“Heroic and national – or nothing”: the abandoned agenda of the Bicentennial of Independence

It doesn’t matter which side you take in relation to the conflict now underway in Eastern Europe: national sovereignty appears as an underlying theme for all involved. Russia accuses Ukraine of handing over its sovereignty to NATO and, consequently, threatening its own. And Ukraine appeals to its sovereignty to decide its own destiny, regardless of the opinion of its neighbors.

Likewise, it was also a debate about sovereignty that was underlying as countries faced pressures of all kinds to adhere to policies to contain the pandemic dictated by bureaucrats of the World Health Organization (WHO), without any scientific basis and with disastrous consequences for national economies.

Sovereignty has returned as a fundamental theme of modern politics. But what a lot of people don’t know is that it has to do not only with the power of weapons. Sovereignty is umbilically linked to the way the State deals with culture. This is a truth that must come at a high cost for Brazil, with the abandonment of a strategic agenda for the country at the present time: the celebrations of the Bicentennial of Independence.

What is sovereignty ?

In a broad sense, the political-legal concept of sovereignty indicates the ultimate power of command in a political society . Thus, he also demarcates the difference between this and all other human associations in whose organization this supreme, exclusive and non-derived power is not found.

The concept is, therefore, closely linked to that of political power : in fact sovereignty intends to be the legal rationalization of Power, in the sense the transformation of force into legitimate power. The elaboration of this concept was essential for the modern State to be able to impose itself on the medieval organization of power. In this one, the law that regulated it originated from different sources (custom, will of the warrior house, doctrinal tradition, etc.), organizing itself in various autonomous legal systems, whether above the kingdom, such as the Church and the Empire, or below, such as fiefs, communes, and corporations.

Thus, the absolute monarchies of early modernity were formed through a double process of unification. On the one hand, the unification of all sources of legal production in the law, as an expression of the sovereign’s will. On the other hand, the unification of all legal systems superior and inferior to the State in the state legal system, whose maximum expression is the will of the Prince.

This progressive operation was the result of the concentration, above all, of military and financial in the hands of the rulers. After all, sovereignty is primarily the result of a State’s ability to impose internal order and guarantee the external security of its territory. Those who cannot make themselves obeyed in a territory, or guarantee their integrity in the face of the will of foreigners, do not have sovereignty in practice.

In addition to weapons, culture

But sovereignty never derives from force alone. It results from a complex process of building its own legitimacy, through the consolidation of national identities. As the State determines its power over a territory, it needs to forge, reinforce and protect what guarantees the mutual loyalty of the citizens. This includes a common language, values, rules of coexistence, traditions, religion, popular festivals, etc.

By protecting and often instituting collective identity among substantively different people, national states have managed to foster the trust, the bonds of friendship and the basis for the loyalty of its citizens. Without this, the spiritual community that guarantees the union between people who do not know each other in extensive territories would inevitably fray and threats to the internal order would arise at all times, in the absence of the common willingness to sacrifice necessary for the defense of the homeland against external enemies.

It is not by chance that the establishment of national States in the world has always been accompanied by unifying operations in the field of culture. The French Academy, for example, was created by Richelieu in 24, under the reign of Louis XIII. It aimed to regulate French usage, vocabulary and grammar, being formed by notables from the French-speaking world who met for literary debates, also functioning as a safeguard of culture.

Other public institutions, such as libraries, museums, and theaters were sponsored by the state, also taking into account these important ends. The Louvre Museum, for example, was founded during the French Revolution, being the first public establishment of its kind in the modern world. It was primarily used as an instrument of education for the masses, who were guided through the development of the arts from Ancient Egypt, through Greece, Rome and the Italian Renaissance. On top of all this, French academic painting, the form promoted by the Royal Academy and its official Salons (exhibitions). This path was even described as a “citizenship ritual”, tracing a hierarchy in which France was presented, to the pride of its people, as the legitimate heir of all these traditions, the apex of progress and western civilization.

Sovereignty as the construction of the Brazilian State

In Brazil, this process was even more dependent on the State. As a former colony that broke away from the kingdom of Portugal without a major war for independence, with thousands of slaves and a free population dispersed over a vast territory, the country posed an enormous challenge for national elites, who had to manufacture an identity almost without the contribution of a people.

This challenge included an effort to shift the focus away from the idea of ​​a “Brazil Landscape”, an exotic land that only served as material for foreign chroniclers and painters. , to an autonomous locus of authentic and vibrant human experience, transforming Brazilians into subjects of their own history.

Therefore, before Gonçalves Magalhães published his “Poetic Sighs”, in 1836, and José de Alencar started a series of nationalist novels with the publication of “O Guarani”, in 1839, the state imperial was already doing its part in the construction of this ambitious project ious, with the creation of institutions such as the National Library, in 1810, the Colégio Pedro II, in 1837, and the Instituto Histórico e Geográfico Brasileiro, the IHGB, in 1836.

