Austria plans to tighten law banning use of Nazi symbols

After demonstrations against coronavirus restrictions have likened themselves to Jews during the Holocaust, the Austrian government is updating the law banning the use of Nazi symbols.

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

Austria said on Monday it would strengthen its law banning the use of various Nazi symbols to adapt to recent trends including protesters against COVID-19 restrictions likening themselves to Jews during the Holocaust.

Like neighboring Germany, Austria passed a law after World War Two banning the Nazi party and spreading Nazi propaganda as well as various symbols of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich including the straight-arm salute.

Austrian-born Hitler's Nazi Germany annexed Austria in 1938.

Demonstrations against coronavirus restrictions have tested that law since some protesters have worn yellow stars like the ones the Nazis forced Jews to wear, with the word "Jew" replaced with words like "unvaccinated."

"Any trivialization of National Socialist genocide and any Nazi crimes against humanity of the Holocaust, even if it is only trivialisation or denial of part of the Holocaust, must be punished and cannot be tolerated."

Alma Zadic, Austria's Justice Minister

"Any trivialization of National Socialist genocide and any Nazi crimes against humanity of the Holocaust, even if it is only trivialisation or denial of part of the Holocaust, must be punished and cannot be tolerated," Justice Minister Alma Zadic of the Greens told a news conference outlining planned changes.

 Austrian Justice Minister Alma Zadic attends a news conference in Vienna, Austria, November 9, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/LEONHARD FOEGER) Austrian Justice Minister Alma Zadic attends a news conference in Vienna, Austria, November 9, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/LEONHARD FOEGER)

Cases such as vaccine opponents wearing yellow stars do not fall under the law because it only bans "gross trivialization" of the Holocaust, she said. The conservative-led government would therefore propose removing the word "gross," she added.

What needs to happen for the change to be completed?

Changing this law would require a two-thirds majority in parliament, meaning the ruling coalition would need the support of at least one opposition party. The biggest opposition party in parliament, the Social Democrats, said they would await the text the government puts to parliament.

The law would also be changed so as to ensure people abroad posting banned material online aimed at Austrians could not elude it, Zadic added, giving the example of recent postings made from Spain.

The government would also follow through on its pledge to bar civil servants from government employment if they break the law banning the use of Nazi symbols, she said. The government promised that after a soldier was recently convicted of breaking that law for wearing a uniform of the Nazis' SS paramilitary guard but still kept his job.