Burning Kafka's books, exterminating native Indians: the return of Nazism in Brazil

10. 2. 2020 / Fabiano Golgo

čas čtení 13 minut

Over 20 000 websites in Brazil openly celebrate Nazism, almost 200 hundred thousand people have officially registered as Nazis

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is not even trying to hide his fascist tendencies, while his close allies are unashamedly bringing back Nazi characteristics and tactics to the largest Latin American country.

To those who may be surprised at the expression "bringing back", related to something that was indigenous to Europe, in connection to a country that most people see as being inhabited by mostly brown-skinned people, may I point out that Brazil has almost 10 million inhabitants whose surname is of German origin. Not to mention another 20 million, like me, who are descendants of at least one German immigrant.


The southernmost federal states of Brazil - Paraná, Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul - with a population of over 30 million, have a predominantly white, often blond, middle class.

Just to illustrate, I had to change schools after the first grade, because I registered at the same school as my older and whiter brother, the Knabenschule des Deutschen Hilfsvereins school, where I was openly discriminated against because of my darker complexion. This was in the 1970s, during our military dictatorship (1964-85), at a time when the president was an army general called Ernesto Geisel...

Adding to that, German immigrants, who came on mass waves of immigration after 1842 in official government sponsored colonization schemes as well as a consequence of the famine in Europe, after a first generation working in agriculture, evolved to owning factories, industries and mastering engineering projects, all of which put them in a more privileged economic level, thus with disproportional power over both the economy and in influencing all the governments throughout the ages.

The delay until 1942 of Brazil entering the Second World War on the side of the Allies was caused by this strong influence the German community has had in the country for generations.

My granduncle Wilhelm Raupp, who worked for a chocolate factory called Neugebauer, used to reminisce about how, until 1942, the staff had to sing the German national anthem before the start of each working day.

Among current government ministers we find surnames like Weintraub and Weingarten, just to mention a couple.

In the 1930s, a movement called Integralista, with a Nazi ideology and direct connections with Oswald Mosley, became the strongest political force, with the adherence of many of the most iconic local artists, writers and intellectuals. The then fascist president Getúlio Vargas sent German nationals of Jewish descent, who lived in Brazil, back to Hitler's Germany and, as a consequence, to concentrations camps, with pregnant writer Olga Benário as the main symbol of this national shame.

Famously, Nazi doctor, known as Angel of Death, the monstrous Josef Mengele, moved to Brazil and died there in 1979, by accidental drowning at the beach, having spent a life free of persecution, something that was possible only thanks to a network of German descendants who provided him with security and anonymity.

Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay have a similar German-descendants influence, for they were also a destination of Germans at the same epoch, for the same reasons, starting during mid-19th century.

So, it is not all that odd that a country with such a markedly Nazi sympathy in its past would find fertile soil to revive it, albeit in a farcical, tropical way.

This time, it is not the descendants of Germans who are leading the reemergence of Nazi theories in this which is the country with the second biggest amount of African descendants (100 million) in the planet, losing only to Nigeria. The sociological phenomenon is arising from within the brown-skinned middle class.

A recently sacked minister of culture (who lost his job not because Bolsonaro thought he should, but because there was a threat of impeachment by the parliament), Roberto Alvim quoted Josef Goebbels and played Richard Wagner in the background of an official governmental speech.

As a clear sign that this is not just an isolated series of coincidences, a new trend has emerged and became visible through social media: average brown skinned citizens all over the country have been spotted in restaurants and shopping centers wearing swastikas around their upper arms. When the police is called (and refuses) to act, freedom of speech is used as an excuse.

If there is any doubt left, a research done by the renowned Unicamp, University of Campinas, found out that there are 21 921 websites promoting Nazism, that have been created within the past 5 years in Brazil. And there are over 200 thousand people afilliated with Nazi groups, which are protected by the Constitution's chapter on freedom of expression.

There was also the monitoring of the number of persons who downloaded more than 100 archives on Nazi literature (considered above average interest, which signalizes potential Nazi sympathies) from the digital university libraries: 228.962 individuals did so last year.

