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When massive, destabilizing, violent protests are a good thing
The demonstrations in Brazil and Turkey are a sign of progress
 
If your people feel empowered enough to demand more, you may be doing all right.
If your people feel empowered enough to demand more, you may be doing all right. AP Photo/Nelson Antoine

On Monday, more than 200,000 angry people flooded the streets of Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, and Brasilia. In Istanbul, police used so much tear gas against demonstrators that hundreds of pets might have died from the exposure.

Are these the nascent signs of a coup? Should the Brazilian elite be packing their bags in anticipation of a South American Reign of Terror?

Hardly, argues Tim Padgett in TIME, comparing the recent demonstrations in Brazil to past protests in Chile:

Call it the ire of expectations. Chile's stellar economic performance has indeed raised incomes, but it's also raised awareness about lingering inequality, big business abuses, deficient education — all the flaws that keep even quasi-developed societies from becoming genuinely developed, and which leaders like Chile's think they can keep putting off as long as the masses can buy new cars. What they find out instead is that heightened public consumerism often means a heightened public expectation that feckless and negligent establishments will finally get their acts together. When they don't, folks get ticked off. [TIME]

In other words, economic growth isn't enough. The citizens of Brazil want a government that is more transparent and less corrupt, signs of a mature civil society.

In Brazil, people started noticing that they were paying high taxes and getting less in return than they would like. Instead of health care and education, many Brazilians complain, the government has been using the money to build multi-million dollar soccer stadiums for the World Cup.

Turkey is another case study in the perils of success.

The Christian Science Monitor's Graham E. Fuller argues that Turkey's development over the last decade is exactly what makes it so vulnerable to protests now:

Turkish politics have undergone a huge process of maturation over the past decade: Greater public awareness and knowledge, heightened participation, the emergence of new political forces out of traditional rural Anatolian classes, and expanded economic awareness and participation. The Turkish public simply expects more today — on economic, social, environmental, and political levels.

Turkish paternalism is dying — not just via the sidelining of the political power of the military, but of old entrenched social classes. Thus there is less tolerance for the headstrong and unapologetic style of the prime minister — even if he is elected. The new social profile of Turkey is more informed and critical, and demands greater public consultation. [Christian Science Monitor]

Autocratic states tend to transform violently, with, say, angry citizens dragging a bloodied leader to his death. In democracies, leaders are ousted at the ballot box. So far at least, the protesters in Brazil and Turkey don't appear to questioning the legitimacy of the governments themselves, but challenging their leaders to be more responsive, less heavy-handed — in a word, better.

Whether Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan adjust — or become the victims of their own achievements — remains to be seen.

 
Keith Wagstaff is a staff writer at TheWeek.com covering politics and current events. He has previously written for such publications as TIME, Details, VICE, and the Village Voice.

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