Brazilian culture secretary Roberto Alvim was fired from the government Friday after he appeared to quote Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels in a video setting out his agenda for a conservative “rebirth” of the arts.
Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro said in a statement to Brazilian media that the controversial video had made Alvim’s position “unsustainable.”
Alvim, a theater director appointed to lead Brazil’s culture ministry in June, made the video to introduce a new art fund worth around $4.7 million. The fund, Alvim said in his speech, will promote a “new National art that embodies the aspirations of the vast majority of the Brazilian population” rooted in concepts of “country, family, the courage of the people and their deep connection with God.”
Brazilian media compared sections of his address to a Goebbels speech delivered in 1933. “German art of the next decade will be heroic; it will be like steel; it will be romantic, non-sentimental, factual; it will be national with great pathos and at once obligatory and binding, or it will be nothing,” Goebbels said.
In the video, Alvim said: “Brazilian art of the next decade will be heroic and it will be national. It will have a great capacity for emotional involvement and it will at once be obligatory, because it will be profoundly linked to the urgent aspirations of our people, or it will be nothing.”
The video was set to a piece of string music by Richard Wagner – a German composer who was a favorite of Adolf Hitler and known for expressing anti-semitic views.
Alvim initially defended the video, calling the similarities between the two speeches a “rhetorical coincidence” in a post on his Facebook page Friday morning. “The whole speech was based on a national ideal for Brazilian Art, and there was a coincidence with ONE phrase from a speech by Goebbels,” he wrote. “I didn’t quote him and never would. It was a rhetorical coincidence. But the sentence itself is perfect.”
But by lunchtime in Brazil Alvim had issued another statement apologizing to the Jewish community for “which [he has] a profound respect”. Though recognizing the speech contained “a phrase by a Nazi,” he said he had not known its origin. He added that he had “put his position at the president’s discretion to protect him,” after the video provoked a fierce backlash among Brazilian politicians, in the media, and online.
Rodrigo Maia, an opposition congressman and leader of Brazil’s lower house, had called for his resignation earlier Friday.
The controversy comes amid a deepening culture war in Brazil. Since taking office in January 2019, Bolsonaro has been vocal about his desire to challenge the progressive ideals that he says flourished in Brazil’s cultural sphere during 13 years of government by the leftwing Workers’ Party, ending in 2016.
On Jan. 3 the president said that all new textbooks circulated in Brazil from 2021 would be “ours” — referring to his conservative administration — and feature changes including greater prominence for the Brazilian flag and national anthem. Last April Bolsonaro’s former education minister promised to rewrite textbooks to “rescue the vision” of the 1964 coup that installed a military dictatorship in Brazil – a regime that Bolsonaro has repeatedly praised.
Artists and cultural figures, many of whom have led a progressive resistance to the conservative shift in Brazil, have accused Bolsonaro’s administration of censorship. In August Bolsonaro said he was slashing around $17.42 million in state funding for a series of film projects, including some with LGBTQ+ themes.
On Jan. 8, a Rio de Janeiro judge briefly banned a Netflix film produced by a Brazilian film company depicting Jesus as a gay man. Brazil’s Supreme Court reversed the ruling the following day. “It is not to be assumed that a humorous satire has the magic power to undermine the values of the Christian faith, whose existence goes back more than two thousand years,” the court’s president wrote in his decision.