The Holocaust Historiography Project

Switzerland’s Anti-Racism Law

Mark Weber

For many years Swiss law has prohibited discrimination on the basis of race or national origin, similar to provisions of the 1964 and 1968 federal “civil rights” laws in the United States. But Switzerland’s new “anti-racism” law, which is a revision of Article (Section) 261 of the criminal code (Strafgesetzbuch), goes far beyond this. It also criminalizes dissident or revisionist scholarship on the fate of Europe’s Jews during the Second World War — that is, it bans Holocaust revisionism.

With the backing of the country’s leading political parties, the new law was approved by the lower house of the Swiss parliament in December 1992, and by the upper house in March 1993. In a nationwide referendum on September 25, 1994, it was narrowly ratified by 54.6 percent of those who voted. Half of the country’s cantons rejected it.

In effect since January 1, 1995, Switzerland’s new Anti-Racism Law reads as follows:

Whoever publicly incites hatred or discrimination against a person or a group of persons on the basis of their race, ethnicity or religion,

or whoever publicly promotes an ideology that systematically disparages or slanders members of a race, ethnic group or religion,

or whoever organizes, supports or participates in a propaganda action with this same goal,

or whoever publicly through word, writing, illustration, gesture, act of violence, or in any other way disparages or discriminates against a person or a group of persons on the basis of their race, ethnicity or religion, in a way that offends their human dignity or, for any one of these reasons, denies, flagrantly whitewashes [gröblich verharmlost] or seeks to justify, genocide or other crimes against humanity,

or whoever withholds, on the basis of race, ethnicity or religion, a service or product from a person or a group of persons that is offered to the public at large,

will be punished by [up to three years] imprisonment or a fine.

This law’s imprecise or ambiguous wording opens the door to selective, and hence unjust, enforcement. For example, just who or what qualifies as a “racial, ethnic or religious” group? Do the Swiss qualify? Apparently not. In that case, is it therefore legal in Switzerland to disparage or slander the Swiss, but not the Jews?

What constitutes a “crime against humanity"? Does Israel’s repressive treatment of Palestinian Christians and Muslims count? And if so, does the new Anti-Racism Law criminalize writings by Jewish or Zionist historians that “seek to justify” Israel’s repression of Palestinians?

What, precisely, is “genocide"? Is it “genocide” if two percent of a group is killed, or must it be 20 or 50 or 70 percent? And apart from the wartime treatment of Europe’s Jews, just what historical cruelties qualify as “genocidal"? How about the extermination of various native Palestinian peoples by the ancient Israelites, as related in the Bible (see, for example Deuteronomy 20:16-17 and Joshua 10:26-40)? Or how about the dispossession and slaughter of native Indians of North America?

What precisely is “flagrant whitewashing” (or “gross trivializing") of the Holocaust story? If one estimates the number of Jewish Holocaust victims at four million, is that “whitewashing” or “trivializing"? How about one million? Is it “whitewashing” or “trivializing” to contend that German wartime gas chambers were not as important as historians have been claiming? For example, is Harvard historian Daniel Goldhagen guilty of “whitewashing” for having written in Hitler’s Willing Executioners (p. 523) that “gassing was really epiphenomenal to the Germans' slaughter of Jews.”

A particularly ominous feature of the new Anti-Racism Law, as even Switzerland’s respected weekly Weltwoche acknowledges (July 23), is that under its provisions a witness who testifies in court on behalf of a “Holocaust denier,” or an attorney who represents one during a trial, risks indictment, fines and imprisonment for “publicly” expressing revisionist views.

As Jürgen Graf has aptly observed, the threat and intimidation inherent in Switzerland’s Anti-Racism Law smacks of the unjust “justice” of Stalinist Russia.

Bibliographic information
Author: Weber, Mark
Title: Switzerland’s Anti-Racism Law
Source: The Journal for Historical Review
Date: July/August 1998
Issue: Volume 17 number 4
Location: Page 13
ISSN: 0195-6752
Attribution: “Reprinted from The Journal of Historical Review, PO Box 2739, Newport Beach, CA 92659, USA.”
Please send a copy of all reprints to the Editor.