University of São Paulo: Destruction of culture in the Bolsonaro government is the subject of a book

“A country that does not preserve its culture and art will never be a nation.” The strong statement by José Virgílio Leal, director and founder of Instituto Arte no Dique, is the best synthesis of what inspires The End of the Ministry of Culture: Reflections on Cultural Policies in the Post-Min C Era . No wonder, it is the phrase that appears on the back cover of the recently published book by Rafael Moreira, PhD in Political Science from the Faculty of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences (FFLCH) at USP, and the journalist Lincoln Spada.

As the title suggests, the volume brings together comments and discussions on culture as a public policy, having as a trigger for the reflections the extinction of the Ministry of Culture (MinC), held on the first day of the government of Jair Bolsonaro, on January 1, 2019. The authors build the work from ten interviews carried out in 2021 with researchers in the field of culture, artists, cultural producers, teachers, cultural managers from different levels of public administration and former minister Juca Ferreira.

“As with any work, this book is not the result of the exclusive work of its authors”, write Moreira and Spada in the acknowledgments of the volume. “He synthesizes, both in his reflections and in his concrete results, the work and engagement of multiple sectors of culture that have been so affected by the current administration of the federal government, from artists to public managers, through researchers and the market itself. editorial. Our intention here from the beginning was to give a voice – and in a way also represent – ​​to the anguish of all those who are somehow linked to the cultural segment and saw the ministry that represented them being extinguished overnight.”

From emergence in redemocratization to extinction

As the authors report in the introduction to the work, the Ministry of Culture was created in March 1985, during the presidency of José Sarney (1985-1990), as part of the post-military dictatorship democratic transition process. Until its end, in 2019, 30 people held the maximum position of minister, among them 25 men and five women.

The longest-serving professor at the Faculty of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences (FFLCH) at USP Francisco Weffort, who died in 2021, who headed the ministry during Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s two terms (1995-2002). Almost the entire political party spectrum has already commanded the portfolio: the list includes PT, PCdoB, PPS, PV, PSB, PFL, PL AND PMDB.

Due to this plurality, the conception of what culture is and the political-ideological orientation of the ministry’s actions obviously fluctuated over these years. With Celso Furtado, minister from 1986 to 1988, for example, four guidelines guided his management, as the authors point out: “The preservation and development of cultural heritage; stimulating cultural production while preserving creativity; support for cultural activity where it presents itself as a rupture with respect to dominant currents; and, finally, the stimulation of cultural diffusion and exchange with a view to democratizing access to our heritage and cultural assets”.

With Weffort, Moreira and Spada note, the conjuncture of the consolidation of neoliberal thinking in Brazil placed the role of the State in the area of ​​culture as a disciplinarian, supported by the belief of good regulation of the market for the capture of resources in the cultural area through of the private sector. It is in this context that the Rouanet Law, reformed in 1991 based on the Sarney Law, expands.

In turn, in the passage of Gilberto Gil (2003-2008) during Lula’s presidency, a series of policies attributed prominence to the role of the State in the elaboration of cultural policies, write the authors. The perspective involved the creation of a State policy based not only on promoting cultural activities, but also on regulatory processes and public policies that contributed to the development of culture in three dimensions: symbolic, economic and citizen.

Questions about the need for the existence of the Ministry of Culture itself also permeated its history. The first threat came during the Collor government (1990-1992), when the then president issued a Provisional Measure making the MinC a Special Secretariat directly linked to the Presidency of the Republic. With his impeachment, the measure would be reversed shortly after Itamar Franco took office. The second threat came in the government of Michel Temer (2016-2018), who tried to incorporate the MinC into the Ministry of Education. It didn’t last long: after strong pressure from the cultural sector, the measure was reversed in just nine days.

The mobilizations that took place during the Temer government were not repeated, however, when in 2019 Jair Bolsonaro downgraded the status of the Ministry of Culture to the Special Secretariat for Culture, linked first to the Ministry of Citizenship and, currently, to the Ministry of Tourism.

