German court: Nazi slogans okay in other languages

When is Nazi propaganda not Nazi propaganda? When it’s in English apparently: In a landmark decision Thursday, the Karlsruhe-based court ruled that using Nazi slogans translated into a language other than German would not, in general, be a punishable crime. The ruling is linked to a case in which a neo-Nazi was prosecuted and fined ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
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582173_090813_nazi2.jpg
Followers of the neo-Nazi party NPD wave a black flag during May Day demonstrations in Berlin's Koepenick district on May 1, 2009, where riots were carried out by far leftist groups against a far right neonazi demonstration. The international day of the worker has for the past two decades been accompanied in German cities by street violence and clashes between far-right skinheads, anti-fascist groups and police. AFP PHOTO DDP/ AXEL SCHMIDT GERMANY OUT (Photo credit should read AXEL SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)

When is Nazi propaganda not Nazi propaganda? When it's in English apparently:

In a landmark decision Thursday, the Karlsruhe-based court ruled that using Nazi slogans translated into a language other than German would not, in general, be a punishable crime.

When is Nazi propaganda not Nazi propaganda? When it’s in English apparently:

In a landmark decision Thursday, the Karlsruhe-based court ruled that using Nazi slogans translated into a language other than German would not, in general, be a punishable crime.

The ruling is linked to a case in which a neo-Nazi was prosecuted and fined €4,200 ($6,000) in 2005 for distributing clothing and merchandising bearing the slogan “Blood and Honour,” written in English. With the ruling, the court overturned the verdict against the neo-Nazi, who was not named, but said it could still be possible to prosecute him under other laws relating to right-wing extremism.

Although “Blood and Honour,” which is also the name of a banned far-right organization, alludes to the Hitler Youth motto “Blut und Ehre,” the court ruled that translating the words represented a “fundamental change” in the slogan, meaning its use was no longer punishable under German law. The judges said that Nazi slogans were characterized not only by their actual meaning but also by the fact that they were in German.

This seems particularly ridiculous. The idea behind the ruling seems to be that it’s the words themselves that are dangerous rather than the ideas they represent. There’s similar thinking behind Bavarian authorities insistence on banning the publication of a critical, annotated edition of Mein Kampf, despite the fact that Jewish groups support its publication.

You can also not expect every neo-Nazi group in Germany to start printing signs in English, making a mockery of the original law.

AXEL SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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