Monday, July 19, 2010

Sticks, stones and symbols

The news in Concord when we returned from Finland was a horrible tale of older teens tattooing a younger high school student. You can read the coverage in the Concord Monitor here. As the community reeled in shock, details about the suspects emerged including the not surprising fact that one suspect has a swastika tattoo.

The swastika remains part of the lexicon of hate and I wonder if people who adorn themselves with swastikas know anything about the history of the swastika or the resonance it carries today. Maybe the proud wearers of swastikas only regret it when they are about to go to prison.

Before Hitler, the swastika was a decorative symbol with ancient roots in many cultures. It even adorns the granite of the Concord Public Library.

The swastika was the personal symbol of the Swedish pioneer pilot, Eric von Rosen. Eric von Rosen adopted the swastika because he knew of it as an old Viking symbol. Von Rosen flew bombing raids in aid of Finland during the Winter War and gave Finland its first airplane. The budding Finnish Air Force adopted the swastika in homage to von Rosen. Von Rosen was also related by marriage to Hermann Göring, but it is believed that the Nazis were using the swastika before Göring met Hitler.

The swastika was also the symbol of the Lotta Svärd, a woman's aid organization in Finland. The Lottas were outlawed under the terms of the peace treaty with the Soviets, but you can see memorials to the Lottas in Finland and recall their important role in Finnish history.

The swastika has emerged as the symbol of white supremacists in this country and has been resurrected in Europe in a confusing mishmash of history and hatred. I read on my friend, Mike Cantrell's, blog about products from Lithuania being labeled with swastikas in Russian grocery stores.

The resurgence of the swastika in Lithuania has apparently been sanctioned in part by a local court in a proceeding against protestors who were carrying swastikas. Mari researched this and concluded that the swastika stickers are being applied in Russia apparently in an attempt to facilitate a boycott of Lithuanian food due to the court ruling.

The Lithuanian apologists for the swastika claim that it is a part of Lithuanian heritage and nothing to do with Nazism. This specious claim reminds me of the apologists for slavery who claimed that the Confederate battle flag on the Georgia flag had absolutely nothing to do with the Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education. At least the Georgia flag has finally shed the symbol of apartheid that flies still over South Carolina. (The image above is from the Onion during the time Georgia was arguing about the flag).

It is sad to see that neo-Nazi hatred has a foothold in the Balkans. You can read Sofi Oksanen's take on the Balkans here (in Finnish!). The harsh histories of Estonia, Lithuania and Lativia during and after WWII should have shaped more tolerant societies, but one of the after-effects of socialism appears to be homophobia. Neo-Nazis recently protested the first Balkan pride parade in Lithuania using the same imagery that the Westboro Baptist Church brought to the UNH ice hockey arena when Bishop Robinson was installed. The picture of the black booted thugs was taken at the Pride Parade in Lithuania.

When you see the imagery of hatred recycled around the globe you realize why some symbols have been outlawed as has happened with the swastika in Germany. This will never happen in the United States due to our First Amendment protection of free speech, but Loudon, New Hampshire could balance their budget with ease if a fine was imposed for every Confederate battle flag flying at a NASCAR race. Think about it!

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