What would you do if a bunch of politicians ousted your democratically elected president and installed one of their own?
That’s the reality 200 million Brazilians live under after a legislative coup removed Dilma Rousseff from the presidency and installed her vice president, the very business-friendly Michel Temer. Temer assembled the country’s first all-white, all-male Cabinet in four decades, and right-wing politicians immediately went to work dismantling the country’s environmental and indigenous protection laws.
As part of a financial austerity plan that includes eliminating nine of Brazil’s 32 ministries, Temer’s government absorbed the Ministry of Culture into the Ministry of Education shortly after he took office. The Ministry of Culture has supported cultural endeavors, including residencies, scholarships and research across music, dance and the visual and performing arts since the fall of Brazil’s 20-year military dictatorship in 1985.
In the video above, artist Fatima Veronica said, “The end of a ministry of culture represents an end to one of society’s pillars” and is “a direct attack on … society.” Jasmine Giovannini, who is introduced as a “culture organizer,” said, “We won’t accept a ministry of culture inside a coup government. We only want the Ministry of Culture in a democratic government and a progressive government.”
Giovannini’s remark recognizes that anti-democratic governments throughout history have tended to be interested in culture only to the extent that they can use it as a means to control the population and cement power.
“We’re here to fight for Temer’s fall and for a ministry of culture in a new political moment,” said theater director Marcos Galina. “We fight to empower the arts’ role in society.”
Additionally, upon assuming office Temer folded the Ministry of Women, Racial Equality and Human Rights into the Ministry of Justice, presumably eliminating special dispensations made for groups whose relief from disadvantage and oppression require historically sensitive considerations of race and gender.
“It’s very symptomatic, a government made up of only white, cis[-gender], straight men, without young, black, indigenous people, without women,” said Giovannini. “It’s clearly not a legitimate government.”
“We won’t let this backlash happen without resisting,” added theater student Beatriz Galhardo. Her words aren’t empty. Artists, musicians, filmmakers and other activists have occupied government buildings in 12 of Brazil’s 26 states. They’re resisting a president who, in his first televised address, announced a plan to pepper the country with millions of billboards that read, “Don’t speak of crisis; work!”
As the global art and culture website Hyperallergic reported, after Rousseff’s impeachment “hundreds of actors, producers, musicians, visual artists, filmmakers, dancers, and members of major cultural organizations gathered at the Gustavo Capanema Palace, an icon of Brazilian modern architecture.” Protesters gave the building a “hug” and occupied the mezzanine and second floor, chanting, “Out Temer!” and “Coup, no! Culture, yes!” On Tuesday, roughly 500 protesters occupied the Teatro Oficina, a theater that served as a place of dissent during the period of military rule. At the Cannes Film Festival in France that day, the team behind the film “Aquarius” displayed signs reading, “Brazil is experiencing a coup d’état” and “Chauvinists, racists, and scammers as ministers!”
In an article for the publication O Estado, the film, television and stage actor Wagner Moura asked, “How could one think that the country is better off without the complexity of a ministry which took care of generating and spreading all the manifestations of Brazilian culture here and abroad?”
Hyperallergic reports that shutting the Ministry of Culture will save only 0.2 percent of Brazil’s budget. Sergio Paulo Rouanet, a philosopher who served as secretary of culture in the early 1990s, confirmed to the site that “the economy gained from the extinction of MinC would be minimal, due to the extremely low budget of this ministry.” Others contend that the ministry was not as effective at promoting the arts as it should have been. “Culture has long been hindered, with no specific projects and too much politicking in the middle of it,” the Brazilian writer Ignácio de Loyola Brandão told Hyperallergic. But dispensing with a mission and the office formed to pursue it hardly seems more beneficial to the public interest than committing clever minds to the work of improving it.
And that’s at the center of what Brazilians are protesting: the claim that dismantling government is essential because Brazil cannot afford it. Clearly it’s policies that generate poverty and political inequality that Brazil cannot afford. For singing out that message, the artists resisting Temer, his moneyed allies and the dissolution of an institution that sits at the center of human experience are our Truthdiggers of the Week.