Neo-Nazis in Switzerland can continue displaying Nazi flags and other symbols of Nazism without fear of prosecution.
If the police decide to do nothing because the law is unclear on this matter, they will be accused of inaction. If they intervene and remove such symbols, they will be accused of suppressing freedom of expression.
On 27 September 2011, the Senate followed the position of the National Council or Lower House of Parliament and rejected the proposed legislative amendments that would have resulted in ensuring a ban on such symbols.
The main argument for backing down is that it is too difficult to exactly define which symbols should be banned because neo-Nazis not only use those of the Nazi era, such as the swastika or the Nazi salute, but also disguised symbols such as the number 8 two times, implying the eighth letter of the alphabet, or two times “H”, a code for “Heil Hitler”.
The use and dissemination of racist symbols have been banned since 1995 when a new anti-racism law came into force.
However, other symbols, including Nazi ones, are only banned when they are used to promote a corresponding ideology. A person can therefore legally posses Nazi symbols if s/he affirms that they are not for propaganda purposes.
Steps to put an end to this loophole began after a former government minister, Kaspar VILLIGER was jeered by a neo-Nazi mob when he made a speech on 1st August 2000 on the Rütli, a meadow above the slopes of Lake Lucerne in the canton of Uri where the oath of the Old Swiss Confederacy is commemorated every year.
Initially, there was much enthusiasm to go ahead with a clear and unambiguous ban. Both Houses of Parliament were in favour and so were the majority of cantons.
The Swiss police officers’ association welcomed the initiative, affirming that at last they would have an effective tool to combat a phenomenon “which is poisoning our society and democracy”.
Opposition then developed and grew, spearheaded by the Swiss People’s Party (SVP/UDC) and the Liberals (FDP) which argued that the proposed new legal provision was not sufficiently clear.
Last year, the Federal Government made a u-turn and decided to abandon the initiative. With the defeat in both Houses of Parliament this year, the initiative now seems quite dead.