Brazil’s Top Culture Official Sacked Over Speech Evoking Nazi Propaganda

Brazil’s Top Culture Official Sacked Over Speech Evoking Nazi Propaganda

RIO DE JANEIRO — President Jair Bolsonaro’s top culture official was dismissed on Friday over an address in which he used phrases and ideas from an infamous Nazi propaganda speech while playing an opera that Adolf Hitler regarded as a favorite.

The address by Roberto Alvim, the culture secretary, set off a furor across the political spectrum as Brazilians reacted with exasperation and incredulity.

The outcry was the latest flash point in a broader debate over freedom of speech and culture in the Bolsonaro era. The president campaigned on a promised course correction after an era of rule by leftist leaders, whom he accused of trying to impose “cultural Marxism.”

Critics say that he and his allies are taking a dogmatic approach to the arts, the public education system and to sexuality and reproductive rights.

Mr. Alvim’s speech, which was posted on the culture secretariat’s Twitter account Thursday evening, shows Mr. Alvim speaking sternly sitting at a desk. Behind him is a framed photograph of Mr. Bolsonaro. A large wooden cross on his desk is featured prominently.

Careful observers were aghast after noticing that a few minutes into the address, Mr. Alvim uttered a few phrases that are remarkably similar to an infamous speech by Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Germany propaganda minister.

Mr. Alvim’s address included verbatim some phrases from Goebbels’s, including an exhortation to make art “in the next decade heroic.” It also includes the warning that Goebbels gave that if art doesn’t rise to the national moment, “it will cease to exist.”

In the background, Richard Wagner’s opera “Lohengrin” is playing, a work Hitler described in his autobiography as one that had been decisive in his life, according to the newspaper Folha de São Paulo.

Announcing a $4.8 million investment in the country’s national arts grant program, Mr. Alvim, a veteran theater director, made clear the government would fund works that hew to Mr. Bolsonaro’s deeply conservative worldview.

He said Brazil needed “a culture that doesn’t destroy, but one that will save our youth.” The secretariat, he added, would seek to support works that pay homage to “homeland, family and the courage of the people — along with their profound ties to God.”

The arts grants would support operas, theater productions, painting and sculpture exhibitions, works of literature and music compositions.

By Friday morning, Goebbels and Nazi were trending topics on Twitter in Brazil as users shared news stories and memes expressing horror.

As outrage spread online, several politicians called for Mr. Alvim’s immediate ouster while some prominent figures close to Mr. Bolsonaro questioned his sanity.

“The secretary of Culture has crossed all limits,” Rodrigo Maia, the speaker of the House wrote in a statement on Twitter. “It’s unacceptable. The Brazilian government should remove him from the job urgently.”

José Antonio Dias Toffoli, the president of the Supreme Court, said in a statement that Mr. Alvim’s remarks deserved to be “repudiated with vehemence,” adding that they were “offensive to Brazilian people, especially the Jewish community.”

Olavo de Carvalho, a Virginia-based writer and YouTuber from Brazil who is known for peddling conspiracy theories and informing Mr. Bolsonaro’s thinking on societal and intellectual matters, was also critical of Mr. Alvim.

“It may be early to judge,” he wrote on Facebook. “But Roberto Alvim may not be of sound mind. We’ll see.”

Germany’s embassy in Brazil condemned the speech in a post on Twitter, saying that it opposed “any attempt to banalize or glorify” an era that “brought infinite suffering for humanity.”

Mr. Alvim defended himself in a statement on Facebook, in which he accused leftists of reading too much into his words.

He called the similarities between the two statements a “rhetorical coincidence” and argued that “there is nothing wrong with the phrase,” which he called “perfect.”

Later in the day, he issued a second, more contrite statement in which he apologized to the Jewish community for what he called “an involuntary mistake.”

In a radio interview, Mr. Alvim blamed aides for the passages from Goebbels’s speech, explaining that he has instructed them to search on Google for speeches about “nationalism and art.”

Letícia Casado contributed reporting from Brasília.

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