How the right seized Brazil’s national symbols

. Sep 07, 2019
How the right seized Brazil's national symbols Once Brazil's national symbols, green and yellow became political colors

Today is Brazilian Independence Day, and President Jair Bolsonaro has called on all of his voters to take to the streets, dressed in the colors of the national flag, to show their support for the Amazon rainforest. His opponents, meanwhile, have organized their own demonstrations, planning to wear black in protest of the government’s environmental policies.

While these are simply the latest episodes in a series of pro- and anti-government demonstrations called this year, the importance placed on colors this time around—Mr. Bolsonaro’s supporters in green and yellow, his opponents in black—represents a continuation of the appropriation of national symbols by the Brazilian right, and the abdication of these same icons by the left.

</p> <p>Images such as the Brazilian flag, the national football team jersey, and green-and-yellow clothing in general, have become inextricably linked with the country&#8217;s right—particularly Jair Bolsonaro.</p> <p>This is a recent phenomenon in Brazil, dating back to the <a href="">mass street demonstrations of 2013</a>, which themselves began as protests against rising public transport fares in São Paulo. The size of these rallies and the general anger directed at the entire political system saw flags and other symbols of political parties weeded out of the protests.</p> <p>&#8220;Brazil is my party,&#8221; was the defiant cry, and instead of banners representing political groups or trade unions, protesters brought Brazilian flags, and rallied by singing the national anthem.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img loading="lazy" width="1000" height="597" src="" alt="bolsonaro national symbols brazil" class="wp-image-23595" srcset=" 1000w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1000px) 100vw, 1000px" /><figcaption>Jair Bolsonaro: &#8220;Brazil is my party.&#8221;</figcaption></figure> <p>Many of these same protesters remained on the streets in the years which followed, demonstrating against the sitting Workers&#8217; Party government, and pushing for the eventual impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff.</p> <p>As a result, the use of Brazilian national symbols became less &#8220;anti-political&#8221; and more <a href="">anti-leftist</a>.</p> <p>This also stems from a lack of any proper militancy for mainstream right-wing parties on the streets. As explained by Mauricio Santoro, international relations professor at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, &#8220;traditionally in Brazil, the only strong, organized parties were left-wing … no-one would go to the street with a flag of the PSDB [right-wing <a href="">Brazilian Social Democracy Party</a>] for example. The [right-wing party] Democratas, I don&#8217;t even know if they have a flag,&#8221; he told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>. Ergo, when protesters rejected symbols of political parties in the 2013 demonstrations, the targets were invariably left-wing parties.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="1024" src="" alt="controversy clothing brazil national symbols" class="wp-image-23598" srcset=" 1024w, 150w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 1280w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>Our weekly cartoon, by Jika</figcaption></figure> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>To cheer or not to cheer</h2> <p>This phenomenon struck up an interesting dilemma for many Brazilians during the <a href="">2018 World Cup in Russia</a>. Fans of the national team were reticent to use their yellow and green Brazil jerseys for fear of being pigeonholed as right-wing. One textile designer even put together a red version of the shirt, with the hammer and sickle alongside the Brazil crest. The mockup went viral.</p> <p>This highlighted the ridiculousness of the situation. In their choice of how to support the national team, Brazilians had to adopt either a right-wing or a socialist symbol. There was no nuance, no middle ground.</p> <p>Mr. Santoro explained the use of the national team jersey as a right-wing symbol as being down to &#8220;a lack of typical patriotic shirts in Brazil with nationalist slogans,&#8221; which are more prevalent in other countries. With this lack of ready-made symbols, the right latched on to the shirt of the Brazilian national football team.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img loading="lazy" width="869" height="700" src="" alt="brazilian national team jersey communist" class="wp-image-23596" srcset=" 869w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 869px) 100vw, 869px" /><figcaption>Brazil&#8217;s national team jersey for communists</figcaption></figure> <h2>Brazil above everything</h2> <p>While at first the use of national symbols was adopted as a broad anti-left protest, it was the Jair Bolsonaro presidential campaign that managed to wield this patriotic energy with immense success.</p> <p>Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s military background was critical in constructing this image. In modern-day Brazil, no institution receives elicits more trust among the Brazilian people than the Armed Forces. The military culture involves much saluting the flag and patriotism, allowing Jair Bolsonaro to essentially turn Brazilian national symbols into his own campaign banners.</p> <p>His famous campaign motto—&#8221;Brazil above everything, God above everyone&#8221;—summed up exactly the type of appeal he was going for. Political parties and other mainstream institutions are widely mistrusted, but for millions of Brazilians, there is no doubting God and country.</p> <p>In a move repeated among various right-wing populist platforms around the world, from the U.S. to the U.K., from France to Finland, the use of national symbols and patriotism fuels the divisive discourse which has seen Jair Bolsonaro thrive. By appropriating the flag, they claim their opponents are ashamed of their own country and anti-patriotic. Again, the middle ground is removed, and their nationalist message is clear: you&#8217;re either with Mr. Bolsonaro, or you don&#8217;t love your country.</p> <p>Around the world, there is an impending need for a healthier and constructive debate about nationalism and patriotic identity. In Brazil, where wearing the national football team shirt makes you seen as right-wing, this is a long way off.

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Euan Marshall

Originally from Scotland, Euan Marshall is a journalist who ditched his kilt and bagpipes for a caipirinha and a football in 2011, when he traded Glasgow for São Paulo. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, he authored a comprehensive history of Brazilian soccer entitled “A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.”

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