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Tintin in the land of the Nazis

A couple of days ago there was the most extraordinarily lazy piece of reporting I have ever seen on the BBC TV news. In response to the new Hollywood film of the Adventures of Tintin, the Beeb decided to feature Hergé’s “Tintin in the Land of the Soviets”, his first book. The BBC’s angle was that Tintin in the Land of the Soviets was a very accurate portrayal of life in the USSR.

In fact “Les Aventures de Tintin, reporter du “Petit Vingtième”, au pays des Soviets” was originally published as crude anti-Marxist propaganda in an ultra-conservative Catholic newspaper by a 22 year old cartoonist who had no knowledge of the USSR, and based his story on information given to him by the Mussolini loving proprietor, Abbé Norbert Wallez. The paper, Le XXe Siècle, at that time also employed the future Belgian Nazi collaborator, Léon Degrelle, as its foreign correspondent.

So effectively, the BBC was going out of its way to say that the position argued by Belgian fascsists about the USSR was “surprisingly accurate”. Remember that the demonisation of the USSR was the justification for Belgian collaborators allying themselves with Nazi Germany during the war in what they saw as a “war against Bolshevism”. I know that it was just intellectual laziness on their part, but they did go to the expense of filming people in modern Russia to support their view, so they had made a serious editorial decision to run with this anti-Bolshevik angle.

There is a paradox at the heart of Hergé’s politics, because Tintin stories, notwithstanding their reflection of colonial steroetypes of their time, are generally anti-militarist, and are cynical about European colonialism. But he responded to the Nazi invasion on Belgium with the highly controversial story “The Shooting Star”, serialised in the pro-Nazi paper, Le Soir. While the obvious anti-Semitism of this work is often commented on, its almost as obvious collaborationism is less remarked upon.

The story describes a panic that the world will be destroyed by collision with a massive meteorite that will destroy civilisation, but it turns out to be a false alarm, and there was nothing to worry about. This was a clear reflection of the hysteria that gripped Belgium as the German forces advanced; and an endorsement of the idea that the Nazi occupation was benign.

Indeed, Hergé’s collaboration with the Nazi occupiers caused him enormous difficulties after the war, and he effectively lost editorial control of his own artistic output.

However, if you take into account the social and cultural context they were written in, as we would with other artists like Kipling, then the Tintin books are still remakable works for children, that have two big plusses; firstly that they feed the imagination, and secondly that they allow children to identify with the young reporter who champions the underdog, and who does succeed in changing the world.

One Comment

  1. Rolf Rykken says:

    Good piece — just some copy editing: “The story describes a panic that the world will be destroyed by collision with a massive meteorite that will destroy civilisation, but it turns out to be a false alarm, and there was thing [nothing] to worry about.”

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