Demonstration or civil war?

Thursday 20th of June, the middle of a historic week in Brazil. As I wrote in my first entry, I felt I had the duty to go at least to one demonstration. Not necessarily as an active protester, as I was still in the process of forming my opinion about the movement, but to see everything with my own eyes. 

I remembered the warnings which my good friend Stephanie had given to me, and which made clear how tense the situation was:
“Don’t got alone, Rena”. – ”I will go with another friend, and perhaps her friend”. – “Don’t go with only one or two other people! That’s how people got arrested on Monday, when they walked alone or in small groups. Don’t. Join a group with at least five persons. Please.” 
I found such a group. Students of history,  friends  of Stephanie, calm and trustful.
We gathered at the campus and took  a ferry boat to Rio. Almost everyone there seemed to have the same destination: Plenty of people were carrying posters, shouting slogans. Lots of them were painted or dressed in national colors. This short crossing from Niterói to Rio was probably livelier than an animation show at a cruise.

Brazilian and international students showing their posters.

Brazilian and international students showing their protest posters.

Questions to my parents’ generation

And Rio was lively too. Lively and crowded, principally by people of my age. Twenty-somethings, probably lots of students. But there were also some older people around. After having been surrounded by students’ opinion, I wanted to find out if their opinions differed from what I had heard the days before.

“Without any doubts, a lot of things in Brazil need improvement: The public transportation, the health and the education system. But first I want to observe how this movement is working. That’s  why I’m here for the first time since the protests have started”,
stated Naide, 52, a bank employee.
“I am  trying to understand how protests work nowadays. I’m not part of the Internet generation, and Internet seems to be the motor of this movement.” 

„I consider myself left-wing. I’ve gone to protests since I was 16 and I’m member in a labour union. For me it’s also the first time in this movement, and I’m still trying to find out what’s going on”,
said Paulo, 52.

Andrea, 46, working in public relations, was accompanying her daughter.
“In my opinion, the most important topic are improvements in education”, she told.

Poster contests and a clear signal against homophobia

“This seems like a contest for the best slogan”, laughed a friend of mine when we started to read what people had written on their posters. Creativity all around. Main topics? World Cup, Education, and the evangelical pastor Marco Feliciano  (who is furthermore president of the Human Rights Comission of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies) which had approved a measure to allow treating homosexuality as an illness again.

Is  your son supposed to learn reading in the stadium?

FIFA da Puta (a wordplay: „Filho da Puta“ means „son of a whore“ in Portuguese)

„It’s you who needs treatment, In-Feliciano“, I read several times. It’s another wordplay: „Feliz“ means happy, „infeliz“ is the opposite.

A protester holding a poster which says "If the people don't have buses, let them go by taxi"

„If the people don’t have buses, let them go by taxi“

The street got constantly more crowded. We started to walk.
And some minutes later, I also saw the first persons with a poster saying: „Without any parties“. One of the posters less creative, though more alarming.

No police around – just in the air 

There was no police around. Literally no one. At least they were not visible. The rumors about infiltrated policemen were there as always, but official police? Zero. I got a bit afraid. When I had attended demonstrations in Germany, there always had been plenty of police, accompanying the whole march. What if some people started a fight? What if there mass panic or something else rose, among hundreds of thousands of people, in a street with few and small exits to neighbor roads?
Finally I saw police. But only in the air, a helicopter flew above the masses. When it was above us, everybody started to shout, to sing, to scream or to give the finger.

Less passionate than expected – at the beginning 

Yes, you have read correctly: People started getting active when police flew over us. Before, they had been quite calm. After the way to the demonstration, I had expected something really loud and lively, but… there wasn’t.  It’s funny when a German in Brazil states this, but, honestly, I noticed a lack of passion. And so did my (Brazilian) friends who had participated in other demonstrations and were, due to their comparing experiences, much more disappointed than me. „Why is no one singing, shouting?“, they complained. Sometimes, someone started shouting a slogan. Still, they were mostly less creative than the posters. Most of them told some politician kiss their asses. Of course, some were quite creative: „Brasil, vamos acordar, um professor vale mais que o Neymar“ („Brazil, let’s wake up, a teacher is more worth than Neymar“ [national soccer player] ). And perhaps we were just in the wrong place, I don’t know, but really, it was not that animated. Where had the people from the ferry boat gone?
We kept walking on.
Some hundred meters in front of the City Hall, we had to pass below a bridge. It was full of people looking and waving at us.
The people marching waved back and shouted at them to join us.
Again, we asked ourselves: Why was this external stimulation – people and police watching us – necessary to cause animation?
„The claim ‘This is not only about 20 Centavos‘ might have been wrong. Maybe they should say: ‚Yes, it was about 20 Centavos“, said one of my disenchanted friends.

However, we still had no idea what was going to happen in front of the City Hall.
And in the city center later in the evening. Some minutes later we got a first impression.

Explosions and Escalations 

Some minutes later, we heard  the first explosion.
Some minutes later, we saw people running.
I grabbed the hand of a friend standing nearby, my heart pulsing faster. I’m not a hysterical person, but a crowd running on a street in which there are neither public security forces (which in this case, though, could be an additional threat instead of a help) nor exits to other streets nearby, didn’t exactly cause me a feeling of comfort.
Nevertheless, the crowd acted perfectly. „Don’t run!“, people shouted, remaining still instead of joining the running ones and spreading panic.

Fire, smoke and dispersed people in the streets of Rio de Janeiro.

Clashes in Rio. PHOTOGRAPHER: Denis Augusto

Then, the second explosion.
„No violence. No violence. No violence“, sang the crowd.

I tried to connect to the internet to check what was going on some hundred meters further. Connection had broken down.

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