Saturday, February 4, 2017

Illegal symbols

My latest video discusses the various proposals for the redesign of the German national flag following the Second World War, and contains some images which are outlawed in Germany.

Well, that’s not strictly true; but almost. The images are that of the flag used by the Nazi regime as a national flag, and the Nazi-era War Ensign. Both incorporate the swastika. As symbols of the National Socialist regime, their use is so heavily restricted that they might as well be banned.

This image contains a banned symbol.

In fact, even that isn’t 100% accurate. What’s regulated is the use of symbols of organizations which have been identified as working in opposition to the German constitution, the Basic Law. That’s usually Nazi symbols, of course, but in fact other symbols are also affected: for example, the variant of the Jihadist banner used by ISIS falls under the same law.

It’s § 86a StGB, which, translated into something you don’t need to be a German lawyer to understand, is section 86a of the German Criminal Code. If you’re wondering about the “a”, the section had to be inserted after section 86, which criminalizes the propaganda of these organizations, including their symbols; but extremist groups were getting around this by using subtly altered versions, such as mirror images. The new section explicitly outlaws symbols which “could be mistaken” for outlawed symbols.

Luckily, I have a get-out clause, in that I’m using these symbols as part of a factual lecture, not political propaganda. The symbols themselves aren’t outlawed, but their use in connection with unconstitutional activities is — which means that, for example, Buddhists reading this can relax. Incidentally, it’s not actually true that if a swastika rotates to the right it’s a religious symbol but if it rotates to the left it’s a Nazi symbol: that’s often the case, but not always. Legally, it’s the context it’s used in that’s the important factor.

This is perfectly fine

This does highlight a problem videomakers like me can face. Although I was fairly sure I wouldn’t fall foul of § 86a StGB, I did actually look it up to make absolutely certain. The maximum sentence is three years in prison: I doubt that any court would even bother about a case of a couple of swastikas appearing for a few seconds in a four-minute YouTube video about flags, but sometimes a little paranoia is a good thing to have.

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