Democracies should ban the display of communist and Nazi symbols
Last updated: March 2, 2017
In the recent years we have seen a dramatic increase in the popularity of some extreme political views that are unacceptable in democratic society. This problem harms all democracies, but especially it is harmful for young and instable democratic states. The Baltic states have entered the route of developing democratic states after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but this route is long and it takes a lot of time before a country could call itself a stable democracy.
We find the Baltic states special to this debate as they experienced both Soviet repressions in the second half of 20th century and Nazi actions in WWII. Even more, after the collapse of the Soviet Union extremist movements are still present as all of these actions took a place in recent past.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union many Russians have remained in the Baltics. Most of them don’t know the national language of their country; tend to communicate only within their ethnic group; feel oppressed by the current government; and believe that the Soviet Union was a better place to live, thus making an incentive to make a extremist minded groups to represent ideas of Soviet Union and Nazi propaganda. By having a presence of these extremists groups it increases both hatred and hostility between these nations.
These ideas are spread not only by verbal communication or reading materials such as Mein Kampf but also spread through the usage of symbols that represents these regimes.
Communist and Nazi symbols have long history and a great cultural meaning. We see that the usage of such symbolic makes communist or nationalistic parties stronger and facilitates the process of attracting new members for them. To protect the Baltic democracies on their path, we propose to ban the display of Nazi or communist symbols in these three countries.
Reason for this debate is to prove that symbols are no different than any other mean of communication, reasons to limit the rights of freedom of speech and the harms these symbols make.
Model & Definition
Ervinas, you are going to love this.
We offer banning the use of Nazi and Soviet symbols in Baltic States. We believe that this set-up of the debate is still fair, since we are debating against Lithuanians. We define these symbols as anything that is strongly associated with the ideology of these regimes by a reasonable Baltic person. We know that this definition is a bit vague, but we urge the opposition to focus on the real core of this debate. We know the real things we are talking about here - swastikas and hammers and sickles.
Few things that are worth a mention:
--> We are not banning the educational use of these symbols. They can still appear in school textbooks and museums. Let's debate about the use of these symbols in the daily lives of Baltic citizens - in the streets, on the walls, on the shirts of youngsters.
--> If necessary, we are ready to set up a comission that would decide when this ban will apply.
--> Status quo: Soviet and Nazi symbols are already banned in Lithuania to some extent (in public gatherings). They are banned in Estonia as well. So maybe defining the location in such a way is not that helpful for a debate.
--> The commission would be set up, but what about the criteria according to which judgement would be made?
Why these symbols are no different than verbal or written communication
It is really simple if one thinks about it. If someone sees a "no smoking" sign, a visual symbol with a clearly defined meaning, it is no different from somebody telling them not to smoke. They can feel guilty about smoking, and they can stop. We already assume this in all activities imaginable - nobody would like to see a middle finger pointed at their direction, even though it is not a verbal insult.
This is particularly clear with Soviet and Nazi symbols. When someone sees a swastika or hammer and a sickle, he does not interpret these signs as having no modern meaning. Instead, he thinks of the values these things represent.
In the case of Baltic citizens, the meaning of these symbols is certainly connected with the atrocities these brutal regimes commited on the Baltic soil. More importantly, these nasty acts were targeting certain ethnic or social groups - Jews in case of the Nazi propoganda or Latvian intelligentsia in case of Soviets.
Seeing these symbols in everyday life promotes hatred towards certain groups, and incites people to resort to ugly methods in the pursuit of their aims, as already seen in the actions of local extremist groups.
First, symbols are much more abstract than written and verbal communication. Thus, the display of a symbol, especially a one that has such a broad identification as the Nazi or communist symbol, does not directly imply that a person / organization displaying the symbol does attribute the whole ideology to itself. Case in point: there are quite a lot of people in the Baltic states that believe that the life was better in Soviet Union (surveys show that, for example, health care system in Lithuania currently is considered good only by 18% of respondents, while the one that was present in SU - by 42% [[http://www.civitas.lt/lt/?pid=72&id=17]]). For them, displaying a communist flag would only mean that they are longing the times of the Soviet Union, the life of their own, and we do not see how the government could prohibit such means of showing off one's memories. To sum up, the message that symbols deliver is versatile, and a mere display of communist flag does not necessarily lead people to take actions against national press, language, etc, as the proposition tries to imply.
Second, we do not believe that symbols are to be held a strong enough affiliation sign to be penalized. Verbal or written communication is very direct, understandable and thus is used in courts as evidence. Hate speech is a good example where written/verbal communication is criminalized. We do not believe that the same should apply to symbols, partly due to the different level of abstraction, as explained above, and partly due to the fact that a symbol does not imply further action, and is a passive display of opinion. In the same way that a gang member cannot be punished for gang crimes, if he is found to have a gang tattoo, we do not believe that carrying a symbol does constitute a willingness to act according to the values of the regime underlying the symbol.
To sum up, symbols, while carrying a message as does the verbal / written communication, are different from them in two aspects that are important for this debate. First, they are much more abstract, and especially in our case, the Nazi / communist symbols can be used to display associations that are not meant to insult anybody, but rather are used to bring back memories, that are not necessarily inhumane. Second, a symbol is a passive form of affiliation, does not imply any further action, and we do not believe that the members of our society can be banned from having opinions. The only thing they can be held accountable for are actions, however, displaying symbols does not imply any actions to be made.
