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The Montreal Review, March 2010


Volen Siderov


Nazi propaganda as a handbook for achieving political power.




Jacques Seguela, the famous political advertiser of the French president François Mitterrand and author of the 1980's leftist slogan "La force tranquille", once said that you cannot "sell" a politician if he has no real "market" value. In other words, you cannot persuade the masses to vote for a particular leader or party if there is no real reason for their existence.

If Seguela is right, we must conclude that the existence of one or another party in government and Parliament of given democratic country is due not only to its organizational skills and ability to convince the people in its political program and ideology, but also to objective economic, social and political reasons. If a democratic state does not suffer from considerable economic and political troubles, in elections the voter's behaviour would be fairly predictable, in Parliament would get only the traditional parties, and the percentage of voting activity would be relatively low. On the contrary, if a democratic country experiences serious economic crisis, if the citizens are enraged by the actions of the ruling party (or coalition), in the next elections, they most likely would vote in great numbers, they would support the traditional opposition parties or will choose some new radical political organization that offers strong and appealing populist message. And here is the danger of populism in democracy. Populism puts in power parties that offer corruption, lies, intrigues and violence. It corrupts democratic system from within and opens the doors for dictatorship. Yet, for the existence of strong populist parties in contries with democratic systems we should not blame only the opportunist politicians who gain influence using the troubles, the fears and the anger of the people, but also the traditional parties and elites because of their inability to resolve the problems of the nation.

The Nazis in Weimar Germany came to power and gained political influence in the late 1920s mainly because the wavering German democracy had to cope with the ponderous legacy of the First World War. At that time, in Germany there were political and economic problems that no young democracy could sustain. Democracy is a fine system of balance between sound economy, responsible political representatives, tolerant and educated society, and high standards of living. Interwar Germany lacked these "ingredients". The economy was shaking, the traditional political parties did not have the confidence of the people, socialists and conservatives were discredited after the war, and the Germans were suffering unemployment and poverty. These external factors brought the Nazis in power, not their propaganda machine, nor their ability to express the anger and feelings of the ordinary German. Yet the Nazis' propaganda is perhaps one the most skilful and seducing political appeals ever made. If the Nazis did not know how to win the hearts of the people, how to "connect" with the masses they probably never would achieve such a control over Germany.

Today some political parties and leaders still use the insights of Hitler and Goebbels, still learn their tactics and ways of persuasion. Hitler's observations on propaganda are not so original or exceptional. When he explains in Mein Kampf the importance of political poster, its composition and appeal, he speaks like a painter. Actually, in his youth he was a painter. When he speaks about the power of the simple political message and its repetition, he repeats the ABC's of the art of advertising. When the Nazis organized big public festivals and mass spectacles, they actually used in a secularized way the fetes and rituals of the Church. Their street manifestations were like military parades. Their marches inspired respect. They used all available technologies and mass media - radio, movies, art, lights and sounds - with immense creativity. Finally, they knew something that their political opponents did not know well or did not aspire to - the power of emotions over the reason. The Nazis knew that the unhappy ordinary German was an emotional being that was ready to follow them, to yield as a slave to the Party, as long as the Party finds the way to his heart. Or in Hitler's own words: "The art of propaganda lies in understanding the emotional ideas of the great masses and finding, through a psychologically correct form, the way to the attention and thence to the heart of the broad masses" (Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Houghton Mifflin, 1943, pp. 178-184).

Hitler was completely aware to the fact that he was a populist and that his political goals would never be achieved if his appeals sounded too intellectual. In Mein Kampf he writes: "To whom should propaganda be addressed? To the scientific educated intelligentsia or to the less educated masses? It must be addressed always and exclusively to the masses... The art [of propaganda] consists in doing this so skilfully that everyone would be convinced that the fact is real, the process necessary, the necessity correct, etc... [Propaganda] for the most part must be aimed at the emotions and only to a very limited degree at the so called intellect... the greater the mass it is intended to reach, the lower its purely intellectual level will have to be..." (Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Houghton Mifflin, 1943, pp. 178-184). These words show the basic principles of Nazis' propaganda.

