The Straight Dope

Go Back   Straight Dope Message Board > Main > General Questions

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 09-09-2002, 12:15 AM
ricksummon ricksummon is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2000
German Anti-Nazi Laws

In Germany, many things related to Nazism are illegal, for obvious reasons. It's illegal to belong to a neo-Nazi organization, and it's illegal to own Nazi paraphernalia except for purposes of historical interest (such as for a museum.) But here's where things get a bit less clear. There seems to be some kind of law against displaying a swastika, but under what circumstances? The game Wolfenstein 3D was banned in Germany because it depicted swastikas, and the new Return to Castle Wolfenstein will be sold in Germany with all swastikas removed. However, when I lived in Germany, I could go to the local video store and rent "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," which features a giant Nazi parade in Berlin with swastikas everywhere. Why is that legal and Wolfenstein 3D is not?
__________________
"Look, if I argue with you, I must take up a contrary position."
"Yes, but that isn't just saying 'No, it isn't!'"
"Yes, it is!"
"No, it isn't!"
Reply With Quote
Advertisements  
  #2  
Old 09-09-2002, 01:15 AM
SenorBeef SenorBeef is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Aug 2001
Location: Las Vegas, NV
Posts: 22,555
Not an answer, but I just wanted to point out how ironically nazi-ish all the anti-nazi laws are.
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Old 09-09-2002, 10:59 AM
Sparc Sparc is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2002
IIRC Castle Wolfenstein was banned in local court and rather than go through the appeal process they just withdrew the game. It’s a controversial decision to ban such a product, I’ll try to show why and answer the main question of the OP in the same time.

First of all it is not only the Swastika, it is all NSDAP insignia and regalia that are prohibited. It also extends to all media, hence to sing the “Horst Wessel Song” (the SS anthem) and the first strophe of the German national anthem (which references German borders as per 1938) is forbidden. That is to say that if you for instance walked down the street in Berlin wearing SS, SA or Hitler Jugend uniform you would be arrested, even if you had stripped away all the Swastikas.

The rule of thumb is that display of NSDAP insignia is only allowed in historical or documentary context. What is absolutely prohibited is public display in a political context. This means that having the Swastika on a magazine cover that contains articles about Hitler is OK, as is shooting and exhibiting films that take place in the era of the Nazis and obviously need to contain said displays for accuracy. Hence Indiana Jones is OK.

It is also permissible to shoot a contemporary film that depicts neo-Nazis displaying the illegal insignia. There is obviously a gray zone here since you could possibly infringe on other anti-Nazi laws; e.g. say you decide to make a film that trivializes the Holocaust along the lines of the White Supremacist revisionists. You are then breaking the law against trivializing or denying the Holocaust, by extension your display of Nazi paraphernalia will be a breach against the law of displaying them in a non-documentary political context.

It is also forbidden to collect and trade in Nazi memorabilia for any other purpose than scholarly work or museum displays. This law also exists in amongst other places France. The idea is to stifle any possible veneration and idolatry of the individuals and objects that were central to the Nazi cult.

Castle Wolfenstein is problematic along these lines since it doesn’t clearly fulfill the historical context requirement and definitely is not in any way a documentary work. That being said it is probable that the Supreme Court would have had to let it pass, had they pressed the case that far, since it doesn’t really glorify the Nazis, which in the end of the day the spirit of these laws aims to prohibit.

Sparc
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 09-09-2002, 11:13 AM
Sparc Sparc is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2002
Quote:
Not an answer, but I just wanted to point out how ironically nazi-ish all the anti-nazi laws are.
BTW…

No they are not. Nazism is a particularly evil doctrine that goes well beyond authoritarian rule and demands forced servitude, universal political obedience, suppression and oppression of everything outside the party philosophy and most atrociously genocide.

The prohibition of Nazi insignia might be authoritarian, but it comes nowhere close to being ‘Nazi-ish.’

Sparc
Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old 09-09-2002, 12:19 PM
Captain Amazing Captain Amazing is online now
Member
 
Join Date: Oct 1999
Posts: 23,399
Quote:
Originally posted by Sparc
and the first strophe of the German national anthem (which references German borders as per 1938) is forbidden.
But the first strophe of the German national anthem actually references the borders of the German people as of the 1840s

Quote:
From the Maas to the Memel
From the Etsch to the Belt,
and was made the national anthem in 1919, by the Socialist government. Fallersleben, who wrote the lyrics, was a socialist. Why is the first verse particularly Nazi?
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Old 09-09-2002, 01:54 PM
Riboflavin Riboflavin is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
I don't think the first verse is especially Nazi, just expansionistic. Since numerous tracts of land referenced in the first verse belong to other countries, have since at least WW2, and Germany has renounced pretty much all claims on those lands, singing a national anthem that calls those lands part of Germany would effectively be advocating a German attempt to reannex those lands. While I don't agree with the 'no nazi speech' laws on general principles, getting rid of a part of the national anthem which in practical terms calls for tearing land from most of the neighbors makes perfect sense in general, and forbidding it is consistent with the other speech restrictions.
Reply With Quote
  #7  
Old 09-09-2002, 02:14 PM
Captain Amazing Captain Amazing is online now
Member
 