Why is it sometimes legitimate to limit freedom of speech
There is no reason to believe that freedom of speech is absolute. We mostly want to secure this freedom because of the nice societal outcomes that we get as a result of it. For instance, we believe that allowing many different people to discuss the merits and drawbacks of a certain policy proposal can help reaching a consensus that would be the most beneficial for the society as a whole. There obviously can be other advantages of holding freedom of speech dear.
But that's only one part of the picture. In some distinct cases freedom of speech can be privilege we can't afford. To use a cliché, we do not allow screaming "Fire" in a room full of people, because we are afraid of the panic that might follow. Here, the situation is simple - we do not think that the abstract gains from freedom of speech are big enough to justify having the practical harm of people getting harmed.
So here's our burden of proof in this debate - we have to show that the practical harms of allowing the use of the Nazi and Soviet symbols far outweigh the abstract, intangible benefits.
We are going to succeed. Read on.
It is true that in some cases the Nazi and soviet symbols as static information can generate some dynamic responses, for instance, discussion with friends about skinheads or drunken "communists". In elections, however, it is very unlikely that people will vote for aggressive neo-nazis.
The bottomline is, most people do not regard these symbols as particularly offensive here in the Baltic States. These are just textbook history for the youth. And for those who were unlucky to live in the times of Russian and Nazi occupation, the symbols are memories, maybe unpleasant memories, but altering memories is not a government's domain.
One more thing. As it was demonstrated with American war veterans [[http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/ARCHIVE/2008/DECEMBER/Pages/ToHealPsychologicalTrauma,TroopsReliveWarinVirtualReality.aspx ]], repetitive exposure to things that make you feel bad can actually heal post traumatic stress disorder. So, repressing symbols might actually do more psychological harm than the SQ.
Practical harm #1 - Encouraging extremist movements
It should come as no surprise that extremist groups are becoming more widespread in across Baltic States. Organisations such as Neo-nazis or Nac-bols are becoming more and more popular, especially in the youth circles. Many find the ideology of these regimes appealing. These symbols play an important role in the activities of the emerging movements.
It's easy to see why swastikas and hammer and sickle are so effective for attracting and retaining members for these movements. The presence of these symbols makes these people feel like they are more than just miserable group of youngsters sharing anti-semitic tendencies; they perceive themselves as successors of a grand cause. And there is reason why these symbols were used by totalitarian regimes - they are incredibly powerful. The symbols keep these groups strong. Without them, they are weaker.
The reason why we should try to discourage these groups from assembling and engaging in their activities is the great harm they can cause. Already in the Baltic States these groups tend to be violent towards certain ethnic minorities. The crimes commited in the past include desecration of Jewish graves or street violence against gypsies. It is the duty of the state to protect the weakest in our society. By banning Nazi and Soviet symbols we can prevent these violent acts.
The symbols that were used by the totalitarian regimes are not powerful per se. Perhaps they were powerful at some point in history, but claiming that these symbols carry the same strength nowadays is completely out of touch with reality.
The soviet symbols have been commercialized extensively. They have become a mere tourist attraction and a brand for selling more. Probably the biggest concentration of soviet related items could be found in the streets, being sold to tourists by various street vendors. Soviet stars and other allusions to soviet life are used on bread and other food products so as to attract customers longing for the old taste. A kid wearing a shirt with Lenin recognizes him as an old bald guy from the past and most often does not attach any specific meaning or ideology to it. It is just a normal way of accepting the past and living with it. What strength does a symbol carry and how much attractive is it for extremists, if one can find it on a sausage pack? Could Nazis have taken something like this as their symbol? And in fact, most leftist movements are so weak and miserable that you have to really try to find out something about their activities in the Baltic States.
The symbol with which more serious criminal activities are associated is the Nazi swastika. It retained some of its strength mainly due to efforts to suppress it. The talks have been for ages how it is politically incorrect to use swastika publicly. No wonder the extremists still find the symbol attractive – it has still some power and, besides this, taboo attached to it. Any effort to strengthen the prohibition of these symbols would actually reinforce them.
The extremist groups are just miserable groups of youngsters, perhaps with a swastika or another symbol. So when people see them in the streets, they usually just shrug off and continue without paying much attention – these people are perceived as a marginal force in the society. If the symbols that they use are prohibited, the people sharing the ideology will not disappear for sure. What is more, when these groups will start appearing in public with these symbols, they will have much more of perceived power, because they are the ones who dare to break the law. If police will punish one or another – it will only make the group as a whole stronger, because they will feel that now they are important – someone finally started paying attention to them. Because of this taboo attached to it, such extremist groups could easily become more popular among teenagers and other people, attracting more members than ever before. The symbols that are banned might somewhat disappear from the public, but they will move underground - and when they appear in the public, they will have bigger strength and more fear attached to them.
Practical harm #2 - Hate speech
As these people are discriminated on daily occasion they get emotionally impacted. They experience a lot of pressure from society i.e. when changing sex; therefore they tend to have more mental breakdowns. Even by comparing suicidal rate between homosexual and heterosexual people it would be 3 times more likely that homosexual person would do it, even knowing that many of them is hiding their homosexuality. By implying this plan we would not only decrease the suicide attempts but also let these people not feel fear to be different.
Not only they are impacted mentally but because of the hostility towards them, they are isolated from the rest of society. For example, the bars for homosexuals, as they feel fear to show their sexual orientation to society and even their family members, they prefer to stay in their own communes. Even if we believe that it is good to share opinion in the group that represents the same ideas, in this case we isolate them instead of integrating them which is a very fundament of democracy and liberalism. By promoting hatred towards these groups, we promote to isolate them even more. Instead we should promote integration as it is a lot less harmful way how to make communication between these groups.
