Interview by Patricia Loggetto and Carolina Reis
Bruno Taitson comes from Brazil and graduated from the Willy Brandt School of Public School in 2006 with a Master’s degree in Public Policy. After that, he obtained a Ph.D. at the University of Brasilia (UnB) He currently works as a Policy Officer for the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF).
The Bulletin: Can you tell us about what you did before coming to the Willy Brandt School? How was your experience here?
Bruno Taitson: I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Pontifícia Universidade Católica de Minas Gerais (PUC-Minas). I have worked for many communication media, and for press offices in Sao Paulo, Espirito Santo and Minas Gerais [Brazilian’s states]. I have covered political, economic, and environmental agendas, and, as a journalist working with these agendas, we discover a lot of things.
My idea was to do post-graduation studies in various areas, with politics being the principal. I knew about the Master of Public Policy in Erfurt and sent my application there and other places. Then, I got a scholarship from the DAAD [German Academic Exchange Service, in the acronym in German], because I could not stay for two years in Europe without a scholarship. I liked the program a lot! You receive a solid base in a functional democracy. It is important to study public policy in a place where democracy is healthy; the parliament has relevance; the civil society is free, active, and independent, and you have freedom of the press, which are essential pillars to a democracy.
Something important and interesting the university provided me were the two internships I did as a journalist during the course. The first was at the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe] in Bosnia and Herzegovina, very cool! The other was in Bonn, at the Deutsche Welle, as a journalist for the Brazilian edition. I had already finished my thesis, but I kept my student status so I could intern there for three months. It was fantastic! I could immerse myself in German institutions and society through broad news coverage, interviews, travels… and all were opportunities indirectly provided by the Willy Brandt School, which did not even have this name!
Thus, I strongly recommend you seize these opportunities since, in Europe, there are a diversity of options in public policy, not only in the European Union but also at the governments and institutions from other countries. And, separately from Brazil, there are these summer internships of two or three months, which are not easy, but possible and viable. I always tell everyone that asks me: if you can do an internship for two weeks in Brussels, for example, or if you can intern during the vacations, do it! These are essential opportunities.
The Bulletin: How was the experience of coming to Germany not much time after reunification, especially because Erfurt was part of the east side?
Bruno Taitson: When I arrived for the course, Germany was celebrating fifteen years of reunification, so the feeling was strong. The perspective of us Brazilians is interesting, because when I talked about it with Germans before going to Erfurt, they told me, “you will see the difference. The east is poor, has a lot of problems, it is such a big contrast [compared to the west],”. But in Brazil, we know what contrast is about. We know what it is to have an unequal society. And as we arrive there, with the Brazilian point of view, [we see that], the region is developed and prosperous, and the reintegration was going on quick and organically. Now, I wonder how the two sides are closer. I do not deny the differences, the statistics are there to show it, but from our point of view, from the point of view of disparity in Latin America and other regions of the world, like Africa and Asia, they are smaller [differences]. The region has an interesting quality of life, regardless of the social problems we cannot underestimate.
The other point was to “be on the other side,” which was actually the other side, since we could be in touch with people who lived the socialism – and it is a rich experience. Since I am a journalist, I asked everyone I could how life during such a period was. Considering that many mainstream analyses claim East Germany was the worst place in the world, it was surprising to know that, for many of them, East Germany was a good place to live, even better than now. But we know it does not work this way; there is no perfect place, no absolute good or bad place or person. And this was the good thing of living in a country, in a former socialist region, I could see the integration, how they readapt, the problems and advantages of investment, everything that led to integration that, for example, Brazil could not do yet with some regions of the North. It is an immersion we should do.
The Bulletin: And after finishing the master’s course, how did you develop your career?
