Sunday, November 15, 2009

My Civic Duty

I'm going to try to rewrite/finish a post I started a couple weeks ago. Although I find it easy to write stories about things that happen to me, It's more difficult for me to write stuff that touches on controversial issues- I write something, I'm not sure it's what I want to say, I decide to come back to it, I don't come back to it. Well, I'm going to try to come back to this one.

The following happened on my way home from doing these paintings. I wrote:

On my way home, I did my civic duty. What was my civic duty? Let me show you as they say a picture is worth a thousand words.



There has been a plague of swastikas here in Salvador. I hate hate hate swastikas and I am deeply offended that people are shoving them into my face. According to this blog post (in Portuguese) they are the result of a labor dispute between Basf, which is the largest chemical company in the world (according to Wikipedia), and a labor union. The rankled union is apparently hiring people to go out and paint these things. It says 'Basf, don't forget your past.'

At about this point in writing my post, I decided that I should find out exactly what Basf's ties were to Nazi Germany. So I did some googling. According to Wikipedia, which as we all know is not always the most reliable source of information in the world, they helped found a company called IG Farben, which, I was horrified to discover, used slave labor and produced and even held the patent for Zyklon-B, a poison gas used in gas chambers.

That's horrible. Ghastly. Who would want to do business with a company after finding that out?

As I kept googling and kept reading, I became so demoralized by my detour into the evil past that I couldn't publish my post. I began to wonder if I was wrong to have painted over the swastika- maybe these people are doing the right thing by exposing this company for what it really is.

But here's the thing: this labor dispute that's going on? If the blog post I cited earlier is right, it has absolutely nothing to do with the company's ties to Nazi Germany. They don't want to expose the company's evil past for the greater good. They're not looking for a boycott of the company, or for them to make a public apology or anything like that. All they want is leverage in their negotiations with the company, which presumably aren't going so well. It's like the union, for lack of better ammunition, has been reduced to name calling. Really nasty name calling.

And the other thing is: now that I know this, what can or should I do about it? I can't exactly boycott the company- as the biggest chemical company in the world, they probably have a hand in making pretty much everything. It would be like trying to boycott products made in China. And I did a little more research. One of the other co-founders of IG Farben? Bayer. Yeah, like the aspirin. Another? Agfa, which made some of my favorite photo papers when I was in college. A couple other names that came up were DuPont and Standard Oil. Should I now boycott all these companies? Could I boycott all these companies?

And another thing: Volkswagen is huge here in Brazil. You see their cars all over the roads, and they are a huge employer in this country. Didn't they get their start in Nazi Germany? I don't see any swastikas being painted about them.

For the record, IG Farben was dissolved after World War II.

I have a brother who loves conspiracy theories. I tend to think he's a little nuts when he starts ranting and raving about things, but for me the truth is this: you don't need to believe in conspiracy theories to discover that the world is a really fucked up place. You don't even have to scratch the surface very hard to find really ugly stuff right in front of your face.

I googled 'ig farben nazi' which came up with 'about 105,000' hits. Check this out:

Hit number four: IG Farben/Nazi Coalition Founded the "Brussels EU"

And hit number five: How Bush's grandfather helped Hitler's rise to power

Conspiracy theories or reality? I don't know. I stopped looking. When I start going down one of these dark paths online I have to pull myself up short quickly or I get very depressed and I can't sleep.

Well, if whoever is painting those swastikas wanted someone like me to find out about Basf's ugly past, they were successful. Have they successfully embarrassed Basf and shaken hands on whatever deal they were after? I have no idea.

I painted over two swastikas, and was prepared to paint over a third, but someone beat me to it. Luckily I'm not the only one trying to rid the city of this plague. After some momentary self-doubt, I now believe I did the right thing.

By the way, did I mention that the painting of swastikas is illegal here in Brazil? According to this article published by the Globo news conglomerate:

A fabricação, comercialização, distribuição e exibição de símbolos nazistas são crime federal. A pena prevista varia de dois a cinco anos de prisão.