If we look at the case of the Baltic States, hate speech is also present. We do ban verbal hate speech because it offends people; similarly we ban any material that promotes these ideas such as Mein Kampf. As previously explained, we believe symbols are no different thus promoting hate towards certain minority groups. Because of the immigration of Russian people during Soviet times, nowadays by promoting such symbols as hammer and sickle, we would not only increase the hostility of these nations but also increase xenophobia, racism etc.
1. ^ http://www.outproud.org/article_suicide.html
We would love to see the government to show us examples how the youth of the Baltics watched Nazi flags, and then got interested in the Nazi ideology, and ended up beating homosexuals. Most of the extremists are not educated enough to know who Hitler was, and definitely know only small pieces of the Nazi ideology. Instead, we believe that the groups have formed in the society without the influence of the communist / nazi ideologies, and only later, to back-up their views, and to attract more attention, they have picked up the usage of the symbols discussed.
In case such symbols were banned, these groups would not be affected materially, as argued in the point above. Even further, as the symbols are only used to display the underlying values, the mere ban of symbols does not have any immediate effect on the values themselves. It is naive to think that the ban would cause these groups to rethink their actions, and the loss of possibility to publicly associate with a well-known ideology would not be a huge one for the reason outlined below: it was not that the ideology formed the groups, it's rather they used it to attract attention, and will readily develop their own symbols if the ones currently in use will be banned.
Exposing certain things is still banned even if it doesn't promote committing any harmful actions.
Nazi Germany has committed many evil crimes. It started the World War II, which has taken away lives of many millions of people; it was found guilty of committing massive genocide of Jewish people; it was encouraging experimenting on people etc. The list of crimes committed could be continued more and more, and the whole world accepted that Nazi Germany was guilty of all these crimes. All these crimes were terrible and against any moral norms or laws of modern countries. All these actions are unacceptable by our society and swastika is the symbol of all these crimes. That's why even if displaying swastika doesn't promote the commitment of these evil actions, and even if some people see another meaning in this symbol, it is still in the interest of society to ban this symbol, since most of the people think of terrible war crimes when they see swastika, which is unpleasant for them.
The occupation of Baltic states by the Soviet Union was another unpleasant episode in the history of these countries. It has been publicly confirmed by the governments of all three Baltic states that the Soviet Union had occupied Baltic States causing harm for their development. Although some people consider life in the Soviet Union to be good, because of employment it provided to its citizens, harmful things done by the Soviet Union are enormous. The development of Baltic states was slowed down during that time, because there was no flow of ideas from abroad. Planned economy caused insufficient supply of goods and people weren't able to buy goods they wanted. Limits were put on the freedom of individuals, which also slowed the development process, because creative and innovative people were often put in jails. The intelligence from Baltic states mostly was either killed or sent to Siberia, which also harmed the development of these regions. The great part of soil was deprived because of agricultural technologies the Soviet Union used, which harmed the development of agriculture in Baltic states. Some people could argue that these sins are debatable and there is no consensus on whether the occupation of Baltic states by the Soviet Union was or wasn't harmful for these states. According to the Governments of Baltic states, the United States, the U.S. courts of law, the European Parliament, the European Court of Human Rights, and the United Nations Human Rights Council, three Baltic states were invaded, occupied and illegally incorporated into the Soviet Union under provisions of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact first by the Soviet Union, then by Nazi Germany from 1941-1944, and again by the Soviet Union from 1944-1991 [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupation_of_the_Baltic_states]]. In short that means that the occupation was found to be illegal by the whole civilized society. Just like an image of a rape, if this is illegal and unacceptable in society, it is not allowed to display symbols that are associated with it in public. A hammer and a sickle is definitely associated with the Soviet Union and thus the occupation of Baltic states.
If the opposition wants to argue that taboos should be broken and brought to public, we want to bring up a picture of a rape once again. No one thinks of breaking a taboo on rape by exposing public to images of a man raping a woman, because a rape is considered to be a violent crime. We believe that illegal occupation is also a crime, but in this case it is a crime against the whole three countries.
The opposition brought the right for self-expression in their point. Here we would like to repeat once again that even if a person wears a t-shirt with a swastika without thinking about the crimes done by Nazi Germany, but about their employment policy, he harms other people in society, because swastika is regarded as a symbol of Nazi Germany and most of people in society think of war crimes and genocide when they hear about Nazi Germany, which is unpleasant for them. It is not important what was the reason for wearing such t-shirt, but it is important how wearing such t-shirt is regarded in society.
If they talk about the real rape, than we do not allow to display its footage due to the direct tangible harms, which are as follows. First, in order to obtain such footage somebody has to be raped, which is an illegal act itself. Second, displaying this act on the video would inflict even further harms to the victim, namely, degrading the victim when she knows that somebody observes her in that awful condition.
Even more importantly, there is a clear distinction; the real image or video of the rape act might be very demoralizing and degrading even for the viewer, while a detail, related with the act carries only an indirect ambiguous meaning, That's why we generally do not allow the display of a rape act itself, but find it acceptable to publicly show the face of a rapist, a serial killer or a person who committed a genocide.
In general, when banning things we always rely on analysis of actual harms, rather than imposing restriction solely for a reason that something seems to be immoral. Actually, in real life the qualification of a certain action as "moral" or "immoral" is exactly dependent on its consequences. The government itself agreed that its burden is to prove the actual harm of Nazi and Soviet symbols in order to limit their display. However, the fact that they represent immoral ideologies does not mean they are necessarily offensive and inflict harm.
