As protests overwhelm two of the world’s leading developing countries, the emerging nations of Turkey and Brazil now rocked by demonstrations at a scale unprecedented since the Arab Spring and Occupy movements of 2011, we need to cast a fresh eye at the reasons that prompted the mass uprisings in these countries that have popularly-elected governments in place. While the demonstrations in Brazil began after a small rise in bus fares sparked agitations that, over the course of a few days, transformed into nationwide movement with concerns ranging from the effectiveness of the social welfare schemes to the extravagant expenditure on the upcoming 2014 FIFA football tournament and the 2016 World Cup that will be hosted in Rio de Janeiro, Turkey has been shaken by protests over razing of 600 trees in Gezi Park, in the iconic Taksim Square of Istanbul, that snowballed into an immense political rally, with questions of secularism taking centre-stage in the country ruled by a moderate but Islamist regime under Recep Tayyip Erdogan. For Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, however, although she has tried to tackle the demonstrations and address the grievances of the people better, she too is confronted with conundrums that will not easily resolve themselves. Ironically enough, Rousseff, the successor to Luiz Inacio ‘Lula’ da Silva, who was touted as the savior of Brazil’s economy and who, along with, Venezuela’s the late Hugo Chavez, engineered the quasi-socialist, pro-people reform movements in South America, has been at the forefront of several welfare schemes, such as the ‘Minha Casa, Minha Vida’ housing programme, among others. However, allegations of funds being mishandled, with the economy not performing as well, the Brazilian real weakening and the Constitution in need of amendments, the mass protests look like they were long overdue.
Similar remonstrations were sounded when London had hosted the 2012 Summer Olympics, with protests on the excessive spending on security and other issues making headlines the world over. The lesson that however needs to be learnt from the continuance of the worldwide popular protests is that the 21st century is increasingly being marked by a universal awakening of sort amongst the citizens, who seem to have woken up from a long slumber brought about by fantasies of a global consumerist utopia. What started as a tiny flicker in 2011, when a Tunisian fruit-seller set himself ablaze to mark his dissent, has now become a movement that has crossed borders and has fired up minds of people inhabiting different continents and speaking different languages. That the protests at times seem incongruent and contradictory vis-à-vis their demands, is not really an issue, but relief comes from the fact that through fractured messages of international solidarity and unrest, the spirit of revolution that marked the watershed years such as 1968, 1989 and 2011, is still making its presence felt.