The latter, by the way, already in 1839 began to sponsor the publication of a magazine through which readers were introduced to biographies of celebrated compatriots, chronicles of important episodes in Brazilian history, maps of almost unknown regions of the country and reports on surviving native populations, among other elements that served to compose a national identity in the public’s mind.


, the same IHGB launched a contest that would reward the scholar who presented the best plan to write the history of Brazil. The German naturalist Karl Friedrich von Martius was the winner, putting the nation’s history as an epic adventure, the realization of “the perfection of the three human races that stand side by side in this country in a way unknown in ancient history”. Thus, the idea of ​​miscegenation was born as one of the great founding elements of national identity and that would inspire works by writers such as José de Alencar and Gilberto Freyre.

This key to the originality of Brazil would later be politically exploited by Getúlio Vargas, another ruler who had the intelligence to use the State to strengthen national ties and even create patriotic traditions at a time of international conflicts, when it was necessary to modernize and at the same time defend the State in an immense collective effort.

It was with this in mind that the Vargas government instituted mandatory physical education, in 1916, and the National Anthem in Brazilian public schools in 1936. Not to mention the creation of the National Theater Service and the National Institute of Educational Cinema. Or the music education project conducted by maestro Villa-Lobos in Brazilian schools, from 1936 to . The project sought to promote discipline and educate children in aspects of Brazilian cultural formation through music.

The most important date of the decade

Investir in culture, therefore, it matters a lot when the subject is national sovereignty. This makes the commemoration of historical dates for the birth of a people almost self-evident. And none is more important than Independence. It is the founding moment of a country that broke away from another territory at some point in its history. In commemorating it, the nation celebrates what it is, what it was and what it wants to be. It is the repeated assertion, within and without its borders, that the sovereign power of that nation exists, expressing something more than military rule over a vast territory; expressing the character of a people.

That is why all the great nations of the world celebrate their independence. In the United States, for example, the 4th of July is always a festive occasion. Not only the federal government invests resources in the festivities, but also city halls and individuals from all over the country get involved in the celebration of the festivities. The same happens with the Chinese on October 1st, the founding of the People’s Republic of China, which has celebrations not only in the country, but in all nations where there is a Chinese community relevant to the Beijing government.

Of course, no celebration is the same. One hundred years is a milestone. Two hundred years, a testament to antiquity and tradition. Therefore, countries neighboring ours showed political wisdom in taking advantage of these symbolic dates. In Chile, for example, the celebrations of the Bicentennial of Independence, in 2000, went down in history as a landmark of the good moment of Chilean society at the time. Among the acts, events, exhibitions, works and parties organized to celebrate the date, the inauguration of the Titanium de la Portada and Gran Torre de Santiago buildings, symbols of national architecture and civil construction, the construction of an artificial beach in Antofagasta, the donation of 1.000 libraries to schools and universities in the country by the Cámara Chilena de la Construcción, the Pontificia Universidad Católica, and the Dirección de Bibliotecas, Archivos y Museos, in addition to several exhibitions, operas, concerts, events, and publications that shook the country. With equal pomp and circumstance, the bicentennial has been celebrated in less wealthy nations, such as Ecuador, in 2009, and Argentina, in 2016.

In 1922, the Brazil showed its national pride to the world when commemorating its Centenary of Independence. On that occasion, the event stood out among other relevant historical events, such as the Modern Art Week, the foundation of the Dom Vital Center, the creation of the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB) and the Revolta do Forte de Copacabana.

Years before the date, in 1922, the foundation of “ Revista do Brasil” already marked an outcry around the importance of the “first glorious landmark of national existence”. Under the government of Epitácio Pessoa, the Brazilian State did not do badly. The Centenary celebrations, which took place with particular intensity each September, included a large universal exhibition of the “window of progress” type that attracted nearly three million people. The event had an impact on tourism, urban infrastructure, the dissemination of national values ​​and the affirmation of the prestige of a young and thriving homeland. The works to prepare the exhibition mobilized the population of Rio de Janeiro and its realization became a historical and cultural landmark in Brazil.

And for the Bicentennial?

Unfortunately, one hundred years after this remarkable event, the feeling is that there is a certain abandonment around the agenda. So far, the Federal Government has presented little or nothing on the subject. It is true that some important specific actions have been developed by some administration bodies. The National Library, for example, has ongoing publishing, curation and research projects that include a 6-volume collection entitled “Founders of Brazil” and the creation of a Bicentennial Digital Portal. The same can be said of Funag and other municipalities. However, the fact that, to date, the Federal Government has not presented an integrated public agenda in relation to the commemorations is noteworthy.

