Flower power

JAN Speaking of Flowers COVERSpeaking of Flowers: Student Movements and the Making and Remembering of 1968 in Military Brazil
Victoria Langland
2013, Duke University Press
326 pages, paperback, plates

IT WAS a year when everything – and nothing – changed. Brave students formed the vanguard of a global movement against bureaucratic and gerontocratic capitalist states, military dictatorships and Soviet oppression. Paris erupted in civil unrest as the left took on de Gaulle’s sclerotic regime. Violent protests against US genocide in Vietnam erupted on the streets of London, Berlin and Rome. The Troubles flared in the north of Ireland. Soviet tanks rolled into Prague. The Cultural Revolution deepened in China. Black Panthers sent a chill down the spine of white America. Troops massacred hundreds of young people at Tlatelolco in Mexico City… But while Brazil was by no means immune to this wave of protest, somehow its own massive student mobilisations against the military dictatorship, and the escalation of urban guerrilla warfare thereafter, has been lost in the global history of the period. Victoria Langland’s excellent book serves as an important reminder of the significance of the student movement in Brazil in this turbulent era as well as the cultural politics that was taking place within the giant of South America. Speaking of Flowers – a title that evokes the iconic Brazilian protest song of the period – is a compelling examination of how young activists armed (sometimes) just with flowers took on the country’s increasingly brutal military dictatorship – and spooked it. Langland traces how the student movement became a driving motive for repression by the military – but also a driving force of the democratisation process that would slowly begin thereafter. Students played an important role in this development, beginning to see themselves as representatives of a demobilised – and often disheartened – civil society. Langland provides a groundbreaking exploration of how they defined and understood the movement, and the enduring impact it would have on later generations of students in the country.