GENEVA (AFP) — Despite dismay at a large swastika flag hung at a military memorabilia market this month and the open trade of Third Reich insignia online, it remains perfectly legal to display Nazi symbols in Switzerland.
But moves are underway to change things at least in Geneva, one of the country’s 26 cantons.
A cross-party group of lawmakers in the region proposed changing the canton’s constitution to “prohibit the display or wearing of Nazi symbols, emblems or any other Nazi object” in public.
Geneva’s legislature debated the proposal on Friday — International Holocaust Remembrance Day — and decided by 56 votes to 28 to send the plan for closer scrutiny to its human rights commission.
“Everyone said they agreed with the text; that it was welcome, necessary and useful,” Green lawmaker Francois Lefort told AFP.
The proposal, if accepted by the Geneva council, would then have to be approved by Switzerland’s federal parliament in Bern and then by a referendum in Geneva.
Museums and film productions would be exempt from the ban, which would bring Geneva in line with much of the rest of Europe.
‘No place’ for Nazism
“It is never too late to prevent Nazi ideas from being expressed via these items,” Liberal lawmaker Alexis Barbey, who co-signed the proposal, told AFP.
Lefort condemned the “current morbid romanticism” surrounding Nazism and said the trade in fascist memorabilia “supports a racist ideology and is dangerous for democracy.”
Thomas Blasi, a lawmaker from the populist right-wing Swiss People’s Party who initiated the proposal, said: “It’s highly symbolic because politicians from different parties have been trying to ban these Nazi symbols and objects for more than 20 years.”
“Nazism has no place in Europe, no place in Switzerland,” insisted Blasi, a grandson of Gaston de Bonneval, who served as French wartime leader Charles de Gaulle’s aide-de-camp between 1945 and 1964.
Bonneval was arrested by the Gestapo in 1943 and spent two years in the Mauthausen concentration camp.
Around 200,000 detainees passed through, nearly half of whom lost their lives.
There is growing pressure on Switzerland, which stayed neutral during World War II, to fall in line with a number of other European countries in banning Nazi symbols.
Full bans are in place in Germany, Poland and several other eastern European nations.
In France, meanwhile, the exhibition of Nazi objects is banned but their sale is not, even though it is rarely tolerated.
‘Prevention is no longer enough’
In Switzerland, “the wearing and exhibition of Nazi symbols in public is not banned as long as it is not accompanied by a message promoting racist or antisemitic ideology,” said Johanne Gurfinkiel, secretary general of Cicad, an association that combats antisemitism in the French-speaking west of Switzerland.
But that fine line has been exploited by neo-Nazi groups and those who trade in Third Reich uniforms and memorabilia, he said.
According to Cicad, there has been a substantial increase in the use of symbols linked to Nazism or the Holocaust in recent years, particularly during protests against anti-Covid measures.
Faced with this trivialization, a lawmaker called on the national government to take action in 2021.
The federal government insisted that “we must accept the expression of disturbing ideas, even if the majority finds them shocking.”
Under mounting pressure, however, the government finally instructed the justice ministry to look at whether action was needed.
In December, it said a ban on Nazi symbols “is possible in principle, but the creation of a new standard would come up against significant legal obstacles.”
Meanwhile, the Swiss parliament’s legal affairs scrutiny committee said on January 12 that it would support a ban.
For the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities, it is time to act because “when prevention is no longer enough, the criminal law must intervene.”