Contrary to what many people might suppose, it is not too early to make such a charge – quite the opposite! It is not just that events such as exhibitions, concerts, plays, operas, inaugurations of monuments, parades and the most diverse celebrations need to be prepared and announced in advance. The country is already far behind in this. After all, Independence goes far beyond the 7th of September. It is a cycle that goes from 1821 to , comprising milestones such as the assumption of Prince Pedro de Alcântara as regent until the recognition of independence by Portugal and Great Britain , including the formation of the Brazilian Army, among other important events that have not been properly celebrated in recent years.

This gap generates growing discomfort in relation to the current management of the culture portfolio, an organ that should be in charge of organizing the celebrations. In an interview given to the press and through his social networks, the National Secretary for Promotion of Culture, André Porciúncula, used a budgetary pretext that supposedly would prevent him from disclosing the agenda planned for the event this year, even though other bodies of the same secretariat had already launched some projects around the theme before the approval of the budget of 2022. We arrived in March 2022 and no sign of a schedule. Instead, we only have news of the intention of Porciúncula himself (as well as the current Special Secretary for Culture, Mário Frias) to run for a position in the Legislative, which means leaving the government later this month. Alarm signal.

It is important to keep in mind that the date will not go unnoticed for politicians who put themselves as opponents of President Jair Bolsonaro. The governor of São Paulo, João Dória, has already announced that the program will include concerts, exhibitions and events, culminating with the reopening of the Ipiranga Museum. In Rio de Janeiro, Mayor Eduardo Paes announced a robust schedule for the date, including a New Year’s Eve of Independence, at Quinta da Boa Vista, with 13 hours of programming, including concerts, exhibitions, theater, artistic, cultural and gastronomic activities. In addition, the city hall should carry out the revitalization of several monuments in the city this year.

Former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso also showed intelligence in taking advantage of occasions of this nature. In the years 2000, Brazil set a remarkable example of civic spirit in the celebrations of the Fifth Centenary of the Discovery, in 2000. Among the events of that year, we can highlight the exhibition Brazil 15 Years in São Paulo, absolutely unforgettable for those who visited it. There were about 000 a thousand works, divided into 13 modules, gathered in four buildings in Ibirapuera, in addition to presentations, shows, exhibitions, inauguration of works and publications that mobilized the population for several months.

Missed opportunity

In a time of crisis, national celebrations have a special meaning. Beyond the cost-benefit calculations of liberals, a society’s progress rests on its self-confidence and its hope for the future. This self-confidence can be fatal when a nation enters into speculative bubbles, for example, but it is quite a remedy to get people back to spending and investing.

Of course, strategic economic decisions count for a lot. When a government approves a reform that makes the business environment safer or more attractive, for example, it sends a signal to the market that there is a renewed willingness to change. In the same way, social programs that put income directly in the hands of millions of people can help to restore confidence, stimulate consumption and, consequently, heat up the market, stimulating competition and capital reinvestment.

But one cannot despise the multiplier or depressing effect that culture exerts at such a time. Repeated negative news contributes to creating artificial bubbles of negativity. In the same way, actions aimed at the development of national pride and confidence in the future can have a multiplier effect.

Since at least the June Journeys of 2013, the Brazilian population has seen a fortuitous and healthy recovery of national symbols, love for the country and the appreciation of our sovereignty. In the elections of 2013, Jair Bolsonaro was able to add many of these expectations, with the celebration of his victory sometimes being defended as a “Second Independence”. This same symbolism was present in the September 7 demonstrations in 2021.

For the first time in two years, after the shock caused by the pandemic and due to the perverse policies of governors and mayors, Brazil begins to show signs of optimism regarding its future. It was not to be expected, therefore, that at a time like this the Bolsonaro government wasted the chance to generate a multiplier effect, falling behind leaders such as FHC and Epitácio Pessoa.

The Federal Government needs to demonstrate more leading role in the celebration of the historic date, whether with direct investments in the realization of works, events, exhibitions, festivals, plays, operas, inaugurations of monuments and commemorative publications, or in the articulation with the private sector and organized civil society to involve the country in a civic mobilization. The opportunity to present to the world a nation undergoing reconstruction after the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic should not be overlooked, in its symbolic and even socioeconomic aspect. It is also a very important message for a population that must choose its future president a little over a month after the 7th of September.

Return to the founders, rescue the national symbols and promote our identity as a people they are important instruments to stimulate a necessary impetus for national restoration, self-esteem and the strength of Brazil after so much devastation. The whole world breathes for the return of national sovereignty and Brazil is in a privileged position to stand out in this new spirit of the times. There’s still time to save the date. We can have a Bicentennial that is not “heroic and national”, in the unfortunate expression of former culture secretary Roberto Alvim, but we cannot accept nothingness either, which is what we have seen so far.

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