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Brazil: Pizzaiolo? You Should Mind Your Tongue, Mr. President!

Brazilian PizzaioloBefore he assumed the presidency, President Lula had dinner at my house more than once. On those occasions, I would have liked to have served him pizzas that I had made myself and for him to have called me a “good pizzaiolo.” Using the word as a noun that refers to someone who makes pizza.

Since I am incompetent in the kitchen, however, I do not deserve to be called a “pizzaiolo.” Nonetheless, I disliked hearing him call the senators “pizzaiolos.” Using that word as if it were an adjective for a politician who conceals wrongdoings and misleads the people.

As a politician, I do not feel personally insulted because I have never participated in a Parliamentary Investigation Committee (CPI); therefore, I never made “pizzas”; I an not a “pizzaiolo.” But, as an educator, I feel obliged to protest the President’s unfortunate declaration.

The President corrupted the dictionary, as others have done in the past by using “barber” as a synonym of “bad driver,” “butcher” as a synonym of “ferocious murderer,” and “poet” as a synonym of “lunatic.” No barber complains when his job title is used pejoratively as an adjective; nor do the poets or the butchers feel insulted. They know that a word has different meanings.

The pizzaiolos, meanwhile, are complaining, correctly, because they were surprised by this new meaning. The word was used as an adjective: a pizzaiolo senator, one who covers up corruption. Had anyone else said this, the additional meaning would possibly not have stuck. Coming from the President of the Republic, however, the term will acquire this new meaning. This is the why the President’s use of the word is serious: he forms public opinion.

For this reason, it was necessary for some senators to protest. Not because they were praised as makers of pizza, but because they were demoralized as makers of lies. It would be the same if, taking advantage of the moral crisis in the Senate and that of many senators, the President had used the word “senator” as an adjective for a pizzaiolo who is incompetent at making good pizzas. Or for those who mislead their customers by making pizzas different from the menu description.

As an educator and a democrat, I protested because, coming from the President of the Republic, the generalized criticism of the Senate corrupts public opinion – especially that of the young people and the children – by demoralizing the republican institutions. By making this generalization, he moved from criticizing the senators to criticizing one of the houses of Congress.

And the population, the young people and children, will have even less respect for the Senate, which is already demoralized by the behavior of the senators themselves. The society has diminished its commitment to democracy: the President has miseducated the people.

For good or bad, the President of the Republic is the principal educator of a country. What he says forms concepts. This happens even more when the President is charismatic and popular. It is a shame that there is no one near him to sound the alarm for that immense responsibility that he bears.

Perhaps because, prisoners of their offices and of the respect that, nowadays, borders on deification, the people around the President have become cowards or have lost their republican sense. The idea has been created that to criticize President Lula is political suicide. The intellectuals remain silent, the unions make accommodations, and the politicians adjust.

It is therefore necessary for someone to call this to his attention, even if that means the political suicide of the person taking the initiative. After all, if in the past people died fighting for democracy, even more justified is political defeat in defense of the Republic and of the education of the young people and the children.

Cristovam Buarque is a professor at the University of Brasília and a PDT senator for the Federal District. You can visit his website – www.cristovam.org.br – and write to him at cristovam@senado.gov.br.

Translated from the Portuguese by Linda Jerome LinJerome@cs.com.

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