In July 2021 Russia became the most recent nation to join European countries adopting legal measures aimed at stopping the spread of Nazi symbols and ideology. Nations including Germany, France, Austria, Belgium, Romania and Spain have had laws for more than a decade targeting revisionism.

Russia’s new Federal Law No. 280-FZ prohibits the use or public display of Nazi symbols, speeches, or images of leaders or groups identified as criminal by the International Military Tribunal during the 1945-46 Nuremberg Trials. In addition to prohibiting materials related to the Nazi Party, the legislation also extends to cover the Fascist Party of Italy, as well as organizations that collaborated with Axis war criminals, and groups that promote “national and/or racial superiority” or “justify the practice of committing war or crimes aimed at the complete or partial destruction of any ethnic, social, racial, national or religious group.”

The bill, adopted by the State Duma on June 16, 2021, was approved by the Federation Council on June 23 and signed into law by President Vladimir Putin on July 1. 

A Kremlin spokesman suggested that the law would prohibit images of Nazis from being used on book covers. However, the Ministry of Justice issued a statement on July 14 stating that the development of official “clarifications” is in progress to avoid the law having a negative impact on educational, cultural, scientific and historical materials.

Laws regulating the use of Nazi symbols and imagery remain controversial in many European countries in the aftermath of the horrors of World War II.

In Germany, law prevents the use of Third Reich-related imagery and symbols by extremist groups broadly named as “unconstitutional organizations.” To allow for legitimate uses in educational and scientific materials, German laws focus not so much on the imagery itself but the context in which it is used.

However, definitions are not always clear-cut. For example, an episode of Star Trek featuring Nazi uniforms was banned from Germany for nearly 44 years, and there have also been restrictions on Third Reich-related imagery in video games.

Laws in both Germany and Russia state specifically that criminal measures do not apply when the materials do not glorify Nazism. German Criminal Code (Strafgesetzbuch) Section 86 states that former Nazi propaganda material can be shown if the purpose of the action is to “further civil enlightenment, to avert unconstitutional aims, to promote art or science, research or teaching, reporting about current historical events or similar purposes.” Russian Federal Law No. 280-FZ states that Nazi-related images and material can be used when a “negative attitude towards the ideology of Nazism is formed and there are no signs of propaganda or justification of Nazism.” MH