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Left party defends use of swastika to help election campaign

Unsuspecting onlookers called police when they saw a film crew spraying a swastika and a racist message in Berlin. But Germany's Left party has said it was justified in using the Nazi symbol.

A crowd in front of a sign that says Linke (Picture-Alliance/dpa/M. Schutt)

Germany's left-wing opposition party Die Linke (the Left party) on Friday defended their use of the Nazi swastika in an election campaign.

When filming a television commercial for their election campaign they painted a swastika and the words "foreigners out" on a Berlin florist. In the advertisement, a lady is seen wiping away the paint to symbolize the party's fight against racism.

But unsuspecting onlookers, shocked to see people painting Nazi symbols, called police.

Read more: Neo-Nazi marchers in Berlin matched by counterprotesters

The ad drew condemnation from "Vereinigung 17. Juni," an organization that commemorates the crimes of the Socialist Unity Party, the party which ruled the former East Germany and which was succeeded by Die Linke.

"This is a joke, you can not stage such a thing," Sterneberg was quoted as saying by Berliner Morgenpost.

The director of the Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial, a former Stasi prison that now commemorates its former inmates, was similarly shocked.

"It is especially bizarre for Die Linke to allow a swastika to be painted in order to counter right-wing propaganda. This is actually a case for the prosecutor," Hubertus Knabe was quoted as saying by B.Z Berlin.

Use of the swastika can be punishable by three years in jail, but the production company is unlikely to fall foul of the law.

Read more: Chinese tourists detained over Nazi salute in Berlin

Watch video 12:00

Scrubbing the right

A spokesman for Die Linke Hendrik Thalheim said the criticism was "nonsense."

"In our commercial, we are illustrating the social reality in our country and the left-wing proposals and response to such things," Thalheim told BZ.

Thalheim said the party had express permission to use such symbols and even without that there was legal precedent for such use, referring to a 2007 ruling.

The ruling found that Nazi symbols could be used if the distance to national socialism was "obvious and unambiguous."

Read more: Scrubbing away hate - one Berliner's cleaning campaign against far-right graffiti

Thalheim celebrated the fact that citizens had called the police, telling Der Tagesspiegel resistance to Nazi ideology was part of the party's purpose.

This week in Lübeck, a campaign truck belonging to Die Linke was spray-painted with a crude swastika and "AFD," referring to the populist right-wing party that has gained a large following in nearby Mecklenburg-Western Pommerania.

In the final ad, the swastika is obscured by text and is not seen. 

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