May 15th demo, Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Mav Matheus May 15th demo, Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Mav Matheus

After the first mass, national anti-Bolsonaro demonstration and ahead of the second on 30 May, Lilian Hill speaks to Mav Matheus about photodocumenting and taking part in the social movement

What are your thoughts on the cuts in education and scientific research under Bolsonaro’s government?

In my opinion, it is a direct attack on the educational base in general since scientific research in Brazil has always been very difficult to sustain. The major problem with this policy of cuts is that it is increasing the prospects of social inequalities for the next generations, since education is one of the most important human rights. The right to education is what improves social mobility. Never before in the history of our country have there been so many women, blacks, poor people and people with disabilities in our universities as now, and this cut of funding represents a setback for our status quo, for everything the student movement has achieved so far. This government called us vagabonds, using the word “babble” to distort everything we scientifically produce  in the country.

What did you think of the 15th May (15M) demo? Did the police react violently? How did it kick off?

The 15M demonstration was a landmark for our student movement. It happened in several Brazilian cities, and I was present photographing in the city of Rio de Janeiro. It was so beautiful to see students from various educational levels and from various educational institutions – both public and private. The police reacted violently towards the end of the demo, as a response to us closing one of the main avenues of the city – Av. Presidente Vargas – from the beginning to the end and throughout the whole protest. As always, the military police began to fire tear-gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. This is a type of reaction that happens in almost every demonstration that has a left-wing agenda. People fight back, and cases such as the bus being set on fire show how much these power relations get out of control.

IMG_0448.jpgPhoto: Mav Matheus

I saw the photo of the Palestine flag in front of a bus set on fire. Can you tell us a little about this scene? It seems that there is a sense of solidarity from the movement in Brazil towards Palestine. Is that right? How significant is this in your opinion?

You are right. Pro-Palestine movements have always had a special place in discussions around the world, and in Brazil it is no different. The territorial conflicts involving the Palestinian people are very similar to those in the favelas and in the Brazilian countryside, which is emphatic for similar movements from here – a mirror in resistance. This scene represents that empathy, the mirror, the resistance, the respect and the inspiration to fight. At the present time, where we have a president – elected in a conservative wave of “cultural warfare”, which defends a government “without ideologies”, but which  declared itself wholeheartedly “pro-Israel” (but with Nazi / eugenic similarities), a pro-Palestine attitude such as this becomes very interesting to analyse and to compare the struggle for rights in this era of intense globalisation.

IMG_0470.jpgPhoto: Mav Matheus

Do you think this is the best strategy that the Brazilian left can have at that moment? Why or why not?

This is a very sensitive issue, because the left (as a whole) is very, very fragmented in our country. However, it is a moment where several self-declared centre-left or left political parties, along with the social movements, are uniting in the resistance to the attacks on basic rights. Demos such as 15M are critical in trying to put pressure and thus influence decision-making processes. This involves not only the fight against education cuts, but the whole situation of cuts that directly involves the rights of the working class as well – like the social security reform.

There is already another demonstration scheduled for May 30. What are your expectations?

I’m really looking forward to it. As I said, 15 May was historic for the student movement and I feel it will take on ever-increasing proportions. The university where I study will run out of funding in June (the Brazilian academic year ends in December), that is, next month. In fact, in June a national general strike is being debated, which will involve the students’ struggle with the workers’ struggle. Expectations about the upcoming rallies are very positive, seeing the proportion that all this is taking, including people who are beginning to regret their own votes in favour of Bolsonaro. I am worried about the police brutality and the future marginalisation that the Brazilian media monopoly will depict, but the struggle continues and will continue. Nobody lets go of anyone’s hand.

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