A Poor Choice Of Words

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro sacked one of his cabinet ministers, Roberto Alvim, not a moment too soon.

Alvim, the minister of culture, was fired shortly after his delivered a six-minute speech on January 17 riddled with phrases from none other than Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler’s infamous minister of propaganda.

Roberto Alvim

It remains to be seen why Alvim, a seasoned theater director, was foolish enough to draw inspiration from such a dark and disreputable figure. Goebbels, one of the pillars of Hitler’s regime, was a fanatical fascist and ardent antisemite who harnessed the power and allure of radio and film to consolidate Nazi rule and ideas, defame, marginalize and persecute German Jews, and justify Germany’s armed campaign of aggression abroad.

Why would Alvim want to associate himself, much less his country, with such a vile and disgusting individual? What was he thinking when he incorporated Goebbels’ philosophy into his speech?

It was all supposed to be a routine speech in which he would announce a nearly $5 million investment in Brazil’s art grants program. It would support theater productions, operas, works of literature, music compositions and art exhibitions that generally hewed to conservative values and particularly endorsed Bolsonario’s right-wing worldview.

“The Brazilian art of the next decade will be heroic and will be national,” Alvim said at one point in his speech. “It will yield great capacity of emotional involvement and it will be equally imperative, as it will be deeply committed to the urgent aspirations of our people, or it will be nothing.”

It all sounded eerily familiar.

Goebbels, in a speech delivered several months after Hitler’s appointment as chancellor in 1933,  declared, “The German art of the next decade will be heroic, it will be steely romantic, it will be factual and completely free of sentimentality, it will be national with great pathos and committed, or it will be nothing.”

Joseph Goebbels

It was crystal clear that Alvim was guilty not only of plagiarization, but of stupidity.

Worse still, the strains of Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin, Hitler’s favorite opera, could be heard in the background as Alvim spoke.

Predictably enough, his misbegotten speech was far from appreciated. Jews, in particular, were  offended. And in a press release, the German embassy expressed opposition to “any attempt to banalize or glorify” an era that had brought “infinite suffering” to Germany and its European neighbors.

At first, Alvim was indignant, claiming that leftists had read too much into his speech. But on consideration, he issued an apology to the Jewish community for his “involuntary mistake.”

Jair Bolsonaro

Despite Alvim’s words of regret, Bolsonaro summarily fired him. Alvim had outlived his usefulness, he said, repudiating what he described as “genocidal ideologies.” From a political and moral standpoint, Bolsonaro did the right thing in relieving Alvim of his position. As he explained, Alvim’s presence in his cabinet had become “unsustainable.”


Let us hope that this was a teachable moment.




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