This is due to the reason that the message sent by symbols is extremely ambiguous. Somebody wearing a sign of a hammer may only long for socialist times when all were "equal", but not necessarily support sending people to concentration camps. Equally, people wearing swastika may be ultra nationalists opposing to immigration, but may not want to commit the genocide of Jews.
Furthermore, even if in some very marginal cases, for example, in a skinhead rally, people wearing those symbols may fully identify themselves with the respective awful ideologies, it is not the symbol itself that scares or offends other people, but the participants of the rally itself, their offensive talks and extremist ideologies. Banning symbols is not going to change anything. The participants of such rallies will find other means to identify themselves and communicate their ideology to the environment in no less offensive means. Thus generally, the lack of proof that there is a direct link between between the display of such symbols and direct harm to an individual (e.g. offence) is the major flaw in the government's line of argumentation.
On another important note, if we followed the government's logic that Nazi and Soviet symbols may be offensive to certain people due to the fact that they represent ideologies which in the past committed terrible massacres, then there is no reason to believe that these symbols are not offensive when being placed in history books or museums. Because even in such circumstances, the symbols still represent the same awful ideologies. However, in their model, the government exempts museums and history books, thus creating harm that they claim to be trying to prevent.
Under the government's logic we should ban anything that is reminiscent of those ideologies or regimes, thus, probably pictures of Hitler or Stalin should be the first in line. Furthermore, we should criminalize all those who at least dare to talk about all the massacres committed by these two people. In that case, we should also imprison all the extremists for a single reason that they believe in ideologies that are considered immoral. However, we do allow them to assemble, share certain ideas and it doesn't matter if those ideas are right or wrong.
Even if we conceded that such marginal cases where people may offended by those using Soviet and Nazi symbols exist, it is not a sufficient reason to trump the right of others to freely choose their beliefs, or to to associate themselves with a certain group that shares the same beliefs, thus, choosing their own identity. That is because there are certain rights of people, such as the right to self expression which takes precedence over somebody's discontent.
It is so because this freedom constitutes the very essence of what it means to be a human being. Namely, the right to express ones beliefs through any medium is fundamental for every individual to be able exercise a reasoned agency. Through communicating their ideas as well as having unrestricted access to information people form their actual identity, not being restricted in deciding who they are and how they act. Even more importantly, it allows individuals to express discontent with the status quo and change it, thus, pursuing the most satisfactory life. Particularly concerning the usage of symbols, it not only allows individuals to communicate their views, but most importantly to affiliate themselves as a members of a certain group whose beliefs correspond to their own.
How this plan will make extremist organizations weaker.
1. It was argued that these organizations could start using another symbol as a substitution for a banned swastika or a hammer and a sickle. We have already pointed out the important historical and cultural value these symbols have. A new symbol won't be as powerful as these and won't have any association with the greatest moments in the history of humanity, thus the necessity to use a new symbol will demoralize people in these organizations. If they continue to display banned symbols, they will be punished by fines or put in prisons, which will undermine these organizations.
2. It was already partially brought up that by using such symbols, these organizations could attract people that do not really share the same ideology with them, but join these organizations because of their willingness to look cool wearing a swastika or other symbolic reason they find in it. The opposition agrees that there are many people in such organizations that are barely informed about the ideology of the organization. It is clear that the more people there are in an organization, the stronger it is. If we ban these symbols, these organizations will lose one of the ways of attracting people.
1. The extremist groups will start to use other symbols. The main implication of the change is that the former symbol was not the main uniting force of the extremist group. The symbol was mainly an additional cool-looking accessory that helped people to identify as a group while their main ideology was nothing else but aggression. Since the symbol was not important, a change of it cannot demoralize them. If Nazi / Soviet ideologies would be important, the symbols wouldn't be given up that easily. That leads us to the second point.
2. The extremist group is reinforced because of the prohibition of a symbol. The symbol gains new strength, because now it is a forbidden fruit. You don't say God's name often, because then it would lose its sacredness. While it is scarce, it is valuable. The symbols would become more powerful and they would be used more sparingly, but when they will - they will spread more fear than before.
The government tries to convince us that once they impose fines and punishments, organizations will be undermined. That is a very superficial way of looking at things. If banning things generally would be easy, we would have no black market for drugs. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Punishments could potentially make the extremist groups feel important and they will be more united in the end.
Those people who join extremist organizations not because of ideological reasons but because of the need to look cool and belong to a group are not very likely to care that much about a change of a symbol. The truth is that most probably they don't care which symbol it is, they just care that there is one or that there is something that unites a group. Banning Nazi / soviet symbols cannot possibly solve this, because there will always be something that can be used as a substitution.
We proposed idea that both the freedom of speech and self-expression are not ultimate. The burden of proof is to show that by implementing this plan benefits outweigh practical harms.
We agree that freedom of speech and right for self-expression are ones of the rights each and every democracy should promote, but what the oppositions fails to understand that these rights are not unlimited. The case with the right for self defense is quite similar – the value of life is the most important right every person should have, but nevertheless we limit the right to self defense to certain extent, because we believe that these rights should be perceived as how the whole society sees them, not how every individual would like to see it in order for people not abusing these rights. That’s why when someone hits a person with a fist, the victim can’t respond the attacker with a gun under the right for self defense.
