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Germany will not seek EU ban on swastika
BRUSSELS (EJP)--- Germany said on Monday it would not seek an EU ban on swastikas as part of its drive to have a common European law penalising Holocaust denial and the incitement of racial hatred.
A call by Berlin earlier this month on fellow EU members to outlaw the swastika sparked outrage among Hindu groups who said it had been part of their religious symbols for nearly 5,000 years before the Nazis appropriated it.
The Hindu Forum of Britain (HFB), an umbrella organization of about 275 Hindu organizations, had announced a campaign to block the move.
The German justice ministry said in a statement it "will not seek to prohibit the use of specific symbols such as swastikas" when setting out plans for an EU-wide anti-racism law.
"The swastika has been around for 5,000 years as a symbol of peace. This is exactly the opposite of how it was used by Hitler," Ramesh Kallidai of the Hindu Forum of Britain says.
The swastika is commonly used as a blessing in Hindu rituals such as weddings. "Every time we see a swastika symbol in a Jewish cemetery, that of course must be condemned. But when the symbol is used in a Hindu wedding, people should learn to respect that," Kallidai says. "In Sanskrit it means May Goodness Prevail. Just because Hitler misused the symbol, abused it and used it to propagate a reign of terror and racism and discrimination, it does not mean that its peaceful use should be banned."
It would also not try to push all EU states to say it is a crime to deny that 6 million Jews were exterminated during WWII, guaranteeing "the member states the necessary leeway for maintaining their established constitutional traditions."
"The goal is to attain minimum harmonisation of provisions on criminal liability for disseminating racist and xenophobic statements," the statement said.
Germany, which currently holds the EU presidency, is trying to revive an initiative started by Luxembourg two years ago for tougher laws on the incitement of racial hatred and historical revisionism.
This includes "the denial or gross minimization of genocide out of racist and xenophobic motives," the ministry said, though it did not single out the murder of six million Jews by the Nazis in World War II.
Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries has told EU counterparts that criminalizing Holocaust denial would help to stem a rising tide of right-wing violence in Europe.
But the proposal is expected to encounter strong resistance.
Austria, Germany, Spain, Belgium and France have already criminalised the Holocaust denial.
In 2005, Luxembourg’s drive was blocked by Britain, Denmark and Italy.
Last week, Italy’s new centre-left government published a draft law which proposes penalties of up to three years in jail for inciting racial hatred, but stops short of making Holocaust denial a crime.
Some 200 Italian historians had objected to the move.
Germany is now considering reviving the Luxembourg idea which suggests that incitement to racism and xenophobia should be punishable by at least one to three years in jail in all 27 EU states, but leaves it to each state to decide on the specifics.
The Luxembourg blueprint, which Germany is studying, says that racist declarations or Holocaust denial would not be prosecuted if they were expressed in a way that did not incite hatred against an individual or group of people, according to a well informed source.
The use of Nazi insignia is forbidden in Germany, where Holocaust denial was criminalized in 1985.
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