But what feelings did Nazis appealed to? What did they exploit? Surely, not the human ability of love, hope and compassion. They did exploit people's anger, hatred, and fear. The simple messages were against the Jews, against the political opponents, and foreign powers. The Nazis incited anger and hatred with passionate speeches, boasting and bashing, and with nationalist slogans such as "Everything for the Fatherland" and "National Socialism: The Organized Will of the People." They built a disciplined organization, strong party structure and feeling of self-determination among their supporters only on negation - "we" against "them." They stuck people together, under the "wing" of the Party and the leadership of the Führer, appealing to their lowest emotions, scaring them with fictional enemies and threats, creating imaginary culprits for all German troubles. They suggested that the Nazi party and the belonging to the German nation was the only secure and worthy thing in this world.

Hitler, like many other Germans, felt the alienation and desolation of the years after the First World War. He felt the humiliation of German nation; like his compatriots, he was searching for intellectual stability and material security. Hitler knew the feelings of the young Germans. In this is the secret of his success - he knew their fears, suspicions and mentality. He believed sincerely in the racial theory that he preached. This was his worldly philosophy, his intellectual escape from insecurity. In this he believed, and the only thing he needed was to create a community of fellow racists, even better - a nation of racists. In Mein Kampf he wrote: "The individual, who at first, while becoming a supporter of a young movement, feels lonely and easily succumbs to the fear of being alone, for the first time gets the picture of a larger community, which in most people has a strengthening, encouraging effect." (Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Houghton Mifflin, 1943, p. 179)

As it was already said, such a strange, anti-human ideology cannot appear in a calm political, social and economic environment. It can happen and gain support at places where people are unhappy, frightened, poor and angry. It was said also that modern politicians still use the exact techniques of Nazis' propaganda and they are successful in countries that experience political and economic troubles. Islamic fundamentalism, for example, uses Nazis' principles of persuasion - they use modern technology to attract supporters and recruit followers, they are well organized, and they exploit the difficulties of the people. The Islamic fundamentalism appeals to the fears of people; it rests on division of "us" and "they," and it exists because of the inability of traditional elites to improve the quality of life in their countries. In Western Europe, the Islamic terrorist cells in London, Paris and Berlin, are the result of both religious propaganda of hatred and social alienation. But today not only the Islamists use the Nazis' tactics of instilling hatred. The present regime in Iran suggests that the enemy of the Islamic Republic and Iranian people is the foreigner - the Jew, the Western nations and their agents in the country. In Russia, a country experiencing after the collapse of the Soviet Union similar humiliation like Germany after the First World War, the far right nationalistic, fascist movements gain support and only the authoritarian, pragmatic nationalism of Putin/Medviedev keeps them down. Far right politicians such as Alexandr Dugin in Russia, Gabor Vona in Hungary, Jan Slota in Slovakia, Corneliu Vadim Tudor in Romania, Volen Siderov in Bulgaria, Austrian, Dutch, French, Belgian and Italian nationalists - all of them have political influence and most of their parties are represented in the European Parliament today.

Bulgarian far right movement "Ataka" (or "Attack") can be one of the study cases for modern political propaganda built on the tenets of Nazis' political teaching. In the last twenty years, after the fall of communism, the small Balkan country Bulgaria often was torn by economic and political crises, social upheavals, cultural shocks, impoverishment, periods of high inflation, unstable governments and gangster wars. Bulgaria is a young democracy and as such, it has been exposed to all dangers of the post-communist political and economic transformation. During the 1990s and the first half of the 2000s the presence of the far right parties and movements on its political scene was insignificant. This status quo lasted unitl 2006 when the political influence of the traditional liberal center and the conservative right has been heavily reduced (today's government of Boyko Borisov is more "pragmatical" and "populist" than "ideological," it cannot be defined with certainty as "right" or "left"). Parliamentary elections of 2006 produced a ruling coalition between Socialists, Liberals and the party of the Turkish minority DPS (or Movement for Rights and Freedoms). In opposition, surprisingly for most political observers, came not the conservative center-right, but an obscure far right movement called "Ataka" (or Attack). At that time, I was involved in political work (as a press-attaché for the Union of Democratic Powers, the traditional center-right party) and I remember the surprise of political pundits and analists two weeks before the election date when the opinion surveys showed coalition "Ataka" gaining momentum in expense of the traditional parties.

