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Culture minister fired for giving a speech by Goebbels — literally

We live in an age of anti-Semitic political dog whistles, from President Trump’s summer comments on Jewish “disloyalty” to a Labour party member’s claim that Hitler was “misunderstood.”

But there’s subtly invoking Nazi ideology, and there’s giving a speech written by Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels over the strains of one of Hitler’s favorite operas.

That’s the offense for which Brazilian Culture Minister Roberto Alvim was removed from his position on Friday. Alvim, who had been in office since November 2019, posted a video to his official Twitter account late on Thursday in which he outlined plans for the country’s cultural future. But the initiatives he announced, including a nearly $5 million increase in the funds available through Brazil’s arts grants program, were overshadowed by some unusual patterns in his rhetoric. Viewers of the now-removed video of the speech quickly realized that sections of it had been pulled directly from an infamous Goebbels speech from 1933.

“Brazilian art in the next decade will be heroic and national,” he said, according to The Guardian. “It will be endowed with a great capacity for emotional involvement and will be equally imperative, since it is deeply linked to the urgent aspirations of our people, or else it will be nothing.” Goebbels, in a 1933 speech to theater professionals — Alvim is a longtime theater director — said “German art in the next decade will be heroic, steely but romantic, factual without sentimentality; it will be nationalistic with a great depth of feeling; it will be binding and it will unite, or it will cease to exist.”

As Alvim spoke, Richard Wagner’s opera “Lohengrin” played in the background. Hitler celebrated his 1933 rise to power with a festival honoring the 50th anniversary of Wagner’s death; the composer was openly anti-Semitic, and Hitler often cited him as an inspiration. “Lohengrin” was the first work by Wagner that Hitler ever encountered. In “Mein Kampf,” he describes attending a production of it at age 12. In 1935, the Austrian artist Hubert Lanzinger painted a portrait of Hitler in character as the titular Lohengrin.

The quick outcry over the similarity of Alvim’s speech and Goebbels’s led Alvim to offer an unusual defense: It was just a case of accidental plagiarism, he said during a radio interview, according to The New York Times. Alvim claims that in preparing for the speech, he asked his aides to look up speeches about “nationalism and art.” “That phrase fell on my desk, I didn’t know it was from Goebbels and I rewrote it,” he said in that interview, according to a translation from BuzzFeed News.

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, who initially praised Alvim’s speech — The Guardian quotes him as responding to it by saying “Now we have a real secretary of culture” — announced Alvim’s dismissal on Friday afternoon. According to The Times, Alvim added that Brazil’s government “repudiates totalitarian and genocidal ideologies.”

Bolsonaro, a far-right politician who has been in office since November 2018, has previously drawn controversy over his approach to Nazism. In April 2019, after a tour of Yad Vashem, he stated that Nazism was a left-wing movement; Yad Vashem itself stipulates that it emerged from the far right.

Brazilian culture minister fired for Goebbels speech

Author

Talya Zax

Talya Zax

Talya Zax is the Forward’s deputy culture editor. Contact her at zax@forward.com or on Twitter, @TalyaZax.

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Culture minister fired for giving a speech by Goebbels — literally

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