In recent years, President Jair Bolsonaro, his ministers, and followers have encouraged the use of a series of expressions originating from Benito Mussolini‘s fascism and Adolf Hitler‘s Nazism, in addition to other typical terms used by the Portuguese totalitarian leader Antônio de Oliveira Salazar and by the Spanish Francisco Franco. Why that matter? There are no precedents for the use of this type of vocabulary by elected governments in the West since the end of Salazar’s regime in 1974.
The following is an anthology of some expressions used by Bolsonaro, his ministers, and followers in real and virtual life:
Between the last months of the government of ex-president Dilma Rousseff in 2016 and the election of Bolsonaro in 2018, hundreds of demonstrations were held in Brazilian cities with the slogan “Acorda Brasil” (“Wake up Brazil!”). A significant part of these demonstrators – everything leads one to believe – would later be voters and followers of the military man who took office in January 2019.
“Wake up Brazil!” is a kind of remake of the motto that the Nazis intensively used between the mid-1920s (when Adolf Hitler’s followers grew in volume) and January 1933 (when Hitler took office as Reichskanzler, that is, Prime Minister of the President Paul von Hindenburg): “Deutschland erwache!“
Evidently, this is the kind of motto that is no longer used when the person who leads the movement comes to power since it becomes counterproductive. It would indicate that people should remain suspicious of the ruler on duty.
The slogan “Brasil acima de tudo” (“Brazil above all”), used as a slogan for Bolsonaro’s presidential campaign (and which continues to be used as a kind of government slogan), is a local version of the motto “Deutschland über alles” (Germany above all), used by the Nazis. The phrase is a verse from a poem, Das Lied der Deutschen (The Song of the Germans), created in 1841 by the German poet August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben.
Fallersleben’s lyrics mixed with music created half a century earlier by composer Joseph Haydn became an official national anthem in 1922.
Hitler, however, used the hymn in grand ceremonies, as a reference to pretensions of German supremacy. The slogan also served to indicate that his country was above any individuality.
Bolsonaro’s campaign’s complete slogan is “Brazil above all; God above all”.
Throughout World War II (1939-45), Hitler’s soldiers had the phrase “Gott mit uns” (God with us) on their belt buckles. Hitler believed that he was fulfilling a divine mission – which shows the danger of this type of motto. The Nazi dictator stated: “I believe that I am acting in agreement with Almighty God. When I fight the Jews, I am doing the Lord’s work!”.
Over the centuries several monarchs, dictators and presidents have claimed that they had been protected by heavenly powers. Several of these claimed to have some kind of divine mission – the 20th century fascist leaders did the same.
This was the case of the Portuguese dictator Antônio de Oliveira Salazar, whose regime was inspired by Mussolini’s (with some adaptations). Between Salazar and his successor, Marcelo Caetano, fascism ruled the country between 1932 and 1974. One of his slogans was “Deus, Pátria e Família” (“God, Fatherland, and Family”).
This slogan was copied several times in Brazil. The first ones to do so were members of the Ação Integralista Brasileira, an ultranationalist Brazilian political movement. The integralists used the same Salazar slogan without any modifications. Like Bolsonaro, in a speech during the 2020 municipal elections. The same slogan was planned to be used as the motto of the party that Bolsonaro intended to create, the Aliança pelo Brasil (Alliance for Brazil), which, for the time being, has not come to life.
Even before that, in May 2019, Bolsonaro declared that his government was “a mission from God.” The president also admitted that he was not the most prepared among the candidates from the last year’s election, but said that “you know that He does not choose the most qualified ones, but empowers the chosen ones” – that is as if the celestial powers had hurriedly done an MBA for Bolsonaro.
The fascist slogan “Mussolini ha sempre ragione!” was also copied in Brazil. This phrase was part of the decalogue of the young fascists of the 1920s, who used it to end any discussion with critics of the regime. It was a passionate appeal in the absence of a logical argument.
