Nazi symbol bans could expand to other hate movements

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Victoria’s ban on Nazi symbols could be expanded to include other fascist symbols as the state government condemned displays of “hateful ideology” revealed in Australia’s large Croatian community.

The comments were in response to an investigation by this masthead that uncovered how major sporting and cultural clubs in the nation’s Croatian community openly celebrate fascist anniversaries and display emblems of the murderous Ustasha regime of 1941-45.

At least 500,000 Serbs, Jews and Romani people were murdered by Croatia’s Ustasha regime.Credit: The Age

That included six men at the Melbourne Knights soccer club on April 10 this year – the anniversary of the creation of the Nazi-backed puppet state – doing fascist salutes as they sang a song extolling the Ustasha. The president of the Knights, Pave Jusup, is pictured in front of an Ustasha flag on two of his social media accounts. The Knights and Jusup have not responded to requests for comment.

State governments have in recent times introduced laws to ban the use of Nazi symbols, and the federal government will soon introduce similar legislation.

In New South Wales the laws are broadest, allowing discretion to the courts to define what a Nazi symbol is. Laws in Victoria – and ones expected to be introduced to federal parliament on Thursday – are narrower, proscribing a limited number of Nazi symbols.

Victoria also plans to ban the fascist salute and is currently seeking feedback on that proposal. Representatives of the Jewish community, in particular, want the Victorian and federal laws to go further.

A Victoria government spokesperson said in response to The Age investigation that Victorians had “zero tolerance of glorifying hateful ideology”.

“That’s why we’re expanding our nation-leading legislation banning the Nazi Hakenkreuz [swastika] to include the Nazi salute – because everyone deserves to feel safe, welcome and included in Victoria.”

“The government will continue to monitor the use of hate symbols and may consider broadening the legislation in the future. Any amendments would be subject to consultation to balance the right to legitimate cultural displays of symbols.”

Shadow Attorney-General Michael O’Brien said the investigations “clearly show there is more work to be done to promote cross-cultural understanding and education about historical atrocities”.

Flags bearing the distinctive U of the Ustasha outside Croatian Club Bosna in western Sydney.

“We urge the Andrews government to do more in this regard, while ensuring that proposed laws dealing with the promotion of Nazi symbols are carefully drafted and fit for purpose.”

So open is the celebration of fascism in parts of the Australian Croatian community that the Croatian Club Bosna in the west of Sydney flies the Ustasha flag above its building and celebrates fascist anniversaries, selling Ustasha merchandise at its events.

A Sydney-based website has been selling Ustasha-themed keyrings, T-shirts, beanies, stickers and prints of wartime Croatian dictator Ante Pavelic, a close ally of Adolf Hitler, while a separate Melbourne-based website sells Ustasha flags.

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry has argued for more flexible bans that can “accommodate the constant evolution of new hate symbols by neo-Nazi groups, as well as the symbols of political movements, such as the Ustasha movement, that were historically allied to the Nazi regime in Germany”.

Co-chief executive Peter Wertheim welcomed last week’s announcement by the federal government to ban the display and sale of Nazi swastika and insignia relating to the Schutzstaffel (SS). “We appreciate the government moving on this issue, and heeding the voice of our community,” he said.

Wertheim said he expressed concern directly to federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus that the ban will only be limited to the two Nazi symbols.

“Our concern is that neo-Nazi groups will circumvent the legislation simply by using the totenkopf (death’s head), sonnenrad (sun wheel) and other well-known Nazi symbols,” he said.

“We have urged the government to review the legislation periodically so that if our concerns are borne out, the prohibitions may in due course be extended to the display of other Nazi symbols.”

Dreyfus said last week the government was open to expanding the bans beyond the two symbols. “If we need to do more, we will.”

Shadow Attorney-General Michaelia Cash said she welcomed the federal government’s decision but said it could have gone further.

“It is disappointing that the government did not adopt a more flexible approach, and particularly disappointing that it has chosen not to ban the Nazi salute,” Cash said.

“We now have a situation where the type of shameful display that we saw on the steps of the Victorian Parliament would be permitted under Labor’s bill.”

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