book Institutional harassment in Brazil: the advance of authoritarianism and the deconstruction of the State aligns conceptual reflections and mobilizes empirical studies to give meaning to the multi-level processes that characterized government action in those years, and which can be defined as processes of de-republicanization and de-democratization of the State and Society in Bolsonaro's Brazil.

The set of texts treats institutional harassment as an analytical category that refers to – and seeks to understand – a method of government. It means to say that government action is coherent, expresses a doctrinal economic orientation that minimizes the role of the State in economic development processes, minimizes social rights, weakens the institutions that implement them and presents little to the public debate in terms of ideas and projects nouns.

On the contrary, these characteristics are easy to verify and define in three objectives: I. to disorganize – to reorient by and for the market – the state action; II. delegitimize public policies under the aegis of CF-1988; III. disqualify the public servants themselves, especially the statutory ones, under the protection of the Single Legal Regime created in the Federal Constitution of 1988.

The texts in the book document the method in the scope of freedom of expression, in the public service in general, in public policies with consistent examples in the areas of health policies, in different research institutions (CAPES, CnPq, Finep and Casa de Rui Barbosa) , in cultural, environmental and indigenist policies. In short, fundamental rights are repeatedly called into question.

The background of the analyzes is clear, but it is worth pointing out one or two of its characteristic points, namely, the contemporary processes of ideologizing the debate of public problems and the delegitimization of the democratic public space that is constituted in the political sphere. The simplification of the public debate, strongly signaled in different articles in the book, results in the rejection and delegitimization of politics and the search for scapegoats. Politics gives way to magical thinking. Imaginary and malevolent enemies begin to explain and become preferred targets.

The old policy is a mantra in this sense, although governmental strength and weakness are paradoxically found in it. However, the enemies would also be everywhere and in different forms, but especially they would be found in the public administration and against them all combat weapons should be turned, even if the meaning is the deconstruction of the very condition of doing politics and legitimize it in the form of institutionalized public actions.

Mobilizing and guiding supporters through social media is part of contemporary politics, however it implies the systematic use of exalted and exaggerated statements, at the same time simplified, caricatured and ideologized. Perhaps this is the most characteristic element of institutional harassment. No economic crisis or fiscal adjustment, although always accompanied by serious social consequences, can be as negative as the constriction of public space, of consistent and fact-based debate.

The representation deficit and the fragility of the political debate have effects that flow into the phenomenon that the book tries to understand. The deconstruction of rights, institutions and the democratic State itself makes room for the politics of resentment, anger and impotence. More than that, the construction of order in complex societies requires political mediation, construction and collective treatment of public problems. Therefore, the deconstruction and delegitimization of politics in these societies means the deconstruction of the foundations of the democratic order.

Any contemporary society that has solid democratic institutions limits inequalities and violence through processes of economic and political competition. And more, through the organization and implementation of actions to solve problems and guarantee rights. In this way, there is no escaping the need to institutionalize public policies and it is not possible to do without the presence of the State with solid capacities to act in social protection, economic regulation and the induction of environmentally sustainable development.

Therefore, the objectives of development, inclusion and social protection must be accommodated, in pluralist societies, on principles of solidarity, equity and environmental sustainability. Meeting these objectives and pursuing principles requires the strengthening of state capacities, which involve political and technical dimensions and institutional stability. Democratic forms of State are not contradictory with open and dynamic economies and, if it is true that institutions can and should be improved, it is reasonable to expect that the legal, normative and ethical contexts and limits are favorable to them.

Developing countries like Brazil, which have strong heterogeneities and inequalities to overcome, have historical and structural particularities that demand greater – not less – State action. Institutions matter, with their capital of accumulated knowledge and capacities to face problems of different levels of complexity, reducing uncertainties, acting in a systematic and oriented way, coordinating actors and standardizing the relationship between the public and private spheres.

It is necessary to understand, in these terms, that the book seeks to interpret a moment in Brazilian political history without neglecting its political preferences. The book option, despite possible differences in the authors' party orientations, is assertive, everyone shares and defends the values ​​impregnated in the republican and democratic State of law.

As stated in the conclusion: “In democracy there is always the possibility of acting differently, keeping adversaries and allies in a game of progressive mutual learning and not of silencing, isolating and canceling the capacity to act and debate of actors and institutions. Therefore, combating institutional harassment and making it retreat as a principle and method of government is, at the same time, a necessary condition to stop the destruction of the CF-1988 and to resume the virtues and potentialities of democracy as a public value and, indeed, this healthy method of government”.

*Frederico A. Barbosa da Silva, dPhD in Anthropology from UnB, is a federal civil servant at Ipea and member of the deliberative council of Afipea-Sindical.

*José Celso Cardoso Jr., dPhD in economics from Unicamp, is a federal public servant at Ipea and current president of Afipea-Sindical.


José Celso Cardoso Jr.; Frederico A. Barbosa da Silva; Monique Florencio de Aguiar; Tatiana Lemos Sandim (eds.). Institutional Harassment in Brazil: de-republicanization and de-democratization of the State and society. Brasília, Afipea-union, 2022.


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