Memoirs of an Ex-Nazi: The Literary Poison of Totalitarianism | Culture

Trump supporters, before the assault on the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Trump supporters, before the assault on the Capitol on January 6, 2021.ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP via Getty Images

David Saavedra (Pontevedra, 39 years old) was very young when he got deep into what he calls “the bubble”. His militancy on the extreme right and the void that it has left in him are not very different from what a jihadist feels, as he cites as an example. The process took him from an initial fascination with Hitler to the guts of the Nazi movement in Spain and to turn his youth into “20 years thrown away.” When he wanted “that all this was useful for something” he wrote Memoirs of an ex-Nazi: 20 years on the Spanish extreme right (Ediciones B), a chilling account of the power of radicalism over the mind. He was leaving all that behind, but even today he confesses that he does not feel liberated. “I started writing it before I knew I was getting away,” he says by videoconference. His example is one of the multiple literary approaches to the expansive phenomenon of totalitarianism and its different masks that populate the news tables in Spanish.

David Saavedra, in an image taken on May 31.
David Saavedra, in an image taken on May 31.Elena Tejero Ardines

“Since the 1930s, there have never been so many people who were truly convinced that liberal democracy is useless and that it is necessary to take another path. And there the parallelism ends. Liberal democracy begins to have very few defenders, but it is not true that we are experiencing a rise of fascism ”, reflects Sergio del Molino (Madrid, 41 years old), who has just published Against empty Spain (Alfaguara), the continuation through political means of his great success. “Democracy does not have sex appeal because we don’t understand the eternal return. He is not going to any paradise, to no Arcadia. Its purpose is to perpetuate itself ”, deepens one rainy afternoon in June next to the Reina Sofía museum.

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Not only the memoirs or the essay have addressed this phenomenon in recent months. With Lux (Seix Barral), Mario Cuenca Sandoval (Sabadell, 46 years old) has opted for an original epistolary story in which a man narrates the rise and fall of the far-right party that gives the novel its title in a post-pandemic Spain and an indeterminate time . “Lux takes advantage of the unease that is evident in society, especially in the working classes and the middle classes. It is a growing malaise that these types of formations know how to channel because they offer a simple story and simple solutions to really complex issues. They also take advantage of prejudices, which have found a real highway in social networks. And they capitalize on discontent better than the left and the liberals, ”he reflects on the phone. Lux says as Vox could say, because reality has leaked into this and other fictions. And there is Antonio Scurati, who with his monumental project on Italian fascism (in Spanish Alfaguara has published M. The son of the century Y M. The man of providence) novel a story with evident echoes in the present.

Vox is not a Nazi party, it is not correct. Is denier

David saavedra

Boredom, melancholy, frustration or anger and their synonyms are repeated in every conversation, they always arise when it comes to explaining the rise of totalitarianism in the world, the seduction of authoritarianism, the poison of radicalism. “Nostalgia and boredom with politicians are the reflection of something deeper: the feeling that, in a globalized world, politicians have no power. People imagine that there was a better time when politicians were more heroic and better educated. Now they seem trivial and silly. People want something better ”, says by email Anne Applebaum, who brings to the debate her The decline of democracy (Debate) a brilliant reflection on the most tempting aspect of authoritarianism and its mechanisms of seduction.

March in Krakow last October against the Polish government's abortion law.
March in Krakow last October against the Polish government’s abortion law.Artur Widak / NurPhoto via Getty Images

Applebaum (Washington, 56 years old) does not believe that the threat is greater for younger democracies. “They are all vulnerable. In several ways, the situation in the United States, for example, is much worse than that of Spain. American democracy is one of the oldest in the world and yet an important part of one of our largest parties does not believe in the electoral system. I don’t think Spain is that bad yet ”. The writer builds this book by means of her personal experience – she is married to the Polish politician Radoslaw Sikorski and lives in Poland, along with Hungary, the two countries of the European Union that most closely experience the effects of authoritarian policies. to the most prominent intellectuals and journalists in Eastern Europe, some of his friends whom he has lost when they chose the path of radicalization. When he didn’t have this privileged access to sources, he looked for it; He traveled to Spain and met, among others, with Rafael Bardají, one of the ideologues of Vox, whom he undresses effectively.

It is not fair to tell young people that everything is terrible, something that can lead to apathy or nihilism

Anne Applebaum

“Vox is not a Nazi party, it is not correct. He is a denier, “says Saavedra while touching one of the tattoos that cover his body and remind him of his other life, the one in which he was convinced” of the existence of a worldwide conspiracy to enslave the white race. Their solution — now that a 900-page version of My fight with a profusion of notes, context and a great explanatory apparatus – it goes through eliminating the “aura” that is given to these ideas when they are hidden and censored instead of letting them be exposed.

The protagonist of Lux he is a coward who throws himself into the arms of the movement, a finished man “who wants to be at peace with his prejudices, his anger and his resentments,” explains his creator. “His speech may disgust the democrats, but at some point it may suggest ideas that may seem reasonable to us and that causes some discomfort in the reader,” summarizes Cuenca Sandoval to put his finger on the sore of a certain internal conflict without which they are not explained some electoral successes.

Del Molino is committed to recovering naivety: “It is good for everything and it is out of everything. If we recover it, the debate will win in democratic tension. What happens is that it is confused with a form of kindness with very bad press, because it is assimilated to idiocy ”. His essay exudes culture, but he warns: “Fascism cannot be cured by reading. Is a lie. Culture can generate enormous barbarism ”. And Applebaum, who visits shady areas in his book, opts for realism over pessimism or optimism. “It is not fair to tell young people that everything is terrible, something that can lead to apathy or nihilism.” They can start by walking the dark path with Saavedra, see how the bubble works so as not to get caught.