Germans OK Nazi Signs, in Other Languages

The use of Nazi symbols or language has long been a crime in Germany, punishable by steep fines and up to three years in prison. But in a landmark Aug. 13 decision, Germany's Federal Court of Justice (comparable to the U.S Supreme Court) ruled that if Nazi slogans are presented in a language other than German, they are not illegal.

The ruling overturned a decision by a lower court that convicted and fined a German neo-Nazi the equivalent of $6,000 for distributing clothing and merchandise bearing the slogan "Blood & Honour" in English.

Blood & Honour is an international white-power "hate rock" music production and distribution network founded in 1987. It has direct ties to far-right political parties throughout the continent. It promotes concerts, publishes magazines and distributes music and propaganda films.

Blood & Honour was banned in Germany in 2000, after government raids on the homes of 30 members, but it maintains a strong underground presence in the country.

Although the name Blood & Honour is a direct translation of the Hitler Youth motto "Blut und Ehre," the court ruled that translating the words into English amounted to a "fundamental change" in the slogan that rendered its use no longer punishable under German law. The judges concluded that neo-Nazi slogans are defined under German law not only by their actual meaning, but also by their presentation in the German language.

Senior Judge Jörg-Peter Becker acknowledged that the court "is aware that its 
decision gives neo-Nazis a degree of leeway to translate their chants and 
slogans." But he added that merely criminalizing words, gestures and slogans does not prevent offensive ideology from entering public discourse.

With the ruling, the court overturned the verdict against the neo-Nazi, who was not named, but emphasized that he could still be prosecuted under other laws pertaining to right-wing extremism.