Both sides were arguing whether the society is ready to face Nazi and communist symbols and whether it would be beneficial for people who faced the actions of these regimes in real life to be exposed to them. Even if some people understand these symbols representing jobs for everyone or equality between social classes, the majority sees these symbols to be representing something unpleasant either it’s war, illegal occupation or anti Jew policy. Important is how society overall perceives these symbols, not what meaning a single individual wanted to put in it. And to clarify, both sides also agree today that symbols have a meaning, mentioned in the argument how allowance of symbols would deal with extremist groups.
The opposition tried to prove that society is ready for these symbols in real life. First, people older than 20 experienced the Soviet times in real life – time when shops were empty, people couldn’t freely cross the border and couldn’t argue against the policies of the government. Even if there were some benefits in these regimes as jobs for everyone, these ideas could be represented in other manner as it was mentioned in our rebuttal – for example, by wearing a t-shirt that says “planned economy”. We believe that these ideas should be left in the level of education and not brought up to public where it could harm people. That’s why we still allow displaying these symbols in textbooks or museums where people deliberately agree to be exposed to them. Also, there was a ridiculous idea from the opposition, which stated that in order to cure some psychological traumas, people should be exposed to unpleasant events causing these traumas again. Although there was a reference to a scientific source, we do not trust it. By following this logic, it seems that to cure the trauma from being raped, a person should be raped several times again. May be the trauma from the first single rape then will be smaller, but the trauma from being raped for several times will outweigh it.
Opposition brought up a point about international relationships and how bad it would impact the relations of Baltic states with our Big Eastern Neighbor. Both sides agree that these relations are tense and there must be some improvement or at least an incentive to do it. What the opposition fails to understand is that the model they are proposing doesn’t work. They didn’t bring any reason why Russia will dislike our plan. Then, even if it dislikes it and responds by creating an opposition to it we say that so called cooperation has never worked so far. Latvia has introduced the reformation of Russian schools, although Russia was against that, and Estonia has removed the Bronze Statue. The opposition called it to be examples of bad diplomacy, we say that these are examples when states do actions beneficial for them without the consensus from Russia. In both these cases Russia had created a severe opposition to the actions of Latvia or Estonia, but Baltic countries still implemented their plans, because they were beneficial for them. We don’t think that the world model where Russia dictates everybody what to do is the best one to live there. There are more important things than few economic benefits coming from Russia, for example the protection of our own citizens that would live in fear from being attacked on the streets by activists from extremist group or being exposed to symbols causing unpleasant feelings in their hearts.
The most sensible discussion was about extremist organizations and oppositions failed to understand how these groups work. Neo-Nazi organizations are clearly dependent on these symbols because they represent their ideas. We agree that by banning these symbols they will become a forbidden fruit, but this will give us a reason to punish these groups as there is no way how to deal with them now. We also believe that these organizations do not only physically harm people, but psychologically as well by using symbols that most of society associates with something evil. Under the status quo we can’t fight against it as long as they didn’t use the hate speech. We believe that the government has to protect its citizens even if the harms are only on psychological level, and that’s why we propose this plan. If these groups find a substitution for symbols banned, we believe that this will make them weaker. Substituting a powerful symbol with great historical meaning for a new one that nobody in society knows or has any associations with, definitely will be harmful for these organizations.
We believe that in order to protect minorities, build society as a whole, and deal with extremism in general, we have to implement this plan. That’s why we are proud to propose it today!
Society is ready to live with Nazi and Soviet symbols
However, we believe that the societies in question are ready to meet such symbols in their every day life. A great example on our side is the Grutas park [[http://www.grutoparkas.lt/index-en.htm]], where a lot of communist sculptures, and other symbolic meaning carrying things are displayed. This park is one of the best known tourism attractions in Lithuania, and is not only visited by tourists, but by Lithuanians themselves, too. People are not afraid to meet their past, and we do not see why the government should try to limit their exposure in this case.
Furthermore, we believe that the government should encourage thinking about the past, to ensure that the lessons of history are not lost after a few decades. This ensures that the society is strengthened from inside, with its past being the main connecting link.
This leads us to the conclusion that the mere use of Nazi / communist symbols does not strengthen organizations. As the societies are no longer afraid of the symbols themselves, the organizations do not cause fear, and thus do not gain additional power, as the government tries to imply. We believe that the reason why some organisations choose swastikas is because they are weak politically and this is the way how to attract attention (i.e. be exposed in media). They are not that much for the ideology itself, they just find it a good brand which they can use. Hence, it is just a means of promotion, and we find society in Baltic states apathetic to it. Getting media exposure do not lead organisations into politically stronger positions.
We certainly disagree with the last sentence of this argument, and believe that attracting media attention makes an organization politically stronger. First, media is one of the ways to advertise itself and make other people know about this organization. People that share the same ideology will become aware that such organization exists and will enter as new members, thus making the organization more powerful.
Secondly, a party that is fighting for the rights of animals have no opportunity to use such powerful symbols like swastika or hammer and sickle. Instead they could use the face of a happy dog as their logo, which definitely won't attract any attention from media and the party won't be able to promote itself by such mean. This puts two parties in unequal conditions and gives one of them a competitive advantage, which harms the competition of different political views. Finally, in the refutation of our first practical harm the opposition says that many people in these organizations have little idea of the ideology that lies behind the organization they are involved in. The reason they join them is a strong symbolic meaning in being a part of this organization which is reinforced by using such powerful symbols as swastika or hammer and sickle. This makes attracting new members for these organizations easier, since they will be able to attract not only those that share their ideology, but also those that like the cool look of swastika on their shoulder and the powerful image the organization using such symbol has.