“Culture, when it takes the institutional form of a ministry to foster its activities, demonstrates all its strength,” the authors write. “Usually with fewer financial and institutional resources in times when its importance is recognized, culture suffers more than any other public policy in times of political darkness like the one we are going through in this 20th decade of the 21st century in Brazil.”

Special Secretary of Culture

Since the demotion to Special Secretariat for Culture, six people have already held the position of secretary. The first was Henrique Pires, who left the post after accusing the government of trying to censor a public notice linked to the LGBTQIA+ theme. Then came José Paulo Martins and Ricardo Braga, with brief stints, the first only as an interim, on two occasions. The next secretary would be the theater director Roberto Alvim, removed after speaking inspired by Joseph Goebbels, minister of Nazi propaganda. Then, who passed by the chair was the global actress Regina Duarte, removed after interrupting an interview on CNN Brasil in which she played down the military dictatorship. Currently, the position is held by the also global actor Mário Frias, who usually circulates armed around the secretariat’s premises, which intimidates employees, report Moreira and Spada.

“The fear arises when cultural policies become colonized by obscurantist ideas and discourses,” the authors write. “The post-MinC, in its reduced institutional format of secretariat, had five secretaries in two years, which sums up well the importance of culture and culture policies for the current federal government. What can be seen is the contagion of the institutions that govern cultural policies with discourses that carry signifiers that humanity has already learned to despise: Nazi symbols; white supremacism; chauvinism; homophobia; racism.”

According to Moreira and Spada, what is noticeable is an explicit attempt to use cultural policies as a vehicle for propaganda, “when a Secretary of State responsible for cultural policies quotes excerpts from Goebbels’ speech; when the person in charge of the Zumbi dos Palmares Foundation calls the black movement ‘accursed scum’ and revokes awards granted to black personalities”.

At the same time that ideology seems to contaminate the body, employees of the current structure of the Special Secretariat for Culture report that budget cuts, legislative reforms, frequent changes of leaders and repeated attacks on institutional missions reveal a serious situation. As shown in the statement, reproduced in the book, by an employee of the Casa Rui Barbosa Foundation, linked to the secretariat: ”Ah, it’s been very exhausting, right, working this way. It’s not that before we didn’t have internal disagreements, that we didn’t have differences of opinion, that has always existed – and I think it’s healthy that it exists, right? So, we often had disagreements with some position of the top management, anyway, but in the end there was a consensus, there was a capacity for dialogue, right, and today all this has been broken, because… the management has been very authoritarian and this is something that is explicit, because it even appears in the emails we receive – as a ban… words like ‘prohibition’, ‘is vetoed’, right, so they are very direct in this sense. This capacity for dialogue with top management has practically been exhausted”.

“A colonized, poor, mediocre and shallow vision of culture”

Wanting to give voice to the people directly impacted by the extinction of the MinC and to record their reflections on the cultural sector at this historic moment, Moreira and Spada conducted ten interviews that make up most of the volume. Made virtually in the first half of 2021, they reflect in their context the situation of the covid-19 pandemic, which makes the situation of those who work with culture even more dramatic.

Among those interviewed for the work is Juca Ferreira, executive secretary of the MinC between 2003 and 2008, during Gilberto Gil’s time in the ministry, and minister on two occasions: from 2008 to 2012 and from 2014 to 2016. In his statements, Ferreira analyzes the implications of the demotion of the ministry to secretariat and the ideological interests of the measure.

”I draw attention to two dimensions”, declares the former minister to interviewers. ”One is this loss of ministerial status, which is a reduction in the importance of culture at the national level. In other words, the Bolsonaro government has declared war on culture. They [from the government] consider that they have to clean up Brazil. It’s a far-right project. They don’t like anything that makes Brazil unique and personal from a cultural point of view. They reject the African heritage, see the citizen they put to run the Palmares Foundation, and they also reject the contribution of indigenous peoples to Brazil. They have a very colonized, poor, mediocre, ignorant and shallow view of culture.”

