Middle class revolts in Turkey and Brazil | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 26.06.2013
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Middle class revolts in Turkey and Brazil

Tens of thousands of people are on the streets in Turkey and Brazil to protest against their governments. The demonstrations were started by students, but their strength comes from the involvement of the middle class.

During the protests, before the police cleared the area with tear gas and water cannon, Gezi Park in Istanbul was a tent city with places where you could get food, yoga courses and had its own library.

"Everyone brought books," said Senada Sokollu, who's been reporting from Gezi Park for Deutsche Welle since the demonstrations began. "The library got bigger every day, so you could see that it was mainly intellectuals who were taking part in the protests."

She said she noticed that many of the demonstrators came from educated families - there were students with their rucksacks, sitting cross-legged on the floor, discussing politics.

Senada Sokollu in front of demonstrators

Senada Sokollu is reporting from the Istanbul protests for DW

Many of them had never gone out on the streets to protest before - now they were putting out political messages on Facebook.

"It's unbelievable how active people became who had only ever posted holiday snaps before," said Sokollu.

Ever since the Turkish media failed to report the demonstrations when they started, many Turks are asking whether they can believe what they've been reading and seeing for years - such as the way the Kurds are presented. Now, even people who live far away from the center of the protests in Istanbul - people like women from conservative suburban areas - have begun to turn against the policies of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government.

The middle class is the key

The demonstrations in Turkey began as a protest against plans for a construction project in Gezi Park. The protests in Brazil began with an increase in public transport prices. Both happened at about the same time.

"In both countries, more and more people demand the right to be heard and to be involved, linked to the feeling that they aren't really able to get involved," said Peter Ullrich, a specialist in protest movements at the Free University of Berlin. "Democracy from below - the desire not just to be ruled over, but to take things into their own hands - that's what the two protests have in common."

Aside from that, Ullrich said he doesn't want to exaggerate the parallels. In Turkey it's mainly about cultural issues; in Brazil it's more about corruption and a just distribution of wealth.

Protesters in Taksim Square, Istanbul. Andrey Stenin/RIA Novosti

Young Turks are no longer prepared to be talked down to by the government

"The protests were started by students, by people from the educated classes - people who in theory don't suffer when public transport prices go up," said Felix Dahne, head of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Brazil. "The lower middle class only joined the protests later."

But no government will be able to ignore their demands, Dahne added. The Brazilian middle class makes up 100 million of the 195 million people in the country - a third of them were living in poverty only 10 years ago.

Demands are being heard

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff EVARISTO SA/AFP/Getty Images

Dilma Rousseff has given way to the protesters on a a number of points

Ullrich said the middle class have a good chance of having their protest heard: "The way they express themselves and their demands are more acceptable to those in the political system, who are also from the middle class." The protests of the less educated classes often end in rioting.

In Brazil at least, the demonstrators are enjoying their first successes. President Dilma Roussef has announced reforms to the public transport, health and education systems, as well as tougher laws against corruption.

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