BRUSSELS, Jan 19 (IPS) – The European Union will consider banning the swastika and other Nazi symbols next week after British Prince Harry was photographed wearing a swastika armband to a fancy dress party.
European Union (EU) justice ministers will debate calls to ban all Nazi symbols next Thursday (Jan. 27) after Harry, the 20-year-old grandson of Queen Elizabeth II was photographed wearing a Nazi outfit at a New Year’s Eve fancy dress party.
The proposal, which could include a ban on all Nazi symbols, aims to set EU-wide standards on fighting racism, anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination. It would need agreement of all 25 EU governments.
The swastika is a cross with its arms turned at right angles all to the right or the left. The Swastika adopted as the symbol of Nazism is derived from the Sanskrit ‘svastika’ which means ‘conducive to well-being’.
The Brussels meeting of EU ministers will coincide with the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz on Jan. 27, 1945. Up to 40 world leaders are due to meet there to mark the sombre occasion.
Originally a concentration camp for Polish political prisoners, Auschwitz was greatly expanded in 1941 with the addition of a much larger camp at nearby Birkenau.
Auschwitz-Birkenau and sub-camps held about 400,000 registered prisoners including 205,000 Jews, 137,000 Poles, 21,000 gypsies, 12,000 Soviet prisoners of war and 25,000 others.
In this largest and most infamous of all Nazi concentration camps, about 210,000 prisoners died of starvation and abuse between 1933 and 1945.
Harry, who is third in line to the British throne, has since apologised for his actions, but several German conservatives, socialists and liberal democrats in the European Parliament are demanding that the symbol be banned.
A ban would be â€?logicalâ€?, said Silvana Koch-Mehrin, vice-president of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) party in Parliament. Koch-Mehrin, who proposed the ban, said German law did not ban the swastika in movies or history books which dealt seriously with the issue. Courts draw the line between serious and frivolous use of the symbol. Its political use is strictly forbidden.
â€?All of Europe has suffered in the past because of the crimes of the Nazis, therefore it would be logical for Nazi symbols to be banned all over Europe,â€? she said.
German Socialist Helmut Kuhne called Prince Harry a â€?royal idiotâ€? for not knowing the history linked to the Nazi swastika.
Franco Frattini, European commissioner for justice, freedom and security, has backed the ban. â€?EU action is urgent and has to forbid very clearly the Nazi symbols in the European Union,â€? Frattini said earlier this week.
Many Jewish people support a ban on Nazi symbols. â€?We support the idea advanced by some German MEPs (members of the European parliament), though it’s of course up to the European Union and its institutions to decide how this is best implemented,â€? a spokesman of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) told IPS.
â€?The MEPs made their suggestions independently of us, but they have our support on this issue,â€? the spokesman said.
Germany, Hungary and Austria already ban Nazi symbols, but earlier proposals to ban such symbols throughout the EU stalled in February 2003 because Italy wanted discussions on the European constitution to be completed before taking up the ban issue.
Critics of the proposed ban argue that outlawing swastikas has not stamped out far-right extremism in countries like Germany. They say such a move would threaten free speech.
The WJC disagrees. â€?We do not believe that wearing Nazi symbols in public is a legitimate expression of free speech,â€? the spokesperson said.
â€?On the contrary, freedom of speech must not harm the dignity of other people,â€? he added. â€?The Nazis murdered six million Jews. How should an old Holocaust survivor, or his sons or daughters, feel when they see people wearing swastika bands marching through the street, or similar things? They must feel insulted and believe that the world hasn’t learnt anything from the Holocaust.â€?
British Liberal MEP Chris Davies says that rather than â€?ban evilâ€?, emphasis should be placed on education.
â€?What matters is that each new generation should be taught to appreciate the depravities of which mankind is capable, especially when political philosophies take hold that pay no respect to the value of each and every human being, whatever their race, religion or creed,â€? he said.
An EU-wide ban on Nazi symbols could also further embarrass Queen Elizabeth II, who is to lead the British commemorations of the Holocaust in London later this month. (END/2005)