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Explore Brazil with Studium Generale

The Olympic Games will start in Brazil on 5 August. You can find out more about this fascinating but complex country in a series of lectures organised by Studium Generale.

This summer Rio de Janeiro will be the centre of attention for the two weeks of the Olympic Games. Over ten thousand athletes from 206 countries will compete for the medals. But what do we actually know about Brazil? Studium Generale will give you a look into this fascinating country in an extensive series of lectures. 

Corruption and pollution

Brazil often gets a bad press. The police are constantly battling against drugs bands from the country's infamous ghettos (the favelas) and the country is regularly shaken by corruption scandals in the political world. Not only that, the water around Rio is so polluted that the sailors, rowers and swimmers who will be competing in the games run a serious risk of illness. 

Participative democracy

But that is just one side of the story, according to Marianne Wiesebron. She is professor of Latin American Studies at Leiden University and one of the lecturers in the series. She will focus in her lecture on the country's strengths, such as the interesting experiments taking place there with ‘participative democracy’.

Continuous referendum

‘Don't confuse that with the Dutch style of participation,' Wiesebron advises. 'In some Brazilian municipalities the citiziens have a say in how the budgets are spent. They determine whether the money will be spend on a playground, a computer room, a park or whatever else. It's an interesting form of direct democracy. You can see it as a continuous local referendum.'

Emancipatory effect

Wiesebron saw in Porto Alegre how citizens are becoming more involved in local democracy, as a result of these kinds of experiments. 'They are having quite an effect on the lower social classes. The fact that they are suddenly being listened to makes them more assertive.' A good example of this is how the residents of a poor district immediately approached the local council when an important bridge was swept away during a storm. Wiesebron: ‘That kind of attitude would have been unthinkable a short while ago on the traditional political scene in Brazil.'


Obviously this change is not taking place without its hitches. Wiesebron: 'Some officials have to get used to the new way of working. They have years of experience in public administration and see some of their power being taken over by the man in the street. But, even so, the tide seems to be turning: there are politicians who see citizen participation as a way of gainign political legitimacy. A number of European municipalities are now experimenting with these Brazilian methods.  


Besides Wiesebron, two holders of the revolving chair in Brazilian Studies will be speaking during this lecture series. They are: Ester Limonad (spring 2016) and Arlindo Villaschi (spring 2016).

The series of lectures on ‘Brazil 2016!’ started on 10 February 2016. The lectures are fee to students and any other interested parties. You can find more information on the website of Studium Generale.

University strengthens contacts with Brazil

A delegation from Leiden University, headed by Rector Magnificus Carel Stolker, will be visiting Brazil from 14 to 18 March. They will sign a number of partnership agreements with local knowledge institutions. The National Research School for Astronomy (NOVA), of which Leiden is the coordinator, for example, will sign agreements with the Brazilian National Observatory  and three Brazilian universities in the field of astronomy to promote joint research and doctorates. Rio de Janeiro has at least 50 Leiden alumni and Sap Paulo more than 150. 

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