It would cause racial dissension
Besides this, broader national relationships should be considered. The prohibition would be just another pretext for Russia to claim that Russians are being suppressed in the Baltic States, resulting in a tenser relationship between Russia and the Baltic States. Defeating Germany in World War II is one of the most important events in Russian history which the country is very proud of. Equating Nazi and soviet symbols will convey a poor message and will result in a negative response from Russia.
So, we believe that negative externalities caused by ban play a crucial role here as it implies a serious cost.
The first reason why it is beneficial is because of current relations between Russia and Baltic States. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Baltic countries were afraid to make any decision that Russia wouldn’t like. A good example is an embargo on Latvian fish products in the late 90s when Latvia didn’t choose the Russian market to export their products, but choose the European market. On other hand nowadays, when Baltic States are members of the European Union and NATO, they don’t have to fear Russia's response anymore. They have new markets for exporting their products (European Union) and have means of preventing a possible invasion (NATO). We believe that fear is not the right way for communication. Moreover, we don’t see any benefits for Russia in spoiling its relations with EU and NATO, which are already under the tension.
Secondly, we believe that there must be a discussion between countries to have good relations. Currently there is only one way relationship – what Russia says, Baltic States have to do. We do agree that Russian politicians are stubborn and feel more superior than Baltic’s because they are one of the super powers in the World. But only by discussing such controversial matters we can reach the consensus. We might argue how constructive these debates might be, but a debate is better than nothing.
Even if we have short term harms such as riots, in the long run both sides would only benefit because Baltic politicians would get guts to start a debate with Russia and Russian politicians would start considering Baltic States enough reasonable side to debate with.
The same applies for Russians that are living in Baltic’s. They might not like this plan but in the long run both sides would benefit.
Right for self-expression
If an individual wears a t-shirt with a swastika, he may not associate himself with the crimes which Germany did. Instead, he might be associating himself with the idea of love to your nation, giving public employment to all unemployed and plenty of other non-evil policies which were enhanced by Hitler. If an individual was asked why he is wearing it, he might explain that he is in favour of several ideas expressed by Nazis.
When symbol that expresses ideas is visible, it reminds those ideas. Only when ideas are heard and not suppressed, public debates can happen. And if it possible to choose ideas from more options available, it does not lead to worse outcome. People can decide what is worth attention and what is just simple propaganda. An open and free discussion is a sign of a democratic society. Such discussion will determine which of the ideas spread by Nazi/soviets were actually noble and kind, and which ones were repugnant and to be ashamed of.
When a symbol is banned, such prohibition implies that the ideas associated with it might seem taboo. Hence, society would limit itself and the best solutions would not always be reached. Nazis were proud of their nation and had a view that their culture is to be preserved and nourished. Although the means were ill, the idea might be appealing and debatable, but by banning symbols you deprive society of an open discussion - the idea that national culture should be nourished is not so accessible any more.
On the other hand some people may find times in the Soviet Union much better. They had a job, but in the free market conditions they were not able to sustain it. Even though it is debatable what is better for economy, we believe it is fair that people can use the symbol to express that in the Soviet Union they lived in better conditions and the policy when everyone had a job is better from social perspective. If they are heard (and using symbols help to do that) this may cause government to maybe rethink policies they are imposing.
Even if a person wants to wear a t-shirt with a swastika because he supports some good stuff done by Hitler, he still shouldn't be allowed to do so, because society could perceive it other way and because a swastika is a symbol that is generally not accepted by society. For example, a person might wear a t-shirt with a middle finger gesture to show that he likes middle fingers in general and thinks they are beautiful. It is reasonable to assume that other people will perceive such t-shirt offensive. Thus important is how the action is perceived by society, not the primary reason a person had for wearing such t-shirt. Since such misunderstanding is possible, society has developed some basic norms for behaving in public and this will be revealed more in my next argument.
Furthermore, a reasonable person from a Baltic state when seeing a swastika thinks about the WWII and all the evil done by Nazi Germany. When he sees a hammer and a sickle he thinks of the Soviet Union and the occupation. It is hard to find a person that would think of public employment for unemployed in Nazi Germany, since there is no link between a swastika and such policy that could be perceived by a reasonable person. These non-evil policies of HItler are more general and were implemented not only in Nazi Germany. If a person wants to promote such ideas, he could wear a t-shirt with a tag "planned economy" on it.
For the Baltic States it is strategically important to secure good relationship with Russia
We are talking here not about what Russia might like or what it might not like. We are talking here about which decisions are beneficial for states themselves. You can be arrogant as much as you want, but in the end you would still depend on natural resource (i.e. gas and oil) stream from Russia.
We believe that the aim of international relationships is not only soreness and revenges. We believe that international arena is a place where more substantial goals can be reached. And these goals can be reached via cooperation, not conflicting. We believe that upsetting a powerful neighbour, even though you have a protector, just reduces the possible numbers of options and alternatives for future decisions.
On the status quo. We are not afraid to admit that for the Baltic States it is very beneficial to trade with Russia. Proximity to Russia is a competitive advantage of the Baltic States, it is a gateway from Russia to the rest of the EU. Being an intermediary between Russia and the EU is what gives most of the benefit to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Geographical location, widespread use of Russian language, and understanding of Russian mentality is something which brings real economic value. So a wise international policy would be to use these trading opportunities, because it gives much more welfare to societies than just keeping the pride and barking at a bear.
