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Germany

EU Opposes European Ban on Nazi Symbols

A Europe-wide ban on Nazi symbols seems unlikely as EU officials are increasingly opposed to such a move.

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In Germany, Nazi symbols can (almost only) be shown in museums

Wine bottles inscribed with Nazi symbols and soccer players that use the 'Hitler' greeting could become part of everyday life in Europe because of increasing opposition in Brussels to an EU-wide ban on the use of Nazi symbols.

On Tuesday, EU Justice Minister Franco Frattini outraged German members of parliament by issuing a surprisingly candid rebuff: Such a measure would be "stupid," he said.

The collapse of the initiative occurred mostly due to the Italian and British opposition to the measure: they say it hinders freedom of expression.

The issue exploded after British Prince Harry attended a costume party wearing a Nazi uniform shortly before the 60th anniversary of the freeing of the prisoners at Auschwitz concentration camp last month. Outraged, German members of the EU Parliament pushed for a Europe-wide ban. So far, only Germany and Austria have such a ban.

Nazi costume sets off furor

While Prince Harry can hide behind an apology and the thick walls of Windsor Castle, in Germany, he would be threatened with up to a three-year jail sentence: Pictures of Hitler, the SS symbol and the Hitler 'greeting' are forbidden. The only exceptions are for historical or news purposes.

Polen Jahrestag Konzentrationslager Auschwitz

A need to remember and respect, supporters of the ban say

The rules are much laxer in other European countries. The north Italian Winzer Wine is distributed with pictures of prominent Nazis such as Hitler or Heinrich Himmler and remains unthreatened by the courts despite containing the words "Sieg Heil" on its label. Lazio Rom soccer star Paolo Di Canio flashed a fascist greeting to his rivals in January, without the worry of a fine or jail time.

"We have to remember the victims of Auschwitz "

German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries wants to see an Europe-wide ban on such symbols. So does German EU Parliament member Silvana Koch Mehrin, who is upset by such displays and who was one of the first to speak in favor of a ban.

"After all, (Nazi symbols) refers to a regime that systematically murdered millions of people," she said. "A ban of symbols that stand for such a despised ideology can assist in making sure they will not be frivolously abused."

Luxembourg Justice Minister Luc Frieden makes similar arguments.

Eine Frau laeft am Montag, 10. Januar 2005, in der Abendsonne an einem mit Nazi-Parolen beschmierten jüdischen Gedenkstein auf einem Friedhof in Dortmund vorbei.

current Nazi crime

"We have to remember the victims of Auschwitz and remain vigilant against the ideology that allowed the death camp to be created," he said.

But opponents say an Europe-wide ban is "unnecessary," according to a spokesman for the British representatives to the EU.

Meanwhile, Frattini hopes that each of the member states proceeds against the right-leaning symbols in their own manner. That may be difficult in Italy, at least in the foreseeable future. The far-right Alleanza Nationale is part of the governing coalition of Silvio Berlusconi, in which Frattini served as foreign minister until last fall.

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