Shaken democracies

Image: Daria Sivovalova
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By MANUEL DOMINGOS NETO*

Lula does not gather the strength to carry out decisive reforms of the State apparatus, but his immobility in this area does not protect him or democracy

The collapse of established democratic representation in the West continues to worsen. In many countries, dictatorial governments and exotic leaders gain trust.

News of environmental disasters fuels disbelief about the future. Uncertainties arising from global reordering, high-intensity wars and blatant genocides dismantle orders that were until recently recognized as an expression of civilizing advance. Threats of institutional disruption are on the agenda everywhere.

The degradation of work and the loss of structuring values ​​of life in society are frightening and give rise to obscurantist preaching. The liberal cult of individual achievement discouraged communal struggles. The collective mobilization gave way to the bet on saviors.

Nevertheless, solemnly repudiating the riot on the Esplanada dos Ministérios, on January 8 last year, Brazilian authorities announced that, here, democracy would be “unshaken”.

I do not believe that the event helped to contain coup activism and reassured those who value democracy. It was a misleading initiative. Democracies are guaranteed by thundering streets and squares, not in closed halls.

Democracies result from confrontations, including cultural ones. The protagonists of the ceremony at the National Congress presented themselves as false saviors. They did not disarm harmful provisions of institutions with no regard for democracy nor did they awaken hope for a promising future.

The Brazilian state apparatus has nothing republican about it. It was established to guarantee an unfair, exclusionary social order that is incompatible with the notion of human rights. It acts to stop irrevocable changes, not to support them.

The most famous description of the state's attachment to old patterns of social domination was made by the liberal Raymundo Faoro. His writing clarifies more than tedious enumerations of barracks admitted by squatting magistrates and parliaments.

After Lula's first election, in 2002, the Court validated criminal persecutions and doubled down on the barracks. Lava Jato, arrest of the people's greatest leader, impeachment of Dilma... Justice was lukewarm in the face of the coup plotters' attacks on the electoral process. Vilified by the military, she did not respond in kind. Can you believe that the same magistrates form a safe bastion of democracy? 

Despite the criminal activism of armed corporations, there remained an unwillingness to change their role. The Army's heavy hand over the 1988 constitution, forcing it to admit the internal use of forces theoretically intended to confront hostile foreigners, has not been shaken.

Parliament acts as a barrier to change. It is refractory to social demands and a base of support for authoritarianism. It sabotages presidentialism by imposing a business desk. Political parties, increasingly less programmatic and more physiological, exempt themselves from political debate and escape the cultural war.

The State's instruments of force, prepared to subjugate the poor, escape missions inherent to National Defense and Public Security. Customers of weapons and equipment controlled by the Pentagon, attached to corporate benefits, painted and embroidered the coup. Its members fabricated Bolsonaro and participated in his government contrary to the law. Now, they pretend to have no responsibility for institutional degradation. They don't even admit to having sheltered vandals. At most, they would accept the sacrifice of a few scapegoats.

The position of the Head of State is delicate. Lula governs contingent on those who manage big finance, those who plant for export, those who manipulate religiosity, those who hold the instruments of violence and those who can influence the popular mood. It promises a return to fleeting happiness. Without embodying collective hope, how can democracy be protected?

Politics never stopped being a promise of good, according to Aristotle. Democracies and dictatorships are fueled by good news. Without credible promises, political systems cannot resist. Obscurantism thrives and dictatorships emerge when citizens do not believe that their lives will improve.

The Brazilian voice in international concerts remains disproportionate to its possibilities. South American integration, indispensable for development, does not leave the rhetoric. Science and technology producers seem abstracted from their social function. Some even get caught up in denial without the State's strength reaching them.

There are those who shout “no amnesty”. They want to punish a few, but that would be an easy and misleading way out. It would exempt corporations committed to the worst. It would allow the continuity of ultra-conservative activism by public agents.

It is true that Lula does not have the strength to carry out decisive reforms of the State apparatus. But it is also true that its immobility in this area does not protect it or democracy. Deep and prolonged crises demand boldness and, above all, commitments to understanding society.

* Manuel Domingos Neto He is a retired UFC professor and former president of the Brazilian Association of Defense Studies (ABED). Author, among other books What to do with the military – Notes for a new National Defense (Reading Cabinet).


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