June 9th 2014

“I did not come here for the World Cup, I came to research the dictatorship.” I keep repeating to people asking me if that is the reason of my visit to Brazil. 2014 is not only the year of the Cup, but it is also the 50th anniversary of the military golpe that started a 21 years dictatorship in Brazil. Although I have been studying Portuguese and Brazilian literature for almost seven years now, this is my first time in Brazil. Incidentally it coincided with the summer of the FIFA World Cup, which, as I have been reminded several times by people here, makes everything different, abnormal, and in a way exceptional.


“Control and Repression” is the beginning of the permanent exhibit of the Memorial da Resistência.

My host family was telling me that usually, before any World Cup, each building, park and even street are colored in green and yellow; however this year, the year that the celebrations should have been at the fullest, Brazilians are still, waiting to see what will happen. Everywhere in São Paulo the slogans #soubrasileiro and somos um só remind me and everybody else in the city that the World Cup is coming. The air is filled with stiffed anticipation, like when you board a plane. It is well known that this operation never goes smoothly, there is always someone with a carry-on bag that does not fit in the overhead bin, which results in blocking the entire line, or someone sitting in your seat that vehemently believes to be in the right. And this has been the case of São Paulo in those past couple of days (months?) while preparing for the opening of the Cup Thursday June 12th.

In less than a week I have witnessed a strike of both the public libraries, and of the metro. The latter has paralyzed the entire east part of the city, which is the location of the new stadium built for the World Cup. On the media, representatives of the Polícia Militar keep reminding people to stay safe and keep the celebrations inside your own home, afraid of what the “black blocs” might do, depicting an apocalyptic scenario where people will get injured and die; at the same time you have that same Polícia attacking and brutally repressing strikers who were protesting and picketing at the entrance of the metro stations.

Memorial da Resistência

This is one of the many group of students that visit daily the museum to learn more about the crimes committed during the dictatorship.

To me it seems as if there is a clear division between a “we” and “they.” The “we” who want to show the world that Brazil can host an international event, and ultimately who wants the Cup; and a “they” who is using the Cup, and the international coverage that comes with it, to show the problems of a Brazil that goes beyond soccer and carnival. The slogan of the Cup promoted by the Globo network somos um só (we are only one) that in a way tries to camouflage that separation, it actually enhances that division by the use of that “only.” What caught my attention is not so much the inflated message of universality, which could have easily stood on its own, but the need to question the unicity and singularity of one by highlighting it.

Soccer and literature share more than one expects. They are both a distraction, a diversion in which time is suspended and we enter a world with its own rules. However, during a dictatorship, those diversions are brutally invaded by a regime that wishes to control every aspect of a citizen’s life through censorship and a focused propaganda.

In one of the roundtables of the seminar titled Política F.C. o futebol na ditadura, held at the Memorial da Resistência from June 3rd to June 7th, one of the ideas discussed was how the dictatorship abused the Brazilian passion for soccer. The songs, images and slogans surrounding the seleção of the 1970, which won the Cup, was one of the many subtle ways that AERP, the office created by Médici to control the public opinion, entered on tiptoe the minds and the hearts of the citizens. Saturday’s roundtable hosted two ex-futebol players who had been persecuted during the dictatorship, Fernando Coimbra (Nando) and Afonso Celso Garcia Reis (Afonsinho); and one ex-political prisoner, militant of ALN, Manoel Cyrillo. The latter described how he, while imprisoned in the Tiradentes facility in São Paulo, boycotted the Brazilian team during the Cup and shouted against it. However, as I said before, futebol is one of Brazilians’ passions and diversions, and very few were able to do what he did. People who were against the dictatorship were left with no choice but cheer for Brazil, since soccer was as much part of their identity as their political belief.

Política F.C. o futebol na ditadura

One of the roundtable of the seminar Política F.C. o futebol na ditadura.

The dictatorship not only manipulated the victory of that Cup to reinforce the image of Brasil Grande, but it also turned soccer into a state bureaucracy, leaving no room to the imagination of the spectator. The slogan at the time was “Brasil, ama-o ou deixe-o” (Brazil, love it or leave it), which left no space to indecision or the creation of opinions. Fernando Coimbra, known as Nando, who played in the club Ceará described how he had to travel back and forth through Brazil and Portugal because of his political allegiance. He was involved in the pedagogical project PNA, Plano Nacional de Alfabetização, idealized by professor Paulo Freire. The PNA was of course one of the first organizations to be shut down by the military regime. One of Nando’s brother, Zico, who was one of the greatest futebol players in circulation at the time, still very young, was not chosen for the team of 1970. It is possible that it was because his family’s political allegiance. What is striking in Nando’s narration is that still today he does not identify himself and his family as militant activists.

Apparently this is common in many testimonies given by people who fought the regime, said the director of the Comissão Estadual da Verdade de São Paulo during the roundtable. It seems as if the manipulation of the dictatorship had been so deep that they refuse to be associated with ideas of dissidence or revolution in the fear of what might happen. This mixed feeling of vulnerability and self-consciousness is present in many of the narratives that represent this moment. It seems as if the state system is afraid of citizens with a political conscience and that such a thing as being apolitical can exist.


To remember is to resist (!)

During the roundtable, Manoel Cyrillo said that having a political conscience is not a choice: it is within each and every one of us. The difference is that some are aware of it and others are not. Afonsinho and Nando offer a great example of this: while the first has always been very open about the history of his family and where his political allegiance lies (although recusing to use the word communist), the second one is more timid regarding his family’s past and cultural background. Though in the past years, when he was finally able to tell his story, Nando has been on the front line for denouncing the abuse and crimes committed during the dictatorship. To push this further, this applies to the situation of Brazil right now, where the strike of the metro is still ongoing and the riot police intervened again this morning at the metro station of Ana Rosa where other militant groups, such as the Passe Livre, joined the strikers in their protest whose scope goes far beyond asking for a raise.

Finally, it seems that the World Cup has much more to offer to me research-wise than I had expected. Next time, when someone asks me if the Cup is the reason I am here, I’ll say: Yes, I did come to Brazil for the World Cup. And even though I am Italiana, I will post #soubrasileiro in spite of the imposed universality that, as the strikes and public manifestations prove, is not what Brazil is about. Now, let’s get the ball rolling!


Giulia Ricco