Switzerland finds banning Nazi salute, symbols to be complicated

The Swiss Federal Office of Justice said it is in theory possible to do this. However, the situation is legally complicated and could trigger a number of serious legal obstacles.

 SWITZERLAND’S NATIONAL flag flies above the logo of Swiss bank Credit Suisse at its headquarters in Zurich.  (photo credit: ARND WIEGMANN / REUTERS)
SWITZERLAND’S NATIONAL flag flies above the logo of Swiss bank Credit Suisse at its headquarters in Zurich.
(photo credit: ARND WIEGMANN / REUTERS)

Switzerland has deemed that banning Nazi symbols and expressions, like the Nazi salute and swastika, is technically possible. But in practice, it's complicated.

The Swiss Federal Office of Justice (FOJ) last Thursday issued a report on whether such a ban on Nazi or other racist or extremist symbols and expressions could be banned. 

The conclusion was that it is in theory possible to do this. However, the situation is legally complicated and could trigger a number of serious legal obstacles.

What are Switzerland's rules for Nazi symbols and gestures?

Switzerland does currently have some rules regarding the use of Nazi symbols and gestures, as well as other racist and extremist views. 

A Nazi armband with a swastika displayed in the Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin, Germany (credit: Wikimedia Commons)A Nazi armband with a swastika displayed in the Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin, Germany (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

However, they are only banned when used for propaganda purposes and promoting violence. 

This circumstance, the FOJ had found, was suitable enough, and that there isn't a need for further elaboration. Doing so could be harmful to the right to freedom of expression, it has been argued.

And it does sometimes work. In 2018, a Swiss neo-Nazi was convicted for performing a Nazi salute in Zurich as well as spitting on and verbally assaulting an Orthodox Jew.

But that doesn't mean it's always illegal. In 2014, the Swiss supreme court ruled that a Nazi salute in public isn't necessarily illegal.

However, this comes as more and more steam is gathering behind a push for Switzerland to adopt zero tolerance for Nazi symbols and gestures.

One such call comes from the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities and the Platform of Liberal Jews in Switzerland, who released a joint statement on the subject.

They called for Switzerland to "align itself" with the positions of its neighbors like Germany and Austria, which have much stricter rules regarding Nazi symbols and gestures.

Part of the reason it has been so difficult to ban these symbols is that no one can actually agree on a list of symbols that should be banned. 

The FOJ report agreed, noting how specific and precise the wording of such a ban must be to make sure there are no questions about what is and isn't banned.