Join Date: Oct 1999
Posts: 23,399
Right, Riboflavin, but from what Sparc said, it's not only no longer part of the anthem, but it's illegal to sing. That's the part that bugs me.
Reply With Quote
  #8  
Old 09-09-2002, 03:20 PM
Sparc Sparc is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2002
The reasoning was rather simple. Since the creation of lebensraum was essential to Hitler’s ideology any expansionism by Germany was to be equated to Nazism. It might seem like ‘just’ expansionist to us, but to the sensibilities of the post war legislators it was that and much more.

Sparc
Reply With Quote
  #9  
Old 09-09-2002, 04:00 PM
Captain Amazing Captain Amazing is online now
Member
 
Join Date: Oct 1999
Posts: 23,399
To what extent, if you know, or have a guess, do you think the anti-Nazi laws (and it's not just Germany that has them...I know France has them, and I think a lot of other European countries too) would stand up to the EU Charter of Fundimental Rights, especially the right to freedom of thought and freedom of expression? While I know neo-Nazis aren't likely to take the laws to the European Court, if they did, do you think the court would uphold them?
Reply With Quote
  #10  
Old 09-09-2002, 05:01 PM
Sparc Sparc is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2002
As far as I understand the EU Charter (to eventually be our Constitution) provides for a caveat to uphold these kinds of laws. Freedom of expression is article 11 in the EU C:
Quote:
Article 11
freedom of Expression and information

1. everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.
So far it would be impossible to uphold a ban on Nazi propaganda as long as it does not actively infringe on any other right laid down in the EU C. They have however provided for the upholding of these kind of laws agains political uniform and isnignia (as you say prevalent in a few EU states). They have done this by adding notes to the EU C that refer back to The European Convention of Human Rights. One of the notes to Article 11 § 1. reads as follows:
Quote:
2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, […] it may therefore not exceed those provided for in Article 10 § 2. […]
Article 10 § 2 is freedom of thought, religion and so forth. It provides that no constitutional provisions of the member states that were in place before the ratification of the Charter shall be corrupted or breeched by the charter.

Hence the EU C would seem to provide for the possibility to uphold these kinds of laws. One has to understand that in all respects other than political uniform and the anti-Nazi laws the freedom of expression is uninhibited as is normal in all EU nations since membership requires compliance with the old Article 10 of the ECHR and the new Article 11 of the EU C, which guarantees freedom of expression along the lines of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Simple version: As far as I understand the European Court can uphold a state’s anti-Nazi laws without compromising freedom of expression as laid down in the EU Charter, and this does not in any way limit freedom of expression in a non-Nazi context.

Sparc
Reply With Quote
  #11  
Old 09-09-2002, 05:21 PM
hajario hajario is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: Santa Barbara, California
Posts: 13,152
Quote:
Originally posted by SenorBeef
Not an answer, but I just wanted to point out how ironically nazi-ish all the anti-nazi laws are.
That was a very, very simple minded and ignorant statement.

Even in the U.S. there are limits on Freedom of Speech as well there should be in certain cases such as slander, fraudulent product claims and terrorizing people with violent threats.

Haj
Reply With Quote
  #12  
Old 09-09-2002, 06:12 PM
Rhum Runner Rhum Runner is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2001
If freedom of thought means anything, it means we must support the freedom to hold unpopular minority view points. Even those that are "particularly evil doctrine[s] that goes well beyond authoritarian rule and demand forced servitude, universal political obedience, suppression and oppression of everything outside the party philosophy and most atrociously genocide."

Laws outlawing Nazi symbols in all political settings would clearly violate the 1st Amendment to the US constitution.
Reply With Quote
  #13  
Old 09-09-2002, 06:29 PM
Cardinal Cardinal is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 1999
Location: 742 Evergreen Terrace
Posts: 6,035
Yeah, I've had a German visitor be astounded that it was legal to be a Nazi in the U.S. I didn't realize how automatic his assumption would be that it was outlawed.

Didn't Yahoo cave, and make Nazi items unavailable in France from their auction site?
Reply With Quote
  #14  
Old 09-09-2002, 06:34 PM
Sparc Sparc is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2002
Well Rhum Runner, that might be true on a constitutional level. The laws we are talking about are only upheld on a constitutional level in Germany. In the US as is in most of the EU Nazism or some of the expressions of Nazism is illegal on a lower legislative level. The laws that dictate these are in place specifically to protect the constitutional rights, since Nazism by definition aims to curtail the constitutional rights for certain parts of the population. In the US these would be the laws against hate speech and oppression of minorities.