Last Thursday, Nazi actions received official approval even from the federate state in the outskirts of the Amazon, Rondônia, inhabited by a majority of Portuguese descendants mixed with native Indians, with a skin color that also reflects the year-round "roasting" they endure, under temperatures that often reach above 30 degrees Celsius. In Rondônia, again quoting Goebbels, the government created a list of 43 books that were ordered to be taken away immediately from every library, school and even commercial bookstores. Those books were to be burned!

The blacklist of books the governor, a close Bolsonaro ally, decided that are damaging to the "morals of children and adolescents" and "contributors to the rotting of order in society" include Franz Kafka, Edgar Allan Poe and the most important Brazilian writer of all time.

Asked about the episode, Bolsonaro said the reporter should inquire the governor of Rondônia himself, because his view is that each federate state should have the autonomy to decide what they do about their regions. An evasiveness that evidences veiled support for the medieval censorship measure.

If you think the list is aimed at subversive books from leftists, the works of Karl Marx, or anything related to George Soros... you are mistaken. No, the list has titles that include traditional classic national literary pearls.

For those acquainted with Brazilian literature, it may be shocking to hear that Machado de Assis, considered the greatest and most important Brazilian writer ever, who inspired Edgard Allan Poe and others with his breakthrough work "Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas", also translated as Epitaph of a Small Winner, which revolutionized literary narrative by telling a story in the first person with the voice of a dead man, introducing ironical social commentary and a uniquely intimate narrative style, is part of the list.

Not surprisingly, though, the first forbidden author that appears at the top of the list is the first openly gay writer in Brazil, who wrote about homosexual issues. But then what follows is Macunaíma, a classic work considered the seminal description of the Brazilian soul! Written in the 1920s, its title character has been widely seen as a symbol of the typical Brazilian personality (a docile,  hedonistic, lazy, street smart trickster, surreptitious, untrustworthy, sensual, resilient, communicative, social, cordial).

Even a largely unknown female author, Rosa Amanda Strausz, and her book about love! The censors considered it too libertine for a woman, because she writes with unashamed sexual desire, without the expected Christian moral restraints for females.

The only foreigners of the list are Franz Kafka, specifically his book The Castle, and Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of Mystery and Imagination.

The blacklist ends with an observation: all books by Rubem Fonseca  must be apprehended. He is a sort of Agatha Christie mixed with Arthur Conan Doyle of Brazil, but with a Quentin Tarantino taste for violent plots. However, he is a right wing former policemen. For some unexplained reason, the tropical Neo-Nazis revolted against him.

If all this already sounds like a lot of absurdities that not even South American magic realism authors like Gabriel García Marquez or Jorge Luis Borges could ever have been able to create, things become even more tragicomic: the censorship and apprehension document was signed by the local state secretary of culture, whose name is Suamy Vivecananda Lacerda de Abreu. Suamy Vivecananda? Yes, the guy's name is a tribute to a man from India who promoted a revival of modern Hinduism during British colonial rule. He is best known for his 1893 speech introducing Hinduism to the Western world in Chicago. A Neo-Nazi with an Indian name is a very Brazilian product.

Making the reality of Brazil even more worrisome, with the exception of half a dozen traditional mass media outlets, most well established television channels, radio stations, newspapers and websites have been asking out loud what is so wrong about Hitler's ideas of nationalism, if we extract the extermination of Jews out from the calculation.

It is now current among the middle class a relativization exercise of rhetorics over Hitler's legacy, filtering out the Holocaust as its only real mistake because the fate of the Jews is still universally condemned even by Nazi apologists in Brazil. If nothing else, because there is an odd aliance coming from the evangelical establishment in defense of Israel and in celebration of Jewish people, in part influenced by their strict reading of the Bible, a book which points the Jews as the blessed people. And Pentecostal evangelicals have become the single strongest political force in Brazil, after a network of over 120 thousand churches provoked the fastest mass social change in Brazilian history since the urbanization of Brazil under president Juscelino Kubitschek: starting in the early 1990s, they changed the religion of 45% of the population, which used to be 90% Catholic.

