Government’s Secretary of Culture ousted after release of speech with similar phrases lifted from Nazi era Germany Minister of Propaganda
By Marques Travae
Sometimes, things that go down in the political world aren’t always easy to understand. Even for someone like me who doesn’t always take what the mainstream media reports as absolute truth. For me, it’s often times better to look at alternative sources and read between the lines of the mainstream reports to try to get an understanding of what’s actually going on. We may figure some of it out, but we’ll never really have the whole story. I just happen to be on the side of the fence that believes that many of the things we are told may have a grain of truth to them, but that a large part of the ‘facts’ is either left out, twisted or just not true. That’s just me.
This was my reaction to parts of the controversial story that came out last week surrounding President Jair Bolsonaro’s Secretary of Culture Roberto Alvim. Bolsonaro fired the secretary after it became known that parts of one of his recent speeches, divulged by video, seemed to be lifted from a text by Nazi Germany’s minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. The speech was included in the book Goebbels: The Biography, by Peter Longerich.
In the video that came out last Thursday, Alvim announced that national prizes would be awarded to strengthen arts in Brazil. The video was released to announce the National Arts Award, a project whose budget was projected to worth more than BRL 20 million. With social media being what it is these days, the video blew up provoking immediate controversy and repudiation.
President Jair Bolsonaro issued a statement saying said Alvim’s post became untenable after making his “unfortunate remarks.”
“I reiterate our rejection of totalitarian and genocidal ideologies,” read Bolsonaro’s statement, as he assured that his government would continue its unconditional support for the Jewish community.
I have to admit, the similarities and references to a passage taken from a statement by Goebbels are uncanny, as are the non-verbal settings. Below, see a comparison of what Goebbels said and then, what Alvim said.
“German art of the next decade will be heroic, will be wildly romantic, will be objective and free of sentimentality, will be national with great pathos and equally imperative and binding, or else it will be nothing.”
“Brazilian art of the next decade will be heroic and it will be national … and imperative because it will be rooted in the urgent aspirations of our people, or it will be nothing.”
In the video of Alvim, a theater director tapped by Bolsonaro last year, the background music we hear is Lohengrin, a composition by Richard Wagner. Of course, Wagner, having died before Hitler was even born, was no Nazi, but he was Hitler’s favorite composer and his work as a whole was revered by the Nazi party.
But then there are other elements that go beyond mere coincidence.
Elizabeth Harkot-de-La-Taille, a semiotics professor at the University of São Paulo identified numerous other elements of Alvim’s video that seem to hint at a certain level of identification with Nazi ideology. The very images of the video themselves bear this out.
When we analyze details, such as the photo of the President President Bolsonaro hanging on the wall over Alvim’s right shoulder, the cross on the table, and the position of Alvim’s arm along with the section of the text and the background music, and then make the comparison with a similar image of Goebbels, it would seem to be impossible that all of these similarities could be mere chance. Harkot-de-La-Taille even sees something similar to Goebbels in the manner in which Alvim moves his arm in the video.
Harkot-de-La-Taille also states that the manner in which Goebbels gives the idea of art elevating Germany and the German people suggests “the idea of elevation, superiority, of the pride of a new, great and important country,” an idea that seems to also come across in Alvim’s words.
With the release of the video, politicians all over Brazil as well as the German embassy in Brazil all expressed their opposition to Alvim.
Via his Twitter account, the president of the Câmara dos Deputados, Brazil’s equivalent to the House of Representatives, Rodrigo Maia (DEM-RJ), said that the secretary had “crossed all limits” with the release of the video. For Maia, the video was “unacceptable” and advised that the “Brazilian government should urgently remove him from office.”
Davi Alcolumbre (DEM-AP), who is Jewish, is the President of the Senate, also favored the removal of Alvim from his post due to his expression of sympathy for Nazi ideology or the ideas of a German minister.
“Only now have I had the displeasure of learning of the wistful, misplaced and unfortunate pronouncement of astonishing Nazi inspiration of the Secretary of Culture, Roberto Alvim, of the federal government,” read a statement by Alcolumbre.
“As the first Jewish president of the National Congress, I vehemently express my total rejection of this attitude and request his immediate removal from office.”
Alvim himself apologized via social media for the video and said it was an “unintentional error.”
“If I had known of the origin of the phrase, I would never have used it,” Alvim said. The former secretary went to explain that the speech had been written based on ideas he had been given by his aides. According to Alvim, he wrote 90% of the speech with the rest being contributed by assistants who did research to add to the text. In an interview about the controversy, Alvim repeatedly said that he had no idea that that part of the speech had been apparently been lifted from a Goebbels speech and also denied any allegiance to Nazi era ideals.
“The sentence I wrote, which has this rhetorical coincidence with the form of the Goebbels sentence, is absolutely correct. Even a bloodthirsty dictator can have one or the other phrase that is absolutely correct, although in the case of these people they’re waging the most spurious intentions with noble speeches. But you’ll find beautiful phrases about humanity in the mouth of a contumacious killer like Che Guevara”, said Alvim.