Bruno Taitson: The transition process right after graduating was smooth for me. When I came back to Brazil in 2006, I already had a position as “communications officer” at the WWF [World Wide Fund For Nature] and stayed there for almost six years. In 2012, when I started the Ph.D. program at the University of Brasilia [UnB], I left WWF to dedicate myself to the course fully. My project was a comparative analysis of NGOs’ influence on environmental policies in Brazil and the US, so I stayed a period there as well and became a visiting researcher at Georgetown University. I stayed there for a year, supervised by a professor, researching, working, assisting seminars, etc. Finally, I presented my dissertation in 2016 and, a year later, came back to the WWF, now as a policy officer.
The Bulletin: Do you also work in advocacy? If yes, how is it?
Bruno Taitson: Most of the time I spend doing so! We meet politicians, parliament members, and their assistants, who are essential for advocacy. It is more important to meet for one hour with the assistants for an in-depth discussion than to meet the politician for 15 minutes because it is the assistants that inform the politician to decide.
The WWF is a science-based organization; this means we base our advocacy work on research, statistics, and analyses. We have a large scientific and technical team. For instance, we have research that shows the consequences of a bill in terms of deforestation, loss of biodiversity, and harm to communities. We provide the floor for indigenous leaders to talk to decision-makers. It is a broad range of strategies and activities. In case politicians are not sensitive to the data or science, we ask celebrities to pressure them and, since they depend on elections, they may feel forced to act. I often go the Amazon, to the forests, because I believe that, if we want to advocate properly about a theme, we have to look in and verify the communities’ needs, the impacts, and what is going on.
I could stay longer here talking about advocacy, which is an exciting and important theme, especially for those who believe that social transformations come through politics.
The Bulletin: Considering your previous position as a communication officer, your Ph.D. dissertation, and your current work, how do you see the transformations in Brazilian environmental policies? How is the scenario today?
Bruno Taitson: I feel comfortable talking about this issue because of my Ph.D. dissertation. What I noticed was an upward curve regarding the participation of civil society in the matter with two highlights: first, during the second mandate of Mr. Cardoso, and then, in the first mandate of Mr. Lula da Silva [2003-2006]. These were periods of high levels of participation in the decision process of environmental policies. Then, we had a downturn at the end of the second mandate of Mr. Lula da Silva, beginning with the first mandate of Ms. Rousseff, and now we have a closing on general popular participation, in addition to environmental regressions.
The Bulletin: What about the last tragedies that occurred in Minas Gerais, the dam bursts in the towns Mariana and Brumadinho? How do you perceive these events in the national scenario? Was there a role of the WWF?
Bruno Taitson: As a personal position, I believe these two events were environmental crimes. In our work at the WWF, we have been monitoring the situation, taking part in the discussions, and advocating to approve more restrictive, serious, and broad legislation. We note that the mining sector has large economic power; therefore, a disproportional influence on the policy-making process, a distortion in democracy. It happens not only in Brazil, but here we have the mining and the agribusiness as powerful sectors. So, the WWF is acting to at least prevent more regression on environmental policies.
The Bulletin: Our last question: at the same time people who do not believe in climate change are getting more supporters, like Trump and Bolsonaro, some people are pushing for immediate action, like the movement Fridays for Future. How do you see this contradictory scenario? How do you believe people can engage more in environmental issues?
Bruno Taitson: [Noam] Chomsky made a speech last week in Boston in which he compared the current scenario with the one of 80 years ago when fascism started to increase and spread around the world. The context you mentioned is something that worries us, where there are leaders committed with anti-democratic values being democratically elected – a scenario with the persecution of civil society, press constraints, oppression of vulnerable groups, and climate change denial. And we, as scholars, cannot allow the denial of science and the violation of democratic values, such as the freedom of the press and so on. That is why there is a movement for resistance, like the one you mentioned. The youth, the native peoples, and society should be involved in politics because political inaction is a dangerous thing that can happen to democracy. The politicians, the advocates, and the scholars, we all should create favorable circumstances for resistance movements linked to minorities, feminism, environmental groups, and the indigenous. We have no option other than strengthen these movements, the press, and make people mobilize towards politics.