Sparc
Reply With Quote
  #15  
Old 09-09-2002, 08:01 PM
SenorBeef SenorBeef is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Aug 2001
Location: Las Vegas, NV
Posts: 22,555
Quote:
Originally posted by hajario


That was a very, very simple minded and ignorant statement.



Is it? You don't think there's irony?

Quote:


Even in the U.S. there are limits on Freedom of Speech as well there should be in certain cases such as slander, fraudulent product claims and terrorizing people with violent threats.

Haj
There are laws against slander, fraud, and threats. It's more precise to think of them in those terms rather than as restrictions of speech. However, the simple existance of nazi related items or expression of nazi-related beliefs doesn't fall into the same category as fraud or threat. If someone is using nazi-related items to make threats on someone, those can be prosecuted on the basis of the threat imposed, not the mere existance of items.

Think me simple minded if you wish, but I find banning any item that might remind people of a particular authoritarian regime is a rather authoritarian thing to do. And I think it's pretty ironic.
Reply With Quote
  #16  
Old 09-09-2002, 08:48 PM
Rhum Runner Rhum Runner is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2001
Quote:
Originally posted by Sparc
In the US as is in most of the EU Nazism or some of the expressions of Nazism is illegal on a lower legislative level. The laws that dictate these are in place specifically to protect the constitutional rights, since Nazism by definition aims to curtail the constitutional rights for certain parts of the population. In the US these would be the laws against hate speech and oppression of minorities.

Sparc
Hi Sparc
I can’t speak for EU law, or German law for that matter, but I will tell you that any US law that seeks to ban, outright, expression of Nazi views or sympathy will be struck down almost immediately by any court. Laws against “hate speech” or “fighting words” usually have more to do with reasonable time and manner restrictions than with actual expression. Nazism is not illegal in the US.

In the US system the same laws that protect Nazis also protect minorities from oppression. If the government has the power to ban Nazis, it must also have the power to ban Christian Democrats, Communists, Socialists etc. and it is only the benevolence of your government that keeps you free.

I suppose you could argue that the Nazis present a special case as they are singled out in the German Constitution for special treatment, and thus the power of the government to ban them would not extend to other groups. Not sure how other EU countries treat this issue though. (i.e. how do the French justify their ban?)

Personally, I prefer the American model of protecting all, or nearly all, speech, no matter how distasteful it may be.

I would also note that I am distrubed by your notion that because a group advocates Constitutional changes, or restricting the Constitutional rights of some, or all of the population, that the government is justified in banning them.
Reply With Quote
  #17  
Old 09-09-2002, 09:18 PM
Sparc Sparc is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2002
OK, some of you guys aren’t getting this at all.

Lets start with the whole Swastika matter. It is not illegal to displays swastikas per se in Germany or elsewhere in Europe. That would indeed be an infringement of the freedom of speech way beyond the acceptable. It is illegal to display the Swastika (note the capital letter). That is to say that it has to be displayed in context, which graphically speaking is the black Swastika on white on red, or a variety of the same, and this has to be done in a political context to be clearly illegal. Now pause that for a moment and let’s go to Nazism.

Nazism is in fact illegal in the US as it is in most parts of the Western World. The difference is that in Germany it is illegal on constitutional level and it is specifically denoted in legislature as Nazism. In other places, the US included, Nazism is illegal by default through its own nature, not to mention that the party itself is illegal, which I will get back to.

Nazism is the doctrine of the NSDAP (the German National Socialist Party) and nothing else. It dictates in its foundation the expansion of Germany to create lebensraum for the “German race”. It dictates the serfdom of all “Slavic peoples”, “African Peoples” and all “French peoples”. It dictates the annihilation of all Jews, Bolsheviks, Roma, homosexuals, handicapped etc. etc. It doesn’t just speak against these people or say that someone is better than them; it specifically dictates that these people must be made extinct although the method is left open. This is illegal in most places in the Western World, most of the World for that matter, since the mere utterance of such opinions constitutes hate speech and oppression of minorities, not to mention incitement to enslavement and genocide. Add that Nazism by the first part in this paragraph dictates that Germany must commit acts of war that by International law and through various treaties and peace agreements are illegal.

Neo-Nazis usually stay clear of that kind of thing by a cell membrane's thickness in order to avoid being clamped down upon. Hence neo-Nazism is not by a must the same thing as Nazism, although let’s be honest, these are the opinions they espouse – minus the “German Race” and German expansionist parts that have been replaced by “Aryan Race” and just lebensraum.

