Hitler’s ugly mug: police deem sale of Nazi leader’s image on t-shirts, coffee cups lawful

Photo: Naše vojsko

To promote neo-Nazi ideology is a crime in the Czech Republic. Giving the Seig Heil salute and denying the Holocaust is also forbidden, as is hate speech in general. But to profit from the sale of products featuring the words or images of Adolf Hitler and the like is permitted – if it cannot be proven the seller was looking to propagate hateful ideology.

Photo: Naše vojsko
The Czech publishing house Naše vojsko, which translates as “Our troops”, has been on the front lines of several legal battles where the right to free speech – and commerce – have prevailed over objections to the sale of products associated with Nazism.

In February 2017, the publisher’s online retail outlet began selling mugs and t-shirts with Adolf Hitler’s portrait. Two months later, its catalogue began offering products featuring a top henchman, Reinhard Heydrich, known as the “Butcher of Prague”, whose assassination by Czechoslovak paratroopers led Hitler to order the Lidice massacre.

While undeniably provocative and in bad taste, the police announced this week their sale was not illegal, and they would not seek the prosecution of Naše vojsko for spreading "national, racial, social or religious hatred” or publicly expressing “sympathy for fascism or any other similar movement" – a crime punishable by up to eight years in prison.

Lawyer Klára Kalibová, director of In Iustita, an NGO that works to combat hate crimes and aid their victims, explains the fine line that allows such commercial sales to proceed.

“So, basically the question is whether the distributor has had an intention to support such a movement. And he can have it also unintentionally, meaning that if he knew that he could support, by distributing these mugs with Adolf Hitler the movement or neo-Nazi propaganda he can be held criminally liable.”

This must be exceptionally difficult to prove…

“It is. There is a case law from 2005 where the Supreme Court basically said that if somebody does that just for economic reasons, they can’t be held liable. But I believe that in this case, it’s quite clear that he at least knew that creating brand new mugs with Adolf Hitler may be used by some existing neo-Nazi movement and is actually a propagandistic, iconic item.”

Klára Kalibová,  photo: Adam Kebrt / Czech Radio
Do you know of similar cases where such intention was proven and products removed from the market, also with criminal ramifications?

“There are two types of actors who can commit this. One type is people who are part of the neo-Nazi movement, and in this case, it’s easy for the police to prosecute them because the link between the distribution and actual support for the movement is clear because they use the money for it. But in this case, where it’s let’s say a ‘common distributor’, I don’t recall a similar case – just the case where Mein Kampf was published, in 2003, where police started an investigation and case against the publisher, and lost it, because the Supreme Court said there was just the economic intention.”

“But I believe we should overrule this Supreme Court decision because it is quite clear we are getting into an era where the Holocaust or Nazi genocide is going to be denied – or forgotten – and we have to protect historical memory and the dignity of people who actually perished.”