Since 2021, there has been a growing debate in Switzerland around banning Nazi symbols. Now, there are several motions on this issue pending in parliament. The SIG supports these motions and is pushing for a solution that can be implemented quickly.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, there were already calls in Switzerland for a ban on Nazi-related, racist, extremist and discriminatory symbols. The issue became more urgent during the pandemic following the increased use of Nazi symbols for political purposes. Parliament, the Federal Office of Justice and the Federal Council are currently working on several motions and proposals on this matter. The SIG has been calling for such a ban for years and is pushing for an expeditious and practicable solution.
The use of Nazi symbols in public spaces is only banned under certain circumstances
Under current law, the use of Nazi symbols in public is only a criminal offence if it is for the purpose of promoting Nazi ideology to other people. Using these symbols among like-minded people, on the other hand, is not a criminal offence, even in public.
This loophole is deliberately exploited by right-wing extremists at public events such as concerts. Nazi symbols are also frequently misused to exaggerate and misrepresent political messages. One very recent example is the lack of legal action taken against the repeated use of Nazi symbols, such as modified Jewish stars, by certain groups who were critical of the measures introduced during the coronavirus pandemic. Switzerland’s lax approach to these symbols compared to neighbouring countries serves to trivialise the horrors suffered by the victims of the exclusion, expulsion and extermination policies of National Socialism.
The need of a clearly comprehensible catalogue of prohibited symbols
A report published by the Federal Office of Justice FOJ in December 2022 concludes in its analysis that an explicit ban on Nazi symbols could be introduced in principle. However, formulating the ban in concrete terms would be challenging from a legal and editorial perspective.
The FOJ has therefore proposed that this ban be implemented in the form of a special law, with a focus on banning Nazi symbols, in order to reach a legal solution more quickly and comprehensibly. However, the legal standard would need to be formulated openly enough to allow for the specific context of a case. But it would also have to be clear enough that the public knows what is permitted and what is not. Furthermore, the law must continue to ensure that such symbols may be used for scientific, educational, artistic and journalistic purposes. This would certainly be possible if the ban were enforced, as illustrated by the legal situation in Germany and other countries.
Initial political barriers to a legal ban have now been overcome
Since the 2021 winter session, several parliamentary motions have been submitted calling for a ban on extremist symbols in public, which have received broad cross-party support. In the past, similar motions have been met with a negative response because the question of how to define and delineate the prohibited symbols proved to be highly controversial.
In January 2023, the National Council’s Legal Affairs Committee approved a tougher crackdown on Nazi symbols. It, too, has proposed implementing the ban in the form of a special law and therefore supports the demands of Jewish umbrella organisations. The Committee has also adopted the parliamentary initiative submitted by National Councillor Angelo Barrile.
In May 2023, the National Council also expressed clear support for the motion submitted by National Councillor Marianne Binder-Keller, which calls on the Federal Council to establish a legal basis for banning Nazi symbols in public spaces. The next step is for the two motions to be processed by the Legal Affairs Committee of the Council of States.
Council of States Legal Affairs Committee submits additional proposal
In October 2023, the Legal Affairs Committee of the Council of States submitted its own motion for a ban on extremist symbols. In contrast to previous proposals, the Committee seeks to extend the ban to symbols that promote racial discrimination, extremism and glorification of violence. The Jewish umbrella organisations are disturbed by this action, because the Legal Affairs Committee had previously opposed all submissions and because this new proposal would mean a further delay in implementation of the ban. The Federal Council recommended adoption of the Legal Affairs Committee’s motion at its meeting on 29 November 2023.
The SIG supports the decision to focus on Nazi symbols
The SIG continues to call for a focus on Nazi symbols, which simplifies prohibition and enables faster implementation. Together with the PLJS, it is calling on parliament to focus on the existing proposals and on Nazi symbols to prevent a sprawling and mutually obstructive debate around symbols. A special law, as proposed by the FOJ, would make it possible to define a clear and comprehensible catalogue of Nazi symbols and determine appropriate criminal sanctions. This law would mainly refer to symbols and organisations that are likely to be familiar to the majority of the public and which offer little room for interpretation, but also to symbols that have an unmistakable connection to National Socialism and the Holocaust. These include the swastika, the Hitler salute, the SS victory insignia, the SS skull, as well as the yellow Jewish star. Modifications of the star would also be banned. Moreover, a special law would not prevent the ban from being extended to include other extremist symbols.