The Ranting Kraut

19.3.2006 – 27.9.2010

Freedom of Speech in Germany

Posted by rantingkraut on March 23, 2006


If there is one case of freedom of speech restrictions which is most likely to be widely supported, it is Germany’s decision to ban Nazi insignia like the swastika after the end of World War II. All who think that this restriction is safely confined to those who deserve it should consider the following case:
A German student who wore a sticker with a crossed out swastika at an anti-fascist rally was fined for displaying Nazi insignia. This student duly appealed in order to prove his innocence. Yet, the first appeal was rejected on the grounds that a passing Japanese tourist could have mistaken the symbol for neo-Nazi propaganda.
Only on the second appeal did the judge have sufficient confidence in the brainpower of Japanese travellers and overturned the fine.
In spite of the happy ending, the basic message should be clear: once you start prescribing which opinions can be legally voiced, political debate is subject to censorship and it is far from clear where censorship will stop.

(Source: Antonia Götsch “Prozess grotesk: Vor Gericht wegen eines Anti-Nazi-Symbols” Der Spiegel-Online 23 March 2006)

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3 Responses to “Freedom of Speech in Germany”

  1. […] Back in March I commented on the German state prosecuting anti-fascist protestors using the swastika in a clearly recognisable anti-fascist message. What looked like an amusing if dodgy one-off occurrence then has now been shown to be part of a systematic policy. Several anti-fascists have been prosecuted for similar reasons and one activist running a mail order company selling anti-fascist paraphernalia had his office and flat raided by police as well as having €10,000 (approx. £6,000) worth of stock confiscated. The German weekly der Spiegel also reported, that the prosecutor in charge openly stated that he knew that he was punishing innocent victims, but hoped to get a useful legal precedent by doing so. Another alleged motive is that people could get too used to that symbol. This is an interesting motive: the state is not concerned about the swastika helping diehard Nazis to re-group, it is concerned about weak German minds getting confronted with a logo they can’t handle! If anything, this shows the consequences of having a politicised judiciary –even in a democracy: the prosecutor obviously doesn’t mind driving small businesses to the brink of bankruptcy if only their political objective is achieved. There is no concern that punishment should –at least in theory—be reserved for actual offenders whenever possible. It also shows that once the state takes it upon itself to authorize some worldviews and proscribe others, statements of opinion will eventually need prior authorization –if only in the form of a ‘clarifying precedent’. If these were only strange tales from some continental European Hinterland there might be no reason to worry back here in the UK. Those aware of recent Blairite efforts at passing various types of ‘thought crime’ legislation should by now be seeing which way things are going in Britain. As they say in Germany: wehret den Anfängen -it is never to early to fight back. […]

  2. […] I have previously commented on two cases in Germany involving anti-fascist activists being taken to court for displaying crossed out swastika symbols (see here, and here). Jürgen Kamm, who runs a mail order company, for far-left merchandise (nixgut) has now been fined €3500 (approx. £ 2300) since some of his products included crossed out and smashed up swastika symbols (Source). […]

  3. […] decision to ban the swastika. As in the German case, the moral justification would be one thing, the usefulness of such a measure is a different […]

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