In this context of reviving the ultranationalist doctrine of Nazism, Brazil is mixing elements of the Third Reich, such as book censorship, militarization of schools (Bolsonaro plans to adapt thousands of public schools into military institutions), mandatory national anthem singing before school classes start, persecution of homosexuality (federal rules have changed to allow public servants to be fired for having AIDS or leading an open homosexual lifestyle), the forbidding of certain words and chapters of history in official books and documents, the stigmatization of certain groups (gays, blacks, native Indians, leftists, feminists) and the control of the arts (theater and cinema productions and places that give space to works considered leftist or morally liberal are punished with the cutting off of government funds).

As part of this Neo-Nazi thinking, it has become predominant in Brazilian public opinion the view that the less than one million surviving native Indians, who live in about 300 tribal reservations, maintaining their ancient traditions and keeping good care of the rain forest, should be massively integrated into so-called "normal" Brazilian society. Bolsonaro sent a proposal to the Congress, which is expected to be approved soon, where he makes official his decimation project against the native Indians.

Reflecting a culture that is typical of the Brazilian military, which in the 1970s promoted campaigns to assassinate native Indians, then turn their land into agricultural or mining areas, a practice only ended with the return to democracy, Bolsonaro is counting with the support of the majority of the population in his cultural genocide that is about to be implemented.

I have to confess that, as a typical product of the elite urban environment I grew up under, as an economically privileged member of society, I understand this disregard and cynicism towards native Indians, because I only learned more about them and started to care about their fate and the preservation of their culture when I started studying cultural anthropology in the United States. The vastly urbanized and americanized Brazilians  feel a bit ashamed to be living in  a country that is known for its native Indians.

Among the measures proposed by Bolsonaro, in a bill that requires a change in the Constitution, native Indians will no longer have any rights over their lands, which will be available to the commercial exploration of minerals, agriculture and urban development.

Even a shopping center is already planned for the middle of the Amazon, to attract tourists to a future theme park resort.

Indians will be able to profit from a small percentage of the price of the sale of the land (most of the money goes to the government) and they will be allowed to buy land as well, although, for some unexplained reason, they are forbidden to explore mining, a privilege reserved to "non-natives", a clearly racist and handicapping rule. If natives will be caught gold digging or selling minerals, they will be sent to jail for a decade. It is an open take over, colonization and extermination policy.

In a parallel measure, Bolsonaro pushed through a change in the mandatory rules in the qualifications required by law for the position of special Secretary for the Protection and Preservation of Uncontacted Tribes to accommodate the appointment of a person whose (illegal) previous activity was spreading Christianity among native Indians… This means the person that has to safeguard that the about 3 thousand native Indians who live in the tribes that inhabit the almost unreachable depths of the Amazon, who have never been in touch with the outside world, stay protected, is someone whose actual goal is to get in touch with those isolated natives. So much so that his first act was to create a special medical group to bring them "lifesaving medical supplies", such as vaccine against yellow fever and aspirin. He also expressed that something has to be done against a disgusting tradition of very late abortions that some tribes are believed to have.

To be an apologist for Nazism is now, once again, socially acceptable in Brazil. And native Indians are the Jews of the hour. For the same reasons of any scapegoat, as is the case with current Muslims in Europe and was with Jews in the past, in Germany: they live among us, but are not like us; they get benefits from the State and have a disproportionate importance and influence in the local culture and lawmaking. They have a different religion and moral code.

Just like during the Holocaust, the powers-that-be are turning a blind eye to this concerted effort of destruction of some of the oldest living cultures on Earth. The extinction of native Indians is an easy task to achieve, for they are only about 800 000. Just this year, 72 have been murdered by white people who want to take over their soil-rich land reservations.

When native Indians will become just old images in National Geographic documentaries, it will be too late to lament this current destruction of institutions and traditional pillars of civilized societies that the worldwide trend of electing racist, homophobic and ultra-nationalist populist political figures has brought over us.



Obsah vydání | 13. 2. 2020