The pictures are impressive. On Sunday January 8, supporters of former far-right president Jair Bolsonaro entered Congress, the presidential palace and the country’s Supreme Court. The event leaves a feeling of déjà vu. Two years earlier, on January 6, 2021, supporters of Donald Trump invaded the Capitol, a symbol of power in the United States. Is this comparison legitimate?
Laurent Vidal is a historian, teacher-researcher at La Rochelle University and specialist in the history of Brazil. According to him, the two events are comparable insofar as it started from a contestation of an electoral result in both cases. Moreover, this also reflects the fragility of liberal democracies.
TV5MONDE: What are the similarities between the assault on the Capitol in January 2021 and the attempted coup in Brazil?
Laurent Vidal: The first similarity is that the two defeated presidents never admitted defeat. Then, Jair Bolsonaro and Donald Trump stoked, more indirectly than directly, doubt about fraudulent elections among their most determined and radical supporters.
On both sides, protesters reject the election results. Laurent Vidal, historian
During the storming of the capitol, supporters acted on Trump’s request. In Brazil, it was done in a less direct way. It will not be easy to prove, but we know that it was done with the benevolent support of ex-president Bolsonaro, exiled in the United States. On both sides, protesters reject the election results.
The other concordant element is the invasion of official buildings representing power. This action is accompanied by intentions of intimidation. We are really in a culture of destruction and intimidation.
Afterwards, there are differences which are not negligible. In Washington, only the Capitol was invaded, by a hundred people. In Brasilia, 4,000 people invaded the three places of power. In addition, the Brazilian demonstrators called for a military intervention. They hoped to create chaos for the military to intervene. On Capitol Hill, there was no call for military intervention. There was simply a call to refuse the results.
TV5MONDE: A month before the Brazilian presidential election, the extent of disinformation raised fears that the scenario of the attack on the Capitol would be reproduced. Could the events of January 8 have been avoided?
Laurent Vidal: On the one hand, we cannot deny that there was in the minds of Bolsonaro and some of his financial supporters, but also of people high up in the military hierarchy, the desire to reproduce something like the Capitol.
What was not expected was the culpable leniency of the Federal District Military Police.Laurent Vidal, historian
Now this scenario could be avoided. The arrival of 4,000 people had been announced. It was clearly expected that a hundred buses were heading for Brasilia. What was not expected, however, was the culpable leniency of the Federal District military police. The buses did not arrive directly at the square of the three powers. They stopped nearly 8 km away. The demonstrators were escorted peacefully by the military police.
It is no coincidence that there is an arrest warrant against the former secretary of the federal district government, security secretary and former minister of Bolsonaro. It is known that they both met in the United States the day before these demonstrations. But it was not foreseeable in the sense that it was not possible to know that this meeting was related to the demonstrations.
Lula was away that day. I think he trusted the forces of the Federal District military police to channel this mob and keep it from approaching the three powers.
Bolsonaro presented himself as the tropical Trump. He himself tried to play on it. Laurent Vidal, historian
TV5MONDE: Why are Trump and Bolsonaro often compared to each other?
Laurent Vidal: The comparison was born in Bolsonaro’s own mind. He presented himself as the tropical Trump. He himself tried to play on it.
Beyond that, we can notice that there is the same type of operation. Both used democracy to come to power. Then, once in power, there is a contempt for democracy and its institutions. The fact of wanting to speak directly to the people, without going through representative institutions, through tweets or social networks more generally, is another point in common between the two former presidents.
TV5MONDE: What do these two events show about the state of liberal democracy?
Laurent Vidal: They bear witness to the fragility of this democracy. We don’t necessarily realize that. It has been said a lot that there is a public heritage that has been attacked in Brasilia. But perhaps the first heritage attacked is that of democracy.
We do not measure to what extent our liberal democracies are today weakened by constant questioning of representative institutions. This is the case both for the people of the people and for elected officials who try to have direct contact with the population.
It is no coincidence that there are fewer and fewer people traveling for the elections. There is very clearly a democratic fatigue. Democracy presupposes debate, exchange until a compromise is reached or at least a majority emerges. Today, people don’t want debate anymore.
Lula is really a political animal who has this ability to rely on unexpected circumstances and strengthen democracy and union. Laurent Vidal, historian
It also has to do with a world where the internet puts us in a constant prism with information coming from all over the world and constantly. That is to say, there is no time to step back, to rest. Add to that misinformation. It has always existed, but the internet and social networks have given it greater scope.
TV5MONDE: Lula seems strengthened after the events of January 8. How to explain it? Was that also the case for Biden after the Capitol storm?
Laurent Vidal: Lula seems reinforced because he is really a political animal who has this ability to rely on unexpected circumstances and strengthen democracy and union.
For example, when Bolsonaro refused to participate in the handover ceremony, he invented this handover with the most diverse people in society: blacks, Indians, young people, disabled people, and even a stray dog who was adopted. It was a way of appropriating this void that was there.
With what happened in the Square of the Three Powers, he summoned all the governors of the states of Brazil and they strolled together in this square on January 10. It was a way of re-emphasizing it for what it is: a civic space.
Biden didn’t do that, he fell short. He is the man who was there when the Capitol was stormed, but he is not really this incredible politician that is Lula.