Germany intends to introduce a Europe-wide law banning the display of Nazi symbols and making denial of the Holocaust a crime to fulfil its “historical obligation” 62 years after the liberation of Auschwitz.
Brigitte Zypries, the Justice Minister, will today outline plans to punish with up to three years in prison anyone in the European Union who publicly rejects the Nazi slaughter of six million Jews.
Germany’s programme for its six-month presidency of the EU also revives the idea of criminalising the flaunting of the swastika, which gained momentum after publication of photographs of Prince Harry in Nazi uniform at a fancy dress party.
A previous attempt to ban Nazi symbols was blocked by several governments, including Britain, while Holocaust denial was halted on the grounds of freedom of speech by Italy, which then had the post-fascist National Alliance in its ruling coalition. The Italian Government has now changed, giving the Germans hope of EU agreement. But there will be extra pressure from former Soviet-bloc countries for a ban on the provocative use of the communist hammer and sickle.
Ms Zypries will appeal to them at a meeting in Dresden today and tomorrow to build a European criminal code on racism and xenophobia.
“We have always said it cannot be the case that it should still be acceptable in Europe to say that six million Jews were never killed,” she said. “There is some controversy about that under ‘freedom of expression’ but we believe that there are limits to freedom of expression, and the limits are there when it is offensive to other religions and ethnic groups.”
Laws banning the denial of the Holocaust already exist in 10 of the 27 EU states and Latvia and Estonia ban the display of communist symbols.
The move would need the unanimous support of every country to have legal force.
Britain maintains that its laws banning incitement to hatred provide sufficient cover. The revisionist historian David Irving escaped prosecution until he proclaimed his scepticism in Austria and was jailed for 13 months. A British government spokeswoman said that a specific offence of Holocaust denial “would sit uncomfortably with existing freedom of speech legislation”, but did not dismiss the German plan.
Price of denial
Austria 10 years
Belgium 1 year
Czech Republic 2 years
France 2 years
Germany 5 years
Lithuania 10 years
Poland 3 years
Romania 5 years
Slovakia 3 years
Spain no maximum
*maximum penalty for denying the Holocaust