Having shown the economic benefits, we want to also stress that implementing this plan will make Russia extremely upset for another very important reason. It is the equation of Nazis and Soviets. Russia for whatever reason shows sentiments for all the people who, in their words, liberated the world from the Nazis. They by no means find Soviet regime comparable to Nazis and would be insulted by that. Even though we might consider those crimes being of comparable magnitude, announcing it as the official position would further harm already unstable relationship between the Baltic States and Russia.
The opposition has not really established the causal link between banning Soviet and Nazi symbols and Russia getting upset. We do not really see a reason why Russia should respond with hostility to our policy proposal.
Firstly, there is no reason to believe that Russia is the direct successor of the ideology and symbols of the Soviet Union. Although the is a clear historical link between the two, these are two completely distinct entities with different values. Yes, some Russian groups regard Soviet soldiers as heroes, but that does not mean they justify such acts done by the Soviet regime as the famine in Ukrainian SSR or Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. Russians would not perceive it as an attack to their own identity.
Secondly, we believe that, even if some groups in Russia would become upset, that would not trigger any actions by the Russian government. Even if they would like to appeal to their electorate, they would not want to influence the energy supply to the Europe. Already after the Russia-Ukraine gas suspension, Russia had to face a very harsh reaction from the European Union. It is simply not in the interests of Russia to mess up the relationship with the EU, as it is currently benefiting from it economically.
Even if the Russian government would take steps as a result of the proposed plan, we still don't believe it would be a sufficient reason to allow ourselves to change our policy.
We take it as a fundamental truth that there are things that are far more important that pure economic gain. We once again have to look at the things that are on stake. We believe that the protection of the weakest in our society (ethnic groups that are currently being abused) is far more important that the possible economic harm caused by the decision of Russia to change its attitude towards the Baltic States. There is no way a small economic gain can justify a failure of state to provide for its most vulnerable citizens.
Why allowing the display of symbols enables the societies to deal with extremism better?
We say that the very central feature of democracy is that power stems from the people. In order to be able to retain this power people must be ensured free access to information and ability to make the decisions freely according to the beliefs they deem to be right.
Taking the latter observation into account, it is dangerous to give the government such a huge power to draw arbitrary distinctions in deciding which truths are so fundamentally wrong that shouldn‘t even be engaged with. Because such distinction is arbitrary, such precedent increases the risk that such ban may be use in other cases for other ideologies and symbols. In other words, dictating what the beliefs and identity people should have, the government becomes oppressive. As a result, the dictate from the government reduces people’s capacity to evaluate competing ideas as autonomous agents and thus takes away their ability to retain the actual power of governance in their own hands.
Such process is not only dangerous in itself, because it leads to totalitarianism, but also takes away the most effective tool from the society to fight extremism. Namely, we say that it is better that societies fight against extreme, unacceptable ideologies, by using harsh public scrutinty. The plan ruins the self governance mechanism. This is so, for two reasons.
First, is that there is no universal absoliute truth. A belief, no matter how unrealistic or immoral it might be, remains truth in the minds of those who bedieve in it. Thus, it is not enough to ban only the symbol, because the underlying ideology of the carrier of the symbol is not going to change. Actually, the situation gets even worse because the society is less likely to spot the people who believe in certain ideologies that are dangerous to the society. Because the symbols enhance the understanding of the evil ideas they represent, they mobilize the society to fight against these ideologies.
Second, people have to understand that certain ideologies are wrong for a reason not just because the government bans them. Thus, they are less likely to join certain ideologies as well as more eager to fight against them.
The slippery-slope idea that a ban on these symbols is likely to increase other government restrictions on the individual liberty is ludicrous. Note also that the opposition has not really provided any backing for this assertion. There is no reason to believe that, after this ban, government would move on to other policies.
The government is considering one policy in isolation and providing good reasons for implementing it. Believing opposition would be to believe that, just because most Western countries have banned cocaine, they are also moving on limit freedom of press and slowly turning into totalitarian countries. This idea simply does not make any sense.
On this idea that every truth should defend itself against other opinions. Yes, we acknowledge that this normally is the way how we can decide on a validity of a certain proposition. However, this situation is quite different.
Firstly, the idea that Nazi and Soviet regimes and their symbols have been cruel and unacceptable is not a truth that we should still establish and is open to a continuing debate. It is something that we already have established a long time ago. So there is no need the keep the debate open. These symbols are harming our minorities, let's ban them.
Secondly, the opposition has misunderstood the specific nature of these symbols. Yes, they do carry meaning. (By the way, in this argument the opposition has conceded that symbols do carry meaning, something they did not believe before.) However, this meaning is limited. The message that these symbols carry, for instance "Jews are less", does not in any way contribute to the public debate. The only effect of these symbols is the oppression on certain groups in our society, not contribution to the public discourse. In addition, note that we do not ban arguments for or against these regimes, only these symbols.
Summary of the opposition
We would like to briefly remind you the main arguments and clashes.
First, the government believes that a symbol is no different from other forms of communication. On the side of the opposition we agree that a symbol is a form of communication, but we most definitely disagree with the claim that it is no different. The first difference is that it is most definitely more abstract and can mean various things to various people. Perhaps a no-smoking sign, an example given by the government, unambiguously tells people not to smoke (but it is not necessarily so, for instance, such a sign could also be a logo of organization that is against smoking or something else depending on the context), but most of the symbols are extremely ambiguous and abstract and here we are talking about swastika that comes from ancient times and symbolizes sun, and hammer and sickle - symbols of the working people. The second difference in which a symbol is not like verbal or written communication is that it is a passive display of opinion. Whenever we talk, we put our emotions into it. When we are angry, we can yell at people which can put our words in a different context. Words "I love you" can be either loving or sarcastic, depending on the tone. If symbols could talk, they would all the time carry the same neutral voice and it would be for the ones who listen to decide on the actual meaning. Thus symbols are just passive form of affiliation. Because of the two mentioned differences, it is could be hardly claimed that a symbol is no different from other forms of communication and this is what the government failed to realize.
