Crime to Speak in Favor of One Side in a War — in Which Your Country Isn’t Even Fighting?

NPR (Rachel Treisman) reports:

Two German states banned public display of the letter Z, which is now synonymous with Russia’s support for war in Ukraine.

Authorities in Bavaria and Lower Saxony said over the weekend that anyone who displays the symbol at public demonstrations or paints it on cars or buildings could face a fine or up to three years in jail, the English-language site The Local reports. And an Interior Ministry spokesperson told reporters on Monday that people throughout Germany who display the letter to endorse Russia’s aggression could be liable to prosecution.

“The Russian war of aggression on the Ukraine is a criminal act, and whoever publicly approves of this war of aggression can also make himself liable to prosecution,” the spokesperson said at a news conference, according to Reuters….

Chapter 140 of Germany’s criminal code recognizes “incitement to crime of aggression” as an offense, according to Ukrainian state news agency Ukrinform….

Bavarian Justice Minister Georg Eisenreich announced the decision. He stated that freedom of thought ends where criminal law starts.

Ukrinform reports that the Bavarian Public Prosecutor’s Office has taken consistent actions against individuals who support wars of aggression that are in violation international law. Russian President [Vladimir]Putin is waging a criminal war against aggression, inflicting great suffering upon the Ukrainian people. Therefore the Bavarian legal system is closely watching.

It is hard to believe that a democratic democracy which must decide by democratic means whether to intervene in the Russia-Ukraine conflict can criminalize support of one side or another. Russia’s actions I believe are not justified. There is no doubt that many Germans agree with me, or even the majority. It seems that Russia-supporting people should also have the right to their opinions.

In fact, people should have the right to support a country’s enemies during wartime. One argument to stop a war is the assertion that the enemy and the government are right, but we’re wrong.

This is not the case. Schenck v. U.S. (1919), that the American First Amendment law was likely to have been rejected. Germany isn’t at war. Its soldiers have not been fighting. In a democratic democracy, the question of Germany’s position (presently, via nonmilitary action such as sanctions), must be understood and open for discussion.

The argument that Nazi propaganda can be appropriately restricted, or, as the case may be, Communist advocacy, can be correctly restricted, is something I can appreciate. It is a risky argument that restricting speech could lead to the suppression of others. This is why I disagree with it. But in any event, it looks like—assuming the NPR coverage is correct—this very risk may have materialized here.