In Europe (remember that the NSDAP, however absurdly, had support in much of the occupied territory) there is historically absolutely no way of separating that kind of doctrine from the insignia that the NSDAP used in order to spread that message. Hence, it is considered on par with the words themselves.

Germany has its fair share of White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis unfortunately (slightly less than the US and mush less than France, but still significant). Just like in the US or France, or anywhere else in the West these individuals and their organizations are protected by freedom of organization and free speech, as long as they do not forfeit that right by for instance inciting to murder, or torture, or oppression, or any other illegal infringements on other people’s rights.

The only difference is that the specific word Nazism is used to denote the behavior that in any case is illegal, and that the NSDAP insignia are considered equal to this behavior. In fact the NSDAP as such is an illegal organization worldwide, and as I said earlier also so in the US.

Any foreigner traveling to the US knows from the visa procedure that if you were a member of the NSDAP or actively supported them during their existence from 1924 to 1945 you might be denied entry into the country. A German national that was a party member and is found to have evaded to America and acquired US citizenship without disclosing his/her membership can be robbed of his/her citizenship and deported to Germany, since they have entered the country illegally and hence acquired citizenship under false pretences.

When you say that infringement on the right to be a Nazi is equal to infringements of freedom of speech you have either not understood what Nazism means or not grasped the limitations on freedom of speech. That the NSDAP symbols are part of that prohibition in Germany is, IMHO, quite natural.

Sparc
Reply With Quote
  #18  
Old 09-09-2002, 09:49 PM
bibliophage bibliophage is offline
Charter Member
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: Maine
Posts: 9,439
The General Question here is what the law says, and how it applied. Let's not have a debate about whether such laws are improper, wrong, immoral, ironic, etc. You know where to go for debates of that sort.

bibliophage
moderator GQ
Reply With Quote
  #19  
Old 09-10-2002, 12:24 AM
ricksummon ricksummon is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2000
One more thing: At the Castle Wolfenstein website, the following note is written at the bottom:
Quote:
Important note for German users - Disclaimer: You are about to enter the Castle Wolfenstein website. The following pages may have content that is forbidden by law in Germany. Activision Germany GmbH is not responsible for the content of the following pages. By entering this site you approve having read this disclaimer.
What's that about? Can the authorities arrest Germans who merely visit this website, even though it doesn't appear to contain any actual swastikas?
__________________
"Look, if I argue with you, I must take up a contrary position."
"Yes, but that isn't just saying 'No, it isn't!'"
"Yes, it is!"
"No, it isn't!"
Reply With Quote
  #20  
Old 09-10-2002, 11:05 AM
Sparc Sparc is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2002
OK I looked it up properly. The English language version of Return to Castle Wolfenstein was not banned as such. Activision, the game makers, were warned that sales of the game would be age restricted under protection of youth laws in the civil law code given the format and content of the English language game. On February 28 2002 the ‘Jugendamt Münster’ (Youth Court of Münster) noted that a discussion at the ‘Bundesprüfstelle’ (federal testing agency) concluded that the game could have detrimental effect on minors for two reasons:
  1. The prolific use of insignias and symbols of Nazi organizations forbidden in § 86a of the German Constitution, such as the Swastika and portraits of Hitler out of context, which could be twisted to serve as marketing for said illegal organizations, given the relatively low age group that the game primarily targets.
  2. The graphic and realistic nature of violence especially the blood and splatter effects relative to strength of the weapon used, and the excessive amount of killing of lifelike human beings.
The modified German version excludes the Swastikas and Hitler portraits, but as far as I can read on various German game sites the graphic violence and splatter effects remain exactly identical to the English language version. The German version is sold with a warning label that it contains graphic violence, but through censoring the Nazi imagery they have avoided an 18-year age limit on sales. As one would imagine such an age limit wouldn’t be quite in the interest of Activision.

The warning label on their web page? Think paranoid lawyers and smart marketing execs…. ‘cause I hope you’re not naïve enough to think that Activision thinks that all this brouhaha about a ‘ban’ in Germany is bad for them, or?

They supplied the ‘Bundesprüfstelle’ the German version of the game just a few days after the English version… can you say; “PR coup?”

Sparc
Reply With Quote
  #21  
Old 09-10-2002, 04:09 PM
Mort Furd Mort Furd is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2001
Sparc:
Severely off topic, but you don't accept e-mail through the board. You give your location as "Europe," and seem rather knowledgeable about Germany. Are you by any chance in Germany? I'm going to try to arrange a Gemany Dopefest. Could you drop by over here and let me know if you're here and interested?
Reply With Quote
Reply



Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 08:48 PM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2014, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@chicagoreader.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Publishers - interested in subscribing to the Straight Dope?
Write to: sdsubscriptions@chicagoreader.com.

Copyright © 2013 Sun-Times Media, LLC.