From Ankara to Brasilia: How Similar Are the Turkey and Brazil Protests?

On June 22, Turkish newspaper Takvim published an article which argued that the Brazilian and Turkish protests were essentially the same. The newspaper displayed similar images of protesters wearing the Anonymous group's mask, and of police violence.

The article title read: "Copy Paste." On the same day, Erdogan delivered a speech in which he claimed that "the same game is being play now in Brazil. The symbols are the same, the signs are the same, Twitter and Facebook are the same, the international media is also the same. They [the protesters] are lead from the same center."

Yet how much of the protests in these two countries is actually similar? This article looks at five issues and compares what is going on in Brazil to what is going on in Turkey.

1. Background Context

Turkey and Brazil are both big league developing countries. Economically, both Brazil and Turkey grew rapidly in the past decade, and both suffered steep slowdowns in 2012. In Turkey's case, growth went from an astonishing 9% in 2010 and 2011 to a disappointing 2% in 2012. In Brazil's case, growth went from an average of 5% in 2010 and 2011 to 0.9% in 2012. Moreover, both Turkey and Brazil have seen the rise of a pronounced middle-class that has been at the helm of protests in both countries
Politically, both Turkey and Brazil are established democracies, although the latter probably has achieved a higher level of political and social freedoms.

It is worth noting that both Erdogan and Dilma were democratically elected, which does not take away from the criticisms brought up by the protesters, but does give them some political legitimacy to the extent that they were put in power through free and fair elections. Furthermore, both the Workers Party, in Brazil, and the Justice and Development Party, in Turkey, were elected to power about a decade ago, and have remained in power since.

Finally, both the situation in Turkey and the situation in Brazil reflect many long-held frustrations. In Brazil, it has been an accumulation of corruption scandals and poor public services. The Confederations and World Cup efforts have only deepened the wound, contrasting the luxurious "FIFA standard" to the precarious condition of Brazil's public schools and hospitals. In Turkey, it has been a deep suspicion of where Erdogan is going with politics. Freedom House, for instance, criticizes Erdogan's policies which they see as "meant to entrench AKP power." Ultimately, despite the fact Turkey is a democracy, Erdogan has repeatedly cracked down on civil liberties, leading many Turks to grow concerned over what his real intentions are with Turkey. 

2. Protesters' Demands

In both Turkey and Brazil, it is hard to find a united and concrete one-demand voice among the protesters. The one thing that is certain in both movements is that they go well beyond Gezi Park and the R$0.20 hike in bus fares, respectively.

In Brazil, the general complaint revolves around the pervasive corruption and inefficiency in government that have plagued the country in the last decade, leading to governmental impunity and poor public services. Some concrete demands have been made by the population, such as opposition to the constitutional amendment PEC-37, and opinion polls indicate that there is national consensus that political reform is needed, with 73% supporting the idea. But the protests have very little organization and almost no leadership, leading to a disperse set of demands that cover a broad array of topics, from more investment to education and health to less impunity towards corrupt politicians.  

In Turkey, according to my research, the situation has been similar. Protesters in different areas of the country and from different backgrounds have different complaints against the government, leading to the same broad array of demands as Brazil. There also seems to be no organized leadership behind the protests. There is, however, a consensus among protesters that Erdogan's religious conservatism is siphoning off dearly cherished personal liberties in Turkey. It is indicative, for example, that Turkey currently has one of the highest numbers of journalists behind bars in the world. All in all, Turks have grown tired of Erdogan's authoritarian-like style of government, and are suspicious of his true intentions with politics.
In this way, perhaps obviously, extensive political reform seems to be the uniting theme in both these protests. Finally, in Turkey as in Brazil, protesters are appalled at police violence, and have asked for a more peaceful treatment of protesters by the police.

3. Government Response

Government response perhaps marks the most alarming difference between the Turkey and Brazil protests. In Brazil, president Dilma has accepted the protests, opened some dialogue with the population, and called in local governors and mayors to discuss plans for at least a modicum of political change and improvement in public services. In Turkey, Erdogan has largely dismissed the legitimacy of the protesters, and argued that they are part of a broad conspiracy supported by foreign forces, including an international "interest rate lobby". He has even gone so far as labeling some of the protesters as "terrorists". Erdogan has refused to open any form pro-reform discussion in Turkey.

Now, admittedly there has been a lot of domestic criticism directed towards how Dilma has handled the protests in Brazil, and specifically towards the offers she has proposed in response to the upheaval (which include a possible plebiscite or referendum on political reform). But that does not takeaway from the fact that she has openly embraced the protests, and at least tried to show (or, as skeptics see it, fake) that she is receptive to the popular cries for change. This is very different from Erdogan's directly confrontational approach. As such, criticism aside, government response marks a key distinction between the events in Turkey and Brazil.

4. Media Coverage

Another noticeable difference between the Brazil and Turkey protests lay on the domestic media coverage of both events. In Turkey, despite the national outcry that was rapidly gaining momentum, mainstream media largely ignored the protests at first. The example of the penguin documentary that was being aired by CNN Turk while large-scale protests were going around Gezi park epitomizes this claim. And even after the media began following the protests, protesters complain that the information it relays is largely biased and inaccurate, ignoring the rampant police violence that has been going on and characterizing the protesters as vandals.
In Brazil, the situation was both similar and different. Mainstream media began covering all of the protests in the country as soon as they gained momentum. I know because I was abroad until a couple of days ago, and had been following the protests closely through traditional media outlets. There was even live online streaming of the main cities (Brasilia, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro). Moreover, it is worth noting that most of the information I read online matched the descriptions my friends were giving me of what they saw during the protests. However, like many Turks, a lot of Brazilians have accused the media of withholding information on police abuses, and instead focusing on the violent minority that have vandalized Brazilian cities.

5. Role Of Social Networks

I admit when the discussion over the role of social media in the Arab Spring first began, I shrugged it off in a comical manner. But I could not have been more wrong. You never know powerful a political tool social media can be until 90% of your Facebook news feed are protested-related posts. The remaining 10% come from your international friends. Complaints, statements, images, and videos. Everyone is "liking" and everyone is "sharing". One Facebook post from a friend read: "That awkward moment when you have more Facebook invites to protest events than to random alternative parties." 

Indeed, although the question of whether this "Facebook effect" is beneficial or detrimental to the manifestations as a whole merits an article of its own, there is no doubt over the remarkable mobilization power that Facebook and Twitter provides. In both Turkey and Brazil, social networks have been key in helping the protests gain in both momentum and scale.

6. Copy and Paste?

So, Copy and Paste? You decide. In my opinion, while the protests may seem similar on a superficial macro-level, when you boil down to specific complaints made by the protesters there are so many country-specific factors that make it very hard to equate the two events. Moreover, the response of government and media in both cases has been markedly different. In the end, while I understand the urge to argue that both protests are analogous, especially given the fact that both Turkey and Brazil are developing democracies, I do not think the protests share that many significant similarities. It is a very long way from Ankara to Brasilia.