“Did Goebbels advocate an idea of a national art, a nationalist art? Yes. Do I also advocate this idea? I also advocate this idea. Do other absolutely incredible intellectuals also advocate this idea? They also advocate this idea. Hence, extending the association to exterminate people in concentration camps is a very forced thing.”
Understanding the reaction to the video, Alvim offered to re-sign from the post in order the protect Bolsonaro.
“I gave my life for this government project, and I remain loyal to the President, and willing to help him in the future in the dignification of Brazilian Art and Culture,” he stated.
In an interview broadcast on Rádio Gaúcha, Alvim requested the forgiveness of the Jewish people, but also stated that the idea behind the phrase in question in his speech was “perfect”.
With this turn of events, Bolsonaro soon issued a statement announcing the ousting of the secretary.
“I reiterate our repudiation of totalitarian and genocidal ideologies, as well as any kind of inference from them. We also express our full and unrestricted support for the Jewish community, of which we are friends and share common values,” he added.
Intriguing that Bolsonaro would denounce totalitarianism and genocidal ideas when these two terms have been used to describe him before, during and after his 2018 election victory. Here’s a man who pledged to issue Brazil’s police forces a blank check to kill more people than the outlandish number already murdered by police and whose actions, views and ideas have been labeled as “totalitário” (totalitarian) by a wide range of citizens, politicians and the press. It’s not only this blog that have labeled what’s going with rampant everyday and police violence as a “genocide against the black population” (see here and here).
For the group Judeus pela Democracia, meaning Jews for Democracy, the controversy surrounding Alvim exposes the authoritarian narrative of the Bolsonaro Administration.
In the view of Michel Gherman, a collaborator at the Brazil-Israel Institute and a researcher at the Interdisciplinary Center for Jewish Studies at UFRJ, “any more attentive person can see that there has always been a certain rapprochement of members of the Bolsonaro government with the extreme right and with positions close to Nazism. Alvim was just more explicit. So, he pays the price. But it’s not enough,” he says.
For me, something about this whole story just doesn’t fully add up. I mean, unless someone is well-versed in the history of Nazi era Germany and has analyzed the countless speeches made by Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, how would someone even know about the text in question? Alvim says that the part of his speech in question wasn’t something that he wrote and he had no idea where this section came from. For me, this suggests that his assistants, whoever they were, purposely slipped this into his speech, knowing full well where it came from as they were the ones who researched that portion of the speech.
The other thing that just doesn’t add up to me is that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a good relationship with President Bolsonaro. Let us remember not only that Netanyahu visited Brazil for Bolsonaro’s inauguration on January 1, 2019 but that Bolsonaro was baptized in the River Jordan in Israel in May of 2016 and he signed various deals when he visited the country shortly after taking office. It was also in a Jewish club that Bolsonaro made headlines after making a number of disparaging remarks about black quilombola communities.
Bolsonaro, like any political figure that people don’t like, has been compared to Hitler and we do see in him certain authoritarian behavior. And in the Brazilian context, we must also remember that allegiance to Nazism has been documented in both the county’s past as well as in current times. And what should we make of the appearance of the Cross of Lorraine that appeared on Alvim’s desk in the video? The cross was actually used as a symbol of France’s resistance to and liberation from German occupation during WWII.
David Nemer, professor of media studies at the University of Virginia, sees all of the imagery in the Alvim video, from Bolsonaro photo, the Cross of Lorraine, and display of the Brazilian flag as falling in line with “the Bolsonaro government’s guidelines for the arts: patriotic, linked to family values, connected to god and virtues of faith,” Nemer said. Are we to interpret this in a positive manner or as some sort of introduction to authoritarianism?
On the other hand, the President received the blessings of Bishop Edir Macedo, owner of the Record TV network and founder of the Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus (Universal Church of the Kingdom of God) at Macedo’s Templo de Salomão (Temple of Solomon) , an Evangelical church. Macedo is Jewish on both sides of the family. Bolsonaro is also known to have a relationship with Silvio Santos, the owner of the SBT TV network. Santos is also Jewish. Then, let’s not forget that Bolsonaro made sure that Israel was one of the first countries he visited after becoming president.
So, what’s the verdict here? Pro-Jewish or anti-Jewish? Confusing. I can see how strong arguments could be made on both sides. In fact, if you know how to read between the lines, you can actually see how all of this makes perfect sense. Again, as I suggested at the beginning of this article, if you only pay attention to the mainstream media, you may never get what’s going here.
In the end, we may never know what really happened behind the scenes of this story. But as dirty, scandalous, vicious and crooked as anything involving politics and economics is, I’m betting that Alvim probably had some very powerful enemies and after the decision to remove him was made, the jackals quickly moved in took him out. Maybe I’m wrong, but in today’s world, it would be foolish to rule out the possibility.
With information from Época and Reuters and Revista Fórum