According to an article on Reuters and elsewhere, a left-wing German politician filed charges with the Berlin Police against Wikipedia yesterday for promoting the use of Nazi symbols, then withdrew the charges today.
The deputy leader of the Left (Die Linke) party, Katina Schubert, objected to the use of Nazi symbols in a Wikipedia article on the Hitler Youth movement. Nazi symbols, most famously the swastika, are banned in Germany.
According to Reuters:
“Filing charges is obviously the wrong path to go down in this dispute so I am today withdrawing them after intensive discussions with Wikimedia,” Schubert said in a statement on the Left party’s web site…. She noted most of the symbols linked to the Hitler Youth had been removed from the website….Wikimedia Deutschland had rejected the accusations and said the symbols were clearly used for educational and documentational purposes.
May I repeat that “She noted most of the symbols linked to the Hitler Youth had been removed from the website,” which says to me that while this may be a case of reasonable dialogue on a charged topic, Schubert (having already filed charges) was, virtually speaking, wearing that old T-shirt with the business end of a revolver and the legend “I’m From the Government. I’m Here to Help You,” a T-shirt my old buddy Ronald Reagan had a particular fondness for.
A few interesting points crop up here: First, that Katina Schubert is referred to as both “she” and “he” in the original Reuters article. I figured this was intended to be a Chi Chi LaRue kinda thing, but utilizing Google’s translation tool to translate Schubert’s Wikipedia Deutschland article further obfuscates the issue: “During their studies they are politically motivated,” we’re told, which is doubtless very nice for them. This confusion is most likely because in German, “sie” is used both for feminine and plural pronouns (not to mention that you slap a capital on that mutha and it becomes “you” — but that’s another story).
After viewing Herr/Frau/Fräulein Schubert’s article in the correct context, I believe we’re talking about a predominantly female-gendered being here, as upheld by her website where we discover, again translating, “There is a lot to find, and although predominantly on the left.” Too true!
Language difficulties like this should be neither here nor there, except that in giving light to Google’s admirable skills at automated translation, this issue reiterates for me the central myth of the World Wide Web, of terrifying pertinence here: That it is, in fact, World Wide. The Web is only as World Wide as we are, because relying on technology to differentiate between “sie,” “sie” and “Sie” is like counting on politicians to safeguard our freedoms or history teachers to teach you history.
Which brings me to the second disturbing thing about this story: Much more important than whether Google knows German are the two issues that go to war in the West every time the broken cross shows up in the news: Neo-Naziism is a real problem in Germany, as is censorship. The dictum that Mein Kampf would be outlawed and Nazi symbols banned was made not by Germans, but by the occupying Allied forces. Today, Germans like Schubert carry the torch, and — do I even need to say it? — not without reason.
But Wikipedia’s German-language article on Naziism prominently features a swastika. Is Nazi symbolism published in an article on Neo-Naziism actually less inflammatory than that published in an article on historical Naziism? Or is Neo-Naziism just infinitely more dangerous, because it is happening now, in front of us, alongside frequent Western attempts to imply that Naziism might be some sort of flaw in the German character and an at times very real (and understandable) German desire to write it off as the drunken college years of German history? Or, in more practical terms, is it dangerous because the symbols represent both recent and potential violence against Naziism’s targets?
Since my own nation is far from innocent, I don’t pretend to speak for the Germans. But this all makes me remember another Reagan era T-shirt that bothered me at the time, because I thought it trivialized both the realities of historical Naziism and the very real neofascism that America seemed to then be flirting with. The T-shirt had “small government” advocate Ronald McReagan’s face, a swastika, and the legend “It Can’t Happen Here.”
And it can’t. Because it doesn’t have to.
Image: Neo-Nazi protesters in Munich, August 2006. The sign reads: “The 8th of May: Defeated and occupied, we do not celebrate.” The 8th of May is V-E Day — the day the Allies declared victory over Germany in 1945. Via Wikipedia.