By Agnès Pedrero
It is perfectly legal to display Nazi symbols in Switzerland despite dismay at a large swastika flag being hung at a military memorabilia market earlier this month and Third Reich insignia openly traded online.
But things could be about to change in Geneva at least, one of the country’s 26 cantons.
A cross-party group of regional lawmakers wants to change the canton’s constitution to “prohibit the display or wearing of Nazi symbols, emblems or any other Nazi object” in public.
They hope Geneva’s cantonal legislature will agree to the change on Friday— International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Museums and film productions would be exempt from the ban, which would bring Switzerland in line with much of the rest of Europe.
The change will have to be approved by the federal Swiss parliament in Bern and then by a referendum in Geneva.
“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.
Francois Lefort of the Greens condemned the “current morbid romanticism” surrounding Nazism and said the trade in fascist memorabilia “supports a racist ideology and is dangerous for democracy.”
“It’s highly symbolic because politicians from different parties have been trying to ban these Nazi symbols and objects for more than 20 years,” said Thomas Blasi, a lawmaker from the populist right Swiss People’s Party who initiated the proposal.
“Nazism has no place in Europe, no place in Switzerland,” said 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 Mauthausen concentration camp.
Around 200,000 detainees passed through Mauthausen—nearly half of whom lost their lives.
‘Prevention is no longer enough’
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.
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 anti-Semitic ideology,” said Johanne Gurfinkiel, secretary general of Cicad, which combats anti-Semitism 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.
Cicad said 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.
But Bern 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 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.”