Hungary: Swastikas, SS symbols legal to display as of May
On Tuesday, the Hungarian Constitutional Court abolished a statute banning the public use of symbols of totalitarian power. The symbols concerned are the hammer and sickle, the Nazi swastika, and the red five-pointed star. The court said the ban violated the right to freedom of speech and was not worded precisely enough.
It will be possible to legally wear such symbols in Hungary as of 1 May 2013. For the past 10 years their use has been a felony punishable by a fine. News server pravda.sk reports that the banned symbols also included SS signs and the Arrow Cross, the sign of the Hungarian Fascists.
The Heineken logo was a problem
In 2005 the Heineken beer concern was even sued in Hungary over the red five-pointed star on its logo. Heineken stated in its defense that its red star had been an icon of the company since its creation in 1863 and that it was an old symbol for brewers. During the Cold War, the company recolored the star white with a red border, returning to the red star after the collapse of communism.
This was not Heineken's first such lawsuit. During previous trials, the courts stated that it could not be proven that the red star in its logo represented the promotion of communism.
News server Sme.sk reports that the request to abolish the statute banning the display of such symbols was filed in 2008 by communist politician Attila Vajnai, who was fined in 2007 for wearing a badge with a red star on it. At the time, the court justified its decision by claiming that the hammer and sickle, red star, and swastika are "symbols of despotism." The Hungarian communists protested against drawing an equivalency betweeng communist symbols and those of Nazism, and Vajnai turned to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).
That forum in Strasbourg has ruled in Vajnai's favor, deciding that red stars do not exclusively symbolize totalitarian regimes. The Hungarian Parliament protested the judgment last summer and refused to change the law.
There was, however, a risk that the country would lose one lawsuit after another as a result of the judgment. The Hungarian Constitutional Court has now abolished the contentious law under the influence of the ECtHR judgment.
Government wants to change the constitution
The law was adopted during the 1990s by the government of conservative PM Viktor Orbán, who is leading the country today. Governing politicians in Hungary criticized Tuesday's decision. The MTI agency reports that they want to change the constitution in order to preserve the ban on totalitarian symbols.
"Anyone will be able to walk around ostentatiously wearing a red star, an SS sign, or a swastika," declared Antal Rogan, chair of the Fidesz party's club in the lower house. Rogan is concerned that abolishing the law could offend Hungarian Jews or people persecuted by the communist regime.
In the Czech Republic the law does not directly specify which symbols are banned. However, there is a statute in the criminal code on promoting and supporting movements aimed at suppressing human rights and freedoms. On the basis of that law, it is possible to publish the public display of communist, fascist, Nazi and other symbols.
Neo-nazis run into problems with this law more frequently, but police have also addressed young communists' use of such symbols in the past. The police use a manual for such cases authored by Miroslav Mareš, who is an expert on extremism. He also collaborated on a similar manual issued by the Czech Army.
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