Brazil: Celebrating freedom of expression at Carnival

Brazil: Celebrating freedom of expression at Carnival - Civic Space

Photo: Kimsey Grace /Wikimedia

One of Brazil’s best-known samba schools, the innovative Beija-Flor de Nilópolis, is putting freedom of expression, the right to protest and grassroots movements at the heart of Carnival this year. Bringing together civil society groups, current campaigns, and human rights activists, including ARTICLE 19’s Brazil and South America regional office, Beija-Flor de Nilópolis’ unique contribution to the parade will take place on the evening of Monday, 20 February. 

The samba’s chief focus will be on people’s power to achieve their rights and freedoms. It will also highlight racial and gender equality, the fight against poverty with a specific emphasis on housing rights, social justice, and socio-environmental rights. It will celebrate protest as an invaluable tool to bring about change – and to help challenge setbacks or attempts to undermine freedoms. Beija-Flor de Nilópolis and its group of carnival-goers will highlight freedom of expression’s vital role in safeguarding rights as endorsed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

‘It will be incredible to celebrate our struggles and victories in the midst of a historic moment that means so much – of democratic reconstruction and passing through the worst moment of the health crisis,’ said Denise Dora, executive director of ARTICLE 19’s Brazil and South America’s office. 

‘We feel honoured to be with Beija-Flor celebrating the vitality of resistance and popular struggles, bringing to the avenue the importance of freedom of expression to guarantee human rights.’

After the parade in Rio de Janeiro’s avenue Sambadrome Marquês de Sapucaí, ARTICLE 19 and partner groups will organise a range of activities, including an online debate on freedom of expression, all of which will be open to the public. 

Another of Beija-Flor de Nilópolis’ key objectives is a celebration of Brazilian identity, and in particular, reclaiming and reframing the narrative about the country’s independence. The ‘Brava Gente! The cry of the excluded’ initiative marks the 200th anniversary of Brazilian independence – but not the ‘official’ one recounted in history books on 7 September, 1822, when Portugal’s monarchy declared Brazil to be independent. The samba, created especially for Carnival, is about the significant role the people of Bahia – mainly Indigenous, Black and poor people – played in achieving Brazilian independence, culminating in the expulsion of the last Portuguese soldiers on 2 July 1823.

‘Information is a fundamental public good for democracy, development and dialogue,’ said Marlova Noleto, director and representative of UNESCO in Brazil, which, along with ARTICLE 19’s Brazil and South American regional office and other organisations, is partnering with Beija-Flor for carnival. ’UNESCO, as a United Nations agency designated to promote freedom of expression and, consequently, freedom of the press and information, defends initiatives that promote this awareness and highlight the importance of protecting the responsible flow of data, always transparent and verified, both in the online and offline world, and freedom of expression as essential values for democracy, peace and equal rights.’ 

Carnival, which is broadcast live to millions of people, has always been about joy and celebration, and it has always had a political, educational dimension too: a grandiose open-air stage that reflects society. This year Beija-Flor de Nilópolis is showing just what that means to so many in the wake of the Covid 19 pandemic and with a new president in office. The parade is an opportunity to represent diversity in Brazil and highlight the strong work of civil society organisations across the country. 

Beyond Carnival, ARTICLE 19 and UNESCO will continue to work with civil society organisations on human rights, freedom of expression and the right to protest, including through developing debates and events about the themes raised by the Beija-Flor de Nilópolis Carnival samba.