Last year, the Czech publishing house specializing in military history Naše Vojsko (Our Troops in English) sparked outrage in the country when it started selling mugs featuring the faces of Hitler, alongside other Third Reich high-ranking officials (Goebbels, Göring, Heydrich) and a few of history’s most notorious dictators (Stalin, Sadam Hussein), for the modest price of 299 Kč (around 12 euros).
The long judicial battle surrounding this somewhat dubious marketing choice came to a close last week, when the Czech police deemed there was nothing illegal about it and decided that Naše Vojsko would not be prosecuted for spreading “national, racial, social or religious hatred” or publicly expressing “sympathy for fascism or any other similar movement”.
According to the Czech legal system, promoting Nazi ideology or denying the existence of the Holocaust is forbidden and punishable by law. However, the Czech investigators considered that Naše Vojsko was led purely by commercial intentions and didn’t wish to promote Nazi ideology. In other words, racism is illegal, but greediness – even if mixed with incredibly bad taste – isn’t.
Defending his company’s choice last year, Naše Vojsko’s head of marketing Stanislav Svoboda argued: “We don’t feel like we’re promoting Nazism (…). We only provide a product in high demand.” A rather simple line of defence which, however, says it all. Quoted by Radio Prague, member of the Czech Republic’s Federation of Jewish Communities Tomáš Kraus strongly came out again this initiative: “Seventy years have passed since the end of the Second World War and people don’t realize anymore what a terrible tragedy it was. There is now a fascination for evil which can sometimes take shape commercially”.
A fascination for evil indeed, facilitated by the Czech Republic’s legal system, much more flexible on such matters than in countries like Germany or France.
Quite coincidentally, the topic recently resurfaced, when a Seznam Zpravy journalist did a report on a souvenir shop in Prague also involved in such ethically dubious business. “I Love Prague”, located right next to Wenceslas Square, sells mugs with Hitler’s face on it, alongside the likes of Mussolini, Putin, Castro, Merkel, Trump… and the Godfather. Granted, hard to identify any coherent ideological statement or common thread in all that, except that of business opportunism. The shop’s owner admitted that Hitler’s mugs were an absolute best-seller. Not sure if it’s something one should laugh about or a cause for concern…
Whether the fact that such goods are available shocks you, or you believe freedom of speech and opinion trumps such ethical considerations, one nagging question remains: why in the world would someone, other than self-proclaimed neo-Nazis, buy such a mug?