The Nazi salute, outlawed as a criminal offense in countries like Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic, remains a thorny legal issue in other European countries. In Switzerland, a 1995 anti-racism law criminalized the use of racist symbols in promoting discriminatory ideologies. But yesterday a Swiss court ruled that the symbol isn’t in fact a criminal offense if it’s used as a personal statement, the Associated Press reports.
The Federal Tribunal’s ruling, titled “Hitler salute in public not always punishable,” said the gesture is a crime only if someone is using it to try to spread racist ideology to others, not simply declaring one’s own conviction.
It seems to be a rather small technicality, considering the instantaneous associations most people presumably make upon seeing a Nazi salute being performed. While I’ll leave it to legal scholars to debate the various implications of the ruling, I do wonder what this means for other controversial symbols like the quenelle, the nebulous reverse Nazi salute newly popularized in France, which got a 28-year-old man a $4,130 fine from a French court last month.
I also wonder whether the New York City taxi driver suspended for wearing a Nazi armband while operating his cab would, under the terms of the new Swiss law, be considered to be making a solely personal statement.