VILNIUS - While the European Union considers legislation that would ban Nazi symbols, Lithuania's Vytautas Landsbergis has proposed that the European Commission also outlaw symbols representing other totalitarian ideologies, particularly communism.
Landsbergis, along with his fellow MEP Jozsef Szajer, proposed in a letter to the justice commissioner that the public display of the communist-era hammer-and-sickle also be banned.
"If any such legislative steps are considered against the swastika used as a Nazi symbol, the communist symbols should be treated similarly," read the MEPs' letter to Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini. "It is well-known and well-documented that communist dictatorships are responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of innocent civilians 's no fewer than the Nazi regime."
Szajer also emphasized that his native Hungary, which was invaded by Warsaw Pact troops in 1956, has already adopted a provision prohibiting the use of communist symbols.
Both MEPs are members of the right-wing European People's Party 's European Democrats. "The same moral code should apply to communism, the other extremist ideology of the last century," the MEPs noted in their letter.
Discussion on banning Nazi symbols was prompted by a scandal that erupted in Great Britain when Prince Harry was photographed wearing an armband with a large swastika displayed on it. The 60-year anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz has also spurred calls for a union-wide ban of symbols signifying hatred and xenophobia.
Justice Frattini did not rule out the possibility of putting the swastika issue on the commission's political agenda. A spokesperson for the commissioner was quoted as saying "it may be worth looking at the possibility of a Europe-wide ban, to explore that possibility at least."
However, the spokesperson added that the commission had presently no stance on communist symbols: "Frattini has not said anything about any other symbols.
This month Frattini will propose to consider the move at a scheduled meeting of justice and home affairs ministers. Such a ban would require approval from all EU governments, and could face protest in some countries, where people fear it would harm freedom of expression. Baltic justice ministers will also attend the meeting.
EU officials said the obvious problem with such a law would be knowing where to draw the line and how to codify the ban. Ministers will have to consider whether the ban would cover symbols from other regimes 's such as communism.
The ban of Nazi symbols would be perplexing if applied in real life. Even in Lithuania, where the memories of communism raise painful resonance, the future of the SSRS vodka, or Stalin's World, a park in Druskininkai containing Soviet sculptures from across Lithuania and one of the country's biggest tourist attractions, would become unclear.
Still, it is equally unclear whether Europe would support banning the hammer-and-sickle, much less a condemnation of totalitarian communism, something the Baltic states have been striving to push through European Parliament, but so far without success.
In December a draft declaration on condemning the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact failed to gather the sufficient number of signatures among MEPs. Only 88 out of 732 supported the statement, which had been drafted by Landsbergis, Estonia's Toomas-Henrik Ilves, Latvia's Valdis Dombrovskis and Bronislaw Geremek from Poland. It needed 50 percent plus one vote in order to be endorsed by the European Parliament.
The declaration was adopted for universal consensus and called on "institutions of the European Union and its member states to preserve a place for those tragic facts in Europe's collective memory." It went on to say that "a permanent European bond founded on reconciliation among nations and respect for freedom can only be based on the truth of what occurred in the history of Europe in the twentieth century."