"Ataka" was created and organized in early 2006, a few months before the elections, by Volen Siderov, a charismatic person who became nationally popular in Bulgaria through a TV show called "Ataka" broadcasted on one of the cable TVs (in 1927 the Nazis launched their newspaper Der Angriff or the Attack). Like Hitler, who was an artist in his youth, Volen Siderov was a photographer before 1989, and after the fall of communism he worked as a journalist and editor-in-chief of the center-right newspaper Demokratsia (Democracy). After the bankruptcy of Demokrtsia in early 2000s, he started his own TV show in 2005 where he appeared as an angry and "fair" judge of the Bulgarian post-communist realities. From the TV screen he was tirelessly criticizing the political status quo, the traditional parties, the "communists", the Turkish political leaders, the Western foreign powers, the Freemasons and Jews. He was calling for attack against the enemies of Bulgaria. He published a few "documantary" books about freemasonry conspirators who "plunder" and "sell" Bulgarian national treasure. On the TV screen, he looked sincerely indignant, resolved to fight for his country, and brave: a man who can save the nation from the post-communist upheavals, a leader who can heal the people from the dissapointments after 1989. Many Bulgarians believed in him, many mocked him, but Siderov skillfuly exploited the feelings of the ordinary citizen and eventually he won enough hearts to become a legitimate factor in Bulgarian politics. The unemployment, inflation, poverty, immigration, post-communist destruction of infrastructure and industry, the lack of a working judicial system - everything for him and his adherents had one simple explanation: "they" (the communists, Turks, foreigners, Jews, Gypsies...) against "us" (the Bulgarian nation of good citizens). Siderov was a pure side effect of the political transition from totalitarian state to unstable, young democracy.

Ataka's messages and posters are simple and powerful like the Nazis' propaganda images and slogans. For example, on an election poster, we see the movement leader with a serious face and the appeal "Support Ataka, save Bulgaria!," with smaller red letters on the bottom of the same poster is written: "Buying and selling votes is a crime like the turkisation (the conversion of Bulgarian nation in Turkish one) and plunder of Bulgaria!" In another poster we see a nun that kisses the hand of the leader, who is dressed in black fur jacket, under his feet are the supporting crowds, on the poster is written: "People love him!" The most popular poster perhaps is the one where Siderov is shown in a black shirt and jacket, with a raised fist and an angry face, shouting: "My Fight for Bulgaria!" (a true reminder of Hitler's Mein Kampf for Germany).

Poltical posters of Party "Ataka." Image source: website of Party "Ataka."

The "coincidences" do not finish here. Siderov, like Hitler, was a candidate for the Presidency and finished second in the Presidential elections in 2006. The political symbol of his party resembles the Nazis swastika. The Bulgarian nationalists organize torch light processions, national celebrations and concerts during national holidays such as the "liberation of Bulgaria from the Turkish yoke," they march on city streets in military fashion, dressed in army uniforms. The last year's rally on a national holiday of Bulgaria, on 3 March, 20 000 Bulgarian "nationalists" listened to the leader speak more than one hour. He promised them that in the next elections Ataka would be the first political power. He appealed people to say "no" to the "turkisation" and the plunder of Bulgaria.

Ataka's torch processions. Image source: website of Party "Ataka."


Nazis' style of political gaming is still haunting Europe and shady places in the world where political system does not resolve economic problems and political tensions in society. The advertising of evil has no power over happy people; radical movements don't have "market" value in a true democratic and affluent society. 


The photo on the top of the page is showing the leader of Party "Ataka" Volen Siderov at political rally. The image source is the website of Party "Ataka."


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