Or, in English, "the creation, marketing, distribution and exhibition of nazi symbols are federal crimes, punishable from between two and five years in prison."

If I see any more, I'll paint over them too.


nattibongo said...

Good for you for painting over the swastikas and for researching Basf. I love your blog. I just spent a good chunk of my sunday reading your blog that I stumbled upon. I've had the pleasure of visiting Salvador this past Easter and hope to get back sooner rather than later. My son, 6, took some capoeira lessons there and he's taking lessons in NYC this semester. He really enjoys it. We went to Joao Grande class once, but he wasn't there. Thanks again for sharing your stories.

markuza said...

Hey Nattibongo, thanks for the support. Glad to hear you are enjoying the blog! I hope you get to meet Joao Grande one of these days, he's a great guy. All the best and keep reading.

nattibongo said...

I haven't met him personally but I've seen him perform back in September at a Capoeira Festival the Brazilian Embassy had in the City. And yes, I'll definitely keep reading your blog.

Mei said...

I definitely agree with what you did. Regardless of the connections that the company has/had, that's not the issue at hand... and nobody needs to look at a swastika. AND the fact that it's illegal just makes your actions ever the more appropriate.

Now tell me... does your brother believe in the whole "reptilian people" theory? That one really blew my mind.

(And another one: does he believe that men were never on the moon? I loved reading about that one as well.)

I like boning up on conspiracy stuff just for fun, but I don't know anyone who believes in the theories... in "real life."

markuza said...

Thanks Mei. I had never heard of the Reptilians before- woah! At least they are sworn enemies of the Grays- those dastardly human-experimenting aliens.

I had a girlfriend who believed that aliens walk among us, and even that some of us are aliens but don't know it, but my brother isn't that far out. He doesn't believe the no-moon-landing one. He tends more towards the 'Bin Laden and Bush are in cahoots' and 'The Government Caused 9/11' school of conspiracies.

Regina Scharf said...

Just discovered your blog and will come back! Definitely, the use of Swastikas out of context is always very disturbing - even when it involves a company that was indeed heavily engaged in the Nazi war effort. No matter how bad they are behaving now, it is not comparable. About your capoeira post, did you like Besouro? I just posted on that, seems pretty impressive.

markuza said...

Thanks Regina. I'm not too fond of swastikas in context either :) at least not the nazi context. Even though swastikas are an ancient symbol with lots of meanings, the Nazi party pretty much obscured all those other meanings for me at least.

I haven't yet seen Besouro, although I want to- a friend of mine made a documentary about him in New York so I know a bit about his story.

Keep enjoying the blog! I'm going to subscribe to yours too.

Anonymous said...

I am currently in Salvador and was driving to Praia de Flamengo when I saw this exact wall. I was so shocked and offended however the Bahiano I was with insisted this was not a big deal and that I was a typical American stirring up something. Well i decided to do my own research, maybe it was nothing or maybe it represented something other than HATE here.

I thank you for the powerful information you shared on this wall and I look forward to sharing it with the native who says, it's ok!

Anonymous said...

Hello! Thanks for your blog. I've been in Salvador for a week, leaving tomorrow. These swastika signs disturbed me since I saw them (in Itapua.) I still see at least two of them with swastikas.

I was very curious as to what they were for. I now understand the BASF labor union issue - thanks to your blog.

THe BASF labor union issue is probably long done by now. Why doesn't Salvador - the city - get rid of these disgusting swastikas?!

Thanks again for explaining it to me. I asked several locals - and they did not understand what it meant.

markuza said...

Hey Thanks- you're right, the swastikas should be stomped out. All the ones around here have been painted over- mostly by graffiteiros- and I wasn't aware there were any left. As far as I know new ones are not being painted. Without a doubt they will all be gone in a few months, as it's almost election time here, and _everything_ gets painted over during the election.