Memory Wars of Commercial Worth – The Legal Status of the Red Star in Hungary

In March 2017, the Hungarian government introduced a proposition to expand the prohibition on the public display of totalitarian symbols. The public use of five symbols – the swastika, the SS runes, the Arrow Cross, the hammer and the sickle and the five-pointed red star – has been illegal in Hungary since 1993, with the exception of displays for artistic, scientific or educational reasons. The current proposal adds the prohibition on using these symbols for ‘commercial gain’. The proposal is supposed to aim at preventing the normalization of these symbols, as citizens may see them daily on commercial brands, and thus guarding Hungary’s ‘public order and public morals’. Even though no business presents swastikas or other Nazi symbols on their logos, quite a few of them feature the red star, including companies such as Heineken, Converse, Milky Way and San Pellegrino.

Memory Laws for Commercial Wars?

This proposition is significant as it shows the extent to which the Hungarian state is willing to interfere in transnational business affairs in defense of national historical memory. The proposition presents serious complications to one of the fundamental freedoms of the European single market – the free movement of goods. Although the provision is not in force yet, if it ever makes it through parliament, its implementation will be problematic at best. Not only would several successful brands find it difficult to sell their products in Hungarian stores but what happens, for example, when the average Hungarian citizen watches a UEFA Champions League game on television? They will immediately be confronted with Heineken’s red star as the Dutch brewer is one of the main sponsors of the League ...

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