Alongside this vision, Ferreira also sees an attack on what the government perceives as “cultural Marxism” and the attempt to re-establish censorship in Brazil. “Everything that is modernity, everything that is contemporary in terms of culture, they reject. Want to know what the Bolsonaro government thinks in the area of ​​culture, listen to Minister Damares Alves, the girl from the guava tree. We got used to an elite that gives little importance to culture in Brazil, but this extreme right-wing group that has Bolsonaro as its representative, they give importance. It is even a theorization that passes through Olavo de Carvalho and passes through all the institutions that are ideologically feeding the extreme right in the world, such as the Millennium Institute, among others. They think there is a culture war, that there is a predominance of the left, that cultural Marxism has dominated the West.”

Bárbara Rodarte, who worked at the São Paulo State Department of Culture, was an advisor to the City of São Paulo and is a specialist in replicating courses for public managers on municipal plans and municipal systems of Culture, also points to a management of culture by the government marked by strong ideological interests.

“On funding through the Culture Incentive Law, the new name given to the Rouanet Law, we have recently seen the veto of the activities plan of the Vladimir Herzog Institute, which had been approved for ten years, as reported by the press”, comments Barbara. “There are also constant threats of ideological filtering to national cinema. We have seen the indication of names for the management of bodies and areas of promotion of culture with an ideological bias and without proven technical capacity. So, I believe so, funding for culture, at the federal level, may be using criteria other than the merely technical ones for the approval of projects, at the moment, those enrolled in the Culture Incentive Law.”

Not all respondents, however, share the disappointment and concern with the end of the MinC. Mateus Sartori, who was Secretary of Culture of Mogi das Cruzes (SP) for eight years (2013-2020) and accumulated the role of Tourism coordinator from 2017 onwards, puts the issue into perspective, having seen in the incorporation of Culture by the Ministry of Tourism opportunities for the municipality. “Right at the beginning of 2017 we transform Mogi into a Municipality of Tourist Interest, and parallel to that we raise R$ 6 million in four years. We built several buildings, renovated equipment… Although some people criticized a lot during this period of the Bolsonaro government having placed Culture within the Ministry of Tourism, and then consequently some city halls joined in this wave, in Mogi we had a totally different experience. This year we have two pieces of equipment to be delivered, one of which is a convention center where we approved the project and raised 100% of the money via the Ministry of Tourism, a convention and events center for the city. So, I think this junction, at least here in the municipality of Mogi das Cruzes, worked out very well.”

For Sartori, the issue of an exclusive ministry for culture deserves further discussion. “I think it’s worth starting to think about unions in areas that we haven’t experienced yet, or that we’ve even experienced in the past. Culture, for example, could be in science and technology,” he proposes. “I think having a mindless ministry is useless, so without content, without concept or without action. Having a ministry just for the political strengthening of the area, I honestly don’t think it happens. And it’s expensive to have a ministry that doesn’t work. Having a ministry that works like the period of Juca and Gil was, that would be really cool. Even for us to try to review things that were lost in this period of destruction that we are going through. And I also think that it would be worth the experience of a Ministry of Culture to be associated with others, because I no longer see culture disassociated from other things. I think it can be strengthened if it is a Ministry of Culture and Foreign Affairs, for example.”

João Brant, however, who was executive secretary of the MinC during Juca Ferreira’s second time in the ministry and is another of the interviewees in the book, highlights that three losses of national impact are related to the extinction of the ministry. Firstly, there is a loss of autonomy in the management of resources, which becomes dependent on a minister who is not necessarily in the area of ​​culture. Then there is a loss of speech within the government. Finally, there is loss of prestige and the place of external speech. “You don’t have a Ministry of Culture that voices certain issues for the sector, losing symbolism and the ability to generate action through its intention, its manifestations”, says Brant.

“Regardless of when the Bolsonaro government ends, his administration has already left its mark on the cultural segment and is evaluated by artists and cultural managers as the worst since the creation of the ministry”, point out Moreira and Spada. “The very inexistence of the MinC and the elaboration of this book on the subject are the purest proof of that.”

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