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Hate symbols banned by voters in Geneva

Swastika on grave
A swastika on a Muslim grave in Lausanne in 2015 Keystone

Hate symbols such as the Nazi swastika will be banned from public spaces in Geneva. Almost 85% of Geneva’s electorate voted in favour of the new article in the constitution on Sunday. Turnout was 46%.

Geneva thus becomes the first of Switzerland’s 26 cantons to include in its constitution a ban on the display or wearing in public of symbols, emblems and other objects of hatred. The new article fills a legal vacuum, as no such ban yet exists at federal level.

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The canton also becomes the first to demand that the state implement a policy to combat discrimination and hatred. This amendment to the constitution, which is subject to a mandatory referendum, was supported by all the parties except the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, despite the fact that the bill had already been approved by the cantonal parliament in June 2023, with the support of the executive.

+ Calls grow to ban Nazi symbols and salutes

The bill to amend the constitution was tabled by People’s Party parliamentarian Thomas Bläsi, whose grandfather was a survivor of the Mauthausen concentration camp. His People’s Party colleague Yves Nidegger turned his party around and finally called for a no vote on Sunday, arguing that it would be impossible to draw up a list of banned symbols.

Nidegger also believes that Geneva should have waited, since a similar issue is under discussion in Bern. The federal government must prepare a bill following the adoption by both chambers of a motion to punish the use, wearing and public dissemination of propaganda objects and symbols that are racist, glorify violence or are extremist.

Several proposals along the same lines have been discussed in cantons Vaud, Fribourg and Neuchâtel, among others. They aim to combat the increase in anti-Semitic acts since the start of the conflict in the Middle East, as well as the use of hate symbols during the Covid-19 pandemic.

+ Jewish groups report increase in anti-Semitism during pandemic

‘Strong and unequivocal gesture’

With the exception of the People’s Party, all the parties in Geneva called for a yes vote on the constitutional amendment. They campaigned together to make “a strong and unequivocal gesture” in favour of a ban, each putting forward their own arguments. The Greens and the Socialist Party denounced the rise of populism and extreme right-wing movements that use these symbols of hatred.

The Centre Party, the Libertés et justice sociale (Freedom and Social Justice) movement and the Liberal Green Party emphasised the importance of living together and the need to work towards a peaceful society. The Geneva Citizens’ Movement (MCG), meanwhile, condemned the fact that its posters are regularly spray-painted with swastikas, contributing to the trivialisation of the Nazi symbol and the party’s association with “detestable ideas”.

Translated from French by DeepL/ts

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