What legacy has 1968 in Brazil today? And are there any links to the events in Europe? These questions served as a starting point for an investigation with artists, writers and experts in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Paraty in Brazil. Robin Mallick, cluster president in Rio and responsible for the implementation of the project, talks about the freedom of speech and how to overcome repetitive self-representation of a country.
The year 1968 has a powerful legacy in the history of Europe, I am thinking of the Prague Spring and the students’ uprisings in Paris. How does 1968 resonate in Brazil today?
This question was the exact question the clusters in Rio and São Paulo asked themselves. 1968 was an important year in Brazil: Many people looked towards Europe and followed what was happening there but the situation in Brazil was entirely different, as Brazil was under a military dictatorship since 1964. What made it more challenging was that from December ‘68 onwards there was a new legislation, the so-called AI-5dramatically restricting the freedom of speech. In our focus to look at 1968 in Europe and Brazil we found that there are some similarities but many differences and most importantly that there are many questions that were relevant back then and that remain an issue today: particularly censorship and freedom of speech.
What activities did the cluster organise around the topic of 1968?
The largest event was at the literature festival Flip in the town of Paraty situated at equal distances between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. This is one of three major literature festivals in South America, and under the roof of EUNIC’s Casa Europa – EuropeHouse – we hosted several readings and panel discussions on the legacy of 1968 inside a Baroque church. We invited Europeans and Brazilians to reflect on what 1968 meant and could clearly see that the current events in Brazil in the context of divisive election campaigns in 2018 regarding the limitation of freedom of speech through some fundamentalist activists do really have a direct connect to similar discussions in 1968. I think the urgency of being alert particularly for society at large was quite imminent as there were lots of question and contributions from the audience.
Tell us more about the work of EUNIC clusters in Brazil. How did you overcome some of the challenges of coordinating two clusters with overall seven members?
We divided the work: What happened in SãoPaulo was coordinated by the cluster in São Paulo while the events in Paraty and Rio were coordinated through the Rio cluster. We had a joint planning session in São Paulo. São Paulo has an interesting system to finance activities: Each member contributes a fixed annual amount. In Rio each member pays what they can. Considering the fact that the two clusters are not far away from each other it is natural to work together. I would also say we should consider links between further EUNIC clusters: If interesting guests are invited to Rio, they could also travel to Buenos Aires or to Santiago – thereby economising both money and time and expanding perspectives.
Institutes could have worked on the topic separately as well, no? Why didn’t they?
Sure, every institute organises their own programme – we do that all the time and don’t need any more of that. To refer to topics and discussions only in one’s own country is very predictable and repetitive. It is inspiring to think about common projects and topics and I personally loved preparing a joint concept with the Cluster members. 1968serves as a perfect example as it really connects not only several European countries, but also has repercussions in Brazil. Of course, it’s not a super exciting thing to say that Europe is very diverse but very precisely in the context of ’68 you can prove that immediately. Through our presence in the Casa Europa in Paraty and the subsequent events in São Paulo and Rio it became physically visible what Europe stands for. The joint approach transferred itself onto the audience – which made us very happy
Robin Mallick has been posted in Rio de Janeiro since 2015 and became the EUNIC cluster president in 2017. He is the Director of theGoethe-Institut.