Militants of the Brazilian president use the hashtag #BolsonaroTemSempreRazao. And with it, the militants also interrupt any logical dialogue. In the 1930s, the Mussolinian slogan was plagiarized by the German Nazis without modification. Adolf Hitler’s followers stamped the phrase Der Führer hat immer recht on posters. They also used the phrase to sustain that everything the dictator said was an absolute truth.
So what? (and others inspired in Mussolini)
Bolsonaro made the expression “e daí?” (so what?) a hit parade to indicate his contempt for several subjects. It also has precedents in Mussolini’s fascism, since the Italian duce often used the crude phrase “me ne frego,” equivalent to “I don’t care” or “I don’t give a fuck” in certain occasions as a slogan to indicate that fascism and fascists did not care about breaking laws to impose their will (in addition to being a way of expressing their disdain for democratic formalities).
In May 2020, Bolsonaro shared a video on Facebook that displayed the phrase “Melhor um dia como leão do que 100 anos como ovelha!” (“Better a day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep!”). Exactly the same phrase that Mussolini used: “Meglio vivere un giorno da leone che cent’anni da pecora!”
The phrase debuted in Mussolini’s speeches on June 20, 1928. On that occasion, he presided over a tribute to the late Marshal Armando Vittorio Díaz, whom he considered a “hero” of the First World War (1914-18). The duce also ordered this phrase to be placed on the 20 and 100 lire coins.
In 2019, Bolsonaro had already posted a video in which he was represented as a lion that was attacked by a group of hyenas (representing his opponents).
A few weeks ago, the former Brazilian chancellor Ernesto Araújo (son of a judge who in 1978 refused to extradite the Nazi war criminal Gustav Wagner for the crime of genocide during World War II) used the acronym SPQR in a session in the Senate.
SPQR is the acronym for Senatus Populusque Romanus (The Senate and the Roman People), an expression used during the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire 2,000 years ago. During the Mussolini regime, in the 20th century, it was used to exalt the pretensions of fascist supremacy. Between the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, several neo-fascist and neo-Nazi movements in Europe also used the acronym SPQR.
Araújo’s reference caused a scandal and would have been the last straw for his withdrawal from Bolsonaro’s office.
Days earlier, another unprecedented scandal occurred. The presidential advisor for international affairs, Filipe Martins, was filmed making a gesture with his fingers like the OK sign, appropriate since 2017 by White Supremacists to illustrate their “White Power” slogan. Martins stated that he was just “fixing the lapel” of his jacket.
The same gesture was used by several supporters of former U.S. President Donald Trump in the Washington Capitol invasion earlier this year. Trump is an idol of the Brazilian bolsonaristas.
Followers of authoritarian and related leaders often use short forms (almost always two syllables) to call them, especially at rallies and mass concentrations, in which these denominations are shouted ad nauseam. This, on the other hand, is not usually the case with ostensibly democratic leaders.
Hitler was called Führer (leader, guide), Mussolini de Duce (leader, chief), and Francisco Franco, El Caudillo (idem) – but in the demonstrations the masses shouted his surname: “Fran-co, Fran-co!”
Fidel Castro was called El Comandante, but in popular gatherings, people shouted “Fi-del, Fi-del!”
Dominican Leónidas Trujillo was El Jefe. Josef Stalin was the Vozhd (leader). The crowds call North Korean Kim Jong-Un Chongsu (supreme leader). You got the idea, right?
Bolsonaro, well, is called by his followers “Mi-to!” (Myth).
In 1998, in his article Em torno do Conceito de Mito Político (Around the concept of political myth), Professor Luis Felipe Miguel said that the a political “myth” presents itself to the public as an indisputable truth, “above reason and facts”.
And, it is good to remember that fascism rejects the rationalist tradition. Fascism has the attitude of distrusting reason and, in this way, exalts people’s irrational elements. Fascism would be like an amusement park of passionate feelings and fanaticism.
Translated by Fabiane Ziolla Menezes