Officials in Swiss canton push for ban on Nazi symbols

Officials in Swiss canton push for ban on Nazi symbols

A cross-party group of politicians from Geneva have submitted a plan to ban Nazi iconography and symbols. The proposal makes Geneva the first Swiss canton to attempt the ban, which is already in place in a number of European nations.

Politicians in Geneva propose Nazi symbol ban

According to the proposal, submitted to the Grand Council of Geneva, the new law would "prohibit the display or wearing of Nazi symbols, emblems or any other Nazi object" within Switzerland’s largest French-speaking city. Film, TV shows and museums would be exempt from the ban.

Authorities hope that the plan will be approved by the local council (Gemeinde) on Holocaust Remembrance Day - a memorial day which is used to commemorate the six million Jewish people, along with countless other minorities, that were murdered by Nazi Germany between 1933 and 1945. The date of the event is January 27, the day the Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated by the Red Army in 1945.

Switzerland and the Holocaust

Despite not being a combatant in the Second World War, an independent commission set up in 1996 concluded that officials in Switzerland "helped the Nazi regime achieve its goals" by closing the border to thousands of Jewish refugees. During the conflict, 300.000 people, of which 30.000 were Jewish, fled across the border to Switzerland, but 24.500 people were turned away, most of them being Jewish. 

The Swiss government acknowledged this report and has apologised twice for its actions, once in 1995 and again in 1999. In 1998, Swiss banks like UBS and Credit Suisse reached an agreement with the World Jewish Congress, agreeing to pay 1,25 billion US dollars to the victims of the Holocaust and their airs for the Swiss financial sector's role in storing wealth stolen by the Nazis.  

Use of Nazi iconography on the rise in Switzerland

Unlike in Germany, Poland and a number of other European nations, it is completely legal to display Nazi symbols 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," Johanne Gurfinkiel, secretary general of anti-antisemitism organisation Cicad, told The Local.

However, while the practice is legal in the alpine nation, the open display of Nazi memorabilia is seen by most as highly inflammatory and offensive. This was encapsulated in an incident earlier in January, after a Nazi flag was hung and put up for sale at a military memorabilia fair in Fribourg, causing distress and outrage in the Jewish community. Despite being investigated by Swiss police, they concluded that no law had been broken.

Speaking in 2021, Gurfinkiel noted that neo-Nazi groups are exploiting the uniform and memorabilia trade. He added that the use of Nazi symbols in Switzerland has increased significantly in recent years, especially during anti-lockdown and anti-COVID measure protests.

Nazi symbol ban to face federal government and a referendum

Speaking to the AFP in support of the ban in Geneva, state councillor Alexis Barbey said that "it is never too late to prevent Nazi ideas from being expressed via these items.” Co-signatory Francois Lefort said the law was designed to oppose and condemn the “morbid romanticism” around Nazi memorabilia, noting that trading the items "supports a racist ideology and is dangerous for democracy."

Thomas Blasi, from the Swiss People’s Party, told AFP that the vote was “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." The politician is the grandson of Gaston de Bonneval, a French resistance leader who was captured and sent to the Mauthausen concentration camp for two years.

However, even if the plan is accepted by the Grand Council, the idea will need final approval from Bern and a referendum to be made law.

Executive approval doesn’t seem forthcoming as the Federal Council has previously said in a statement that "we must accept the expression of disturbing ideas, even if the majority finds them shocking," with a recent report from the Justice Ministry noting that while a Nazi symbol ban "is possible in principle, the creation of a new standard would come up against significant legal obstacles."

Image: / Ms Jane Campbell

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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