3rd Jun 2023


Why can't we stop marches glorifying Nazism on EU streets?

  • Far-right demonstrators in Dresden, claiming the allied bombing of the city during World War Two was a 'holocaust' (Photo: Kira Ayyadi)
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The threat of far-right extremism has been an increasing concern over the last years — from the ground gained by conspiracy myths like the "Great Replacement" and QAnon, to the storming of parliaments on both sides of the Atlantic, to the rise to power of far-right parties across Europe and globally and high-profile far-right terror attacks like those in Christchurch, Pittsburgh or Halle.

Within this space, annual marches glorifying Nazism pose a particular threat.

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  • Anti-Muslim demonstrators in Berlin claiming Islam is a war of beliefs on the German body politic (Photo: Caruso Pinguin)

Every year, such marches take place across Europe, diligently organized along a predictable, regular schedule. Neo-Nazis come together to pay tribute to Nazi war criminals and their collaborators, from Benito Mussolini to Rudolf Hess, Ante Pavelić, Hristo Lukov, and of course Adolf Hitler — at times with the endorsement of authorities — in events that have become rituals on the extreme-right calendar.

Veterans of the Waffen-SS sometimes take active part in these marches, dressed to impress in their old uniforms. Nazi salutes, symbols and slogans are commonplace and Nazi memorabilia is often readily available on sale.

While glorification of World War II war criminals and events is often the backdrop of these marches, they are never confined to Holocaust revisionism.

These marches have a clear political objective for the present day: the promotion of a pan-European white supremacist identity that promotes conspiracy myths, undermines democracy and views Jews, Muslims, Roma, migrants and refugees, the LGBTQI+ community, and their allies as enemies and threats.

My organisation, by B'nai B'rith International, the oldest Jewish service organisation once explicitly targeted by Hitler for its defence of universalist ideals, teamed up with Berlin-based Amadeu Antonio Foundation to take a closer look at 12 of the most notorious marches taking place across the EU.

Beyond the ubiquitous racism, antisemitism and Holocaust denial documented, what emerges are clear and persistent patterns.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the marches are hotbeds of dangerous extremists, with many far-right activists organising or attending the events boasting criminal records for serious offences including possession of illegal arms and terrorism.

Equally concerning is the level of transnational networking between ultra-nationalist groups in different countries. Organisers of Nazi marches in Germany, are speakers at other Nazi marches in Hungary and Bulgaria. They bring activists over from other European countries to learn techniques of "combat and propaganda," and plan to attend concerts in Belgium.

So how is it that such evident affronts, posing a clear and present threat to our democratic system, are allowed to persist?

To get rid of annual marches glorifying Nazism and fascism, we need everyone on board.

Tools not used

One of the key findings of our report is that the proper instruments to put an end to Nazi marches are generally already in place in the European Union.

The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly confirmed that national authorities are allowed to restrict the rights and freedoms of those who abuse the guarantees of the European Convention of Human Rights by promoting Nazi propaganda or Holocaust denial and inciting to violence and hatred.

The legal framework of the European Union offers another key instrument to address the phenomenon of marches glorifying Nazism and fascism: the Council Framework Decision on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law.

The Framework Decision requires, among other things, that public incitement to violence or hatred constitute criminal offences across the EU. It also requires member states to make it an offence to publicly condone or grossly trivialise Nazi war crimes, genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

Regrettably, lack of full and correct transposition of the Framework Decision has resulted in significant gaps.

In many countries, specific national legislation is in place that would prevent these marches from taking place. Examples include Italy's Scelba and Mancino Laws, Spain's Law of Historical Memory, and Austria's Prohibition Law and Symbols law.

Political will is required to put these laws into practice and issue bans on marches and we welcome every step in this direction.

We also acknowledge that this is not easy. Bans are often circumvented by modifying the declared intent and scope of gatherings or the exact location where meet-ups take place.

In Finland, Germany, Hungary and Bulgaria such bans have been issued, although not always effectively, while Spain and Austria have declared their intent to ban marches taking place.

Law-enforcement is required to properly enforce bans and police illegal individual behaviours taking place in these gatherings.

Prosecutors and judges need to be able to deal swiftly with complaints concerning incitement to hatred or Holocaust denial at the marches — which has not been the case to date: take the case of a Spanish judge who dismissed a case of gross antisemitic incitement in Madrid on the grounds that "laudable and miserable behaviours took place on both sides of World War II."

As the report shows, a successful approach to combating these marches requires concerted action.

That is why we recommend a set of actions including repressive measures, but also awareness-raising and capacity-building for police, judges and prosecutors.

As for you and me, we must continue to say loud and clear to that there is no space for hatred on Europe's streets.

Author bio

Alina Bricman is director of European Union affairs for B'nai B'rith International.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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