By Kim Jong-chan
Deputy managing editor
The German law bans the use of the Hakenkreuz, the symbol used by the Nazi Party adopted by Adolf Hitler. Violators are fined or face imprisonment of up to three years.
The Nazi regime and its collaborators engineered the Holocaust decades ago that massacred 6 million Jews. Today, Europeans pursue a zero-tolerance policy on Nazi or neo-Nazi-themed activities.
In July, Evgeny Nikitin, a Russian bass-baritone opera singer, cancelled his performance as the Dutchman in the production of Wagner's opera, “The Flying Dutchman,” at the opening of the 101st Bayreuth Festival in Germany, after tattoos on his chest were shown by German media, according to news reports. He withdrew from the performance three days before the opening premiere because the chest tattoos depicted the controversial swastika symbol.
A month earlier, UEFA levied fines of 25,000 euros (about 36 million won) on the German football association for neo-Nazi activities conducted by some Germans at the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship. The Germans, carrying banners bearing neo-Nazi catchphrases, chanted “sieg,” literally meaning victory, during the Germany-Denmark match in Ukraine. Sieg comes from “sieg heil,” or hail to victory, a Nazi salute.
The two-time defending Bundesliga champion Borussia Dortmund took steps quickly late last month when another racist incident occurred. A fan held up a banner supporting a recently banned neo-Nazi group at Dortmund's opening match of the new season. The club pledged to work closely with police and use all means available to prevent a recurrence of such acts.
Recently, the German state of Thuringia filed with the U.N. culture and science body UNESCO applications calling for the granting of world heritage site status to Buchenwald, which was a Nazi concentration camp in central Germany. Hundreds of thousands of people of various nationalities were incarcerated in Buchenwald, and the number of deaths reached 56,000. The U.N. body granted world heritage site status to Auschwitz, another Nazi concentration camp in Poland, in 1979.
These moves are construed as ways of repenting for the state-sponsored atrocities the Nazi regime committed, and learning from the lesson of one of the darkest chapters of modern history of the world.
In Japan, on the other hand, a modified version of the rising sun flag, the war flag of imperial Japanese army, continues to be in use by Japan’s Self-Defense Force. The ensign of the imperial Japanese navy flutters on Japanese warships currently sailing in waters.
The flag, a symbol of Japan’s imperialism and militarism, also appears during sporting events. TV watchers saw Japanese female gymnasts wear uniforms bearing the controversial design in the London Olympic Games last month.
In an interview, Hiroko Koshiko, who created the design, described it as nothing but a work to show powerful beauty with the sun rising. Few Japanese are aware that the design causes offense to countries, such as both Koreas and China, which were victims of Japanese aggression during World War II.
The controversial design is incorporated into many commercial products, such as T-shirts, cups, children's game machines, souvenirs, ash trays and labels such as on cans of Asahi Breweries lager beer. It also appears on the flag of the Asahi Shimbun, a major newspaper in Japan.
Japan briefly discontinued the use of the rising sun flag in 1945 after the imperial army and navy were disbanded, following its defeat in World War II. But the flag was granted reinstatement in 1954.
The military flag haunts Koreans, especially now-aged “comfort women” who were coerced into sexual servitude at front-line Japanese military brothels, and those who were mobilized for forced labor during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945.