Jewish group, German organization urge EU authorities to end pro-Nazi marches

B’nai B’rith International and the Antonio Amadeus Foundation in Berlin find the rallies promote antisemitism even in countries with laws banning such activity

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

A demonstrator beats a swastika-emblazoned drum at a far-right march in Kaunas, Lithuania on February 16, 2015. (Canaan Lidor)
A demonstrator beats a swastika-emblazoned drum at a far-right march in Kaunas, Lithuania on February 16, 2015. (Canaan Lidor)

A prominent Jewish organization and a German human rights group have called on European authorities to fully ban far-right marches taking place annually across the continent.

The call, issued Tuesday in a report by B’nai B’rith International and the  Amadeu Antonio Foundation in Berlin, urged authorities in Europe to put an end to annual marches glorifying Nazism, as the authors term them.

“Through legislation, enforcement, public pressure and education, these displays of hatred on Europe’s streets can be curbed,” the report said.

Some countries, such as Germany, already have laws banning such marches, but those laws are not always enforced to an extent that would make it impossible for the events to take place, the report said.

“Lack of implementation and respect for existing bans contributes to the weakening of legal protections” against such perceived public displays of hatred, added the report, describing antisemitism as “the common thread of these marches,” along with “denial and distortion of the Holocaust and the glorification of Nazi war criminals and their collaborators.”

The report highlighted 12 annual marches it said glorify Nazism — in Hungary, Germany, Spain, Latvia, Bulgaria, Belgium, Finland, Italy, Greece and Poland. Collectively, these events draw tens of thousands of participants each year. Antisemitic signs, slogans and imagery are a common sight at many of the events covered in the report, the authors wrote.

Present-day glorification of Nazis and their collaborators in Europe is a multifaceted phenomenon. Especially in the continent’s east, collaborators are celebrated as patriotic heroes for siding with Nazi Germany against Russian domination. That sentiment appears to have only intensified in recent years amid fighting between Russia and Ukraine and rhetoric by leaders on both sides evoking the history of World War II.

Illustrative: A caricature depicting Nazi leader Adolf Hitler seemingly giving his approval to Russian President Vladimir Putin, tweeted by the official Ukrainian Twitter account, February 24, 2022. (Screenshot of Ukraine’s official Twitter account)

Many participants of far-right marches in Europe say they view the events as celebrating national identity and not necessarily Nazi ideology.

Amid such debates, far-right marches, including ones with Nazi imagery, have proven to be persistent since their advent in the 1990s, the report said.

One of the case studies discussed in the report that illustrates the persistence and legal aspects of far-right marches is Hungary’s February 12 Day of Honor event, which began in 1997 with 150 participants and drew 2,500 in 2019.

Authorities in Budapest banned the event for the first time in 2009, but organizers circumvented the ban by registering a political party and holding the event in the guise of a party convention. In 2017, Budapest police tried again to ban the event, citing the presence of alleged domestic terrorists, but the Supreme Court overturned the ban, citing freedom of assembly. In 2022, the court did not overturn a ban, but participants still held a clandestine neo-Nazi event.

The report, titled “On Europe’s Streets: Annual Marches Glorifying Nazism,” is an “important first step towards understanding these phenomena,” Robert Klinke, a German foreign office official dealing with minority issues, wrote in a statement about the report. Its significance, he added, lies in how it helps “to recognize these marches glorifying Nazism as a product of hateful and nationalistic aspirations and to identify them as a channel for modern antisemitism.”

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