The first harm of the symbols brought up by the government was extremist movement encouragement. The essence of the argument was that these symbols keep the extremist groups strong. Without them, extremists would become weaker. It might be the case that there are some groups that are actually united by these symbols. There might also be cases of groups that merely use symbols but are not ideologically attached to them. The point here is, banning the symbols would at best not change anything and in the worst case scenario worsen the current situation. The groups with weak ideological attachment to symbols arguably would change their symbols to new ones and continue their aggressive acts. As the symbols were not important, it would not be a big deal to change them. The groups in which ideology plays very strong role, the prohibition of symbols will call a negative reaction and strong discontent. The groups will feel unjustly suppressed and feel a need to rebel against society that ignores them. The ban will reinforce symbols and strengthen them because of the taboo which is always created when something is banned. Also, we would like to point out that the symbols have already lost most of their power and have been commercialized to some extent. The Soviet symbols are used on T-shirts and souvenirs, people generally do not view them as offensive. Such symbols are not attractive for extremists but banning them can reverse that. So far we can see that there are absolutely no benefits to banning these symbols. But in fact, it is possible to have some benefits - if the symbols are banned and by some miracle they are not used by extremist organizations anymore. However, thinking that the extremists would give up their ideological symbols so easily is a very bold assumption which is very unlikely to be true. Hence, we rule it out and say that we are quite certain that the prohibition of symbols cannot make extremist organizations weaker.
Secondly, the government seems to believe that Nazi and Soviet symbols are just another form of hate speech. It has been noted above that symbols are too abstract and too passive to be put in one line with a phrase like “We should commit genocide of one or another nation”. Hate speech is called as it is, because when you hear it, you can feel certain emotions – in this case – hatred towards other people. Symbols themselves cannot carry emotions. Furthermore, there is no proof that the need to feel hatred towards other people would change just because of the prohibition of a certain symbol. To put shortly, symbols cannot be classified as hate speech and banning them would not change the need to hate other people.
The final argument presented by the government was that exposing certain things is still banned even if it doesn't promote committing any harmful actions. However, the opposition would like to note that there are always some criteria according to which decisions to ban or not to ban are made. The usual criterion is the third party harm. Claiming that we ban some things just for the sake of banning (because these things are somehow “immoral”) is simply wrong. We do not allow exposing rape not because it is immoral, but because the act itself is wrong and public display of it is humiliating to the victim. But we do allow the face of the rapist to be shown. Banning a symbol is comparable to banning the face of a rapist (or if the scale is too small – like banning the face of Stalin). The government tells us that it is in the interest of society to ban these symbols, because generally seeing them is unpleasant. However, their plan leaves the public exhibition of the very same symbols in museums and use for educational purposes. Why should we allow the educative use of Nazi / Soviet symbols? They will recall the same unpleasantness there as anywhere else. After all, we do not show pictures of rapes for education, do we?
The government made a case that it is legitimate to limit the freedom of speech when society is left better of as a result of that limitation. However, they failed to prove that such a ban would have some tangible benefits to the society; therefore, we see no reasons why such a ban should be implemented.
On the contrary, the opposition has outlined some strong arguments against the prohibition of display of Nazi / Soviet symbols.
Individuals have a right to self expression. It is most certainly true that it is not absolute (as was noted by the government), but we believe that there is no tangible third party harm involved in displaying Nazi / Soviet symbols due to the abstract nature of symbols that has been proved by the opposition. And because of this, a right to self expression is a principle we should adhere to. It should be realized that such right is valuable per se, because it allows the individuals to freely express themselves, which is good, because we live in a free and open society and we generally value liberty and we want to let people to do whatever they wish as long as they do not interfere with other people’s liberties.
We should also allow public display of these symbols, because we want public discourse to happen. When a symbol is free to use, he can remind the ideas behind him. These ideas are the basis for further discussion, so society can freely discuss whatever lies behind them and choose what is acceptable for them and what is not. The people themselves are capable of deciding whether it is worth to take something from these ideas or not. By depriving people of such a choice, a government gets a monopoly of truth where it decides what is right and what is wrong. This is fundamentally wrong, because there are no absolute truths in the world. The society is left worse off, because some ideas, although they might be appealing for the society, just by government’s arbitrary decision were deemed to be fundamentally wrong and not suitable for further discussion. Publicity and open discussion is how false ideologies are fought against in a free society. Prohibitions and government interference is a sign of a totalitarian government’s regime.
Finally, the opposition wants to remind you of the practical harms that would be caused by this ban. The ban would just fuel the already tense relationships between Russians and natives in the Baltic States, also the relationship between the countries. The government thinks that this move will actually encourage the Baltic-Russian debate; unfortunately we fail to see how exactly banning these symbols is debate. On the contrary, rigid stance of the Baltic States on this issue can deter Russia from having any further discussions with three Baltic countries.
Since in the debate the government has not proved that there are tangible benefits to banning the Nazi / Soviet symbols, and the harms of such prohibition were explicitly shown by the opposition, we humbly beg you to oppose.