Occasional musings, Geistesblitze, photos, drawings etc. by a "resident alien", who has landed on American soil from a far-away planet called "Germany".

Monday, August 9, 2010

Word of the month: Volksverhetzung

This compound noun hitches together Volk (people--as in "the American people") and Verhetzung (stirring up of hatred, especially against other peoples or minorities; vicious demagoguery). Volksverhetzung is a crime in present-day Germany, no doubt in response to the Nazi rhetoric of the past, in which Volksverhetzung played a major part.

The law is being enforced; i.e. people have been convicted based on it. I remember a case of the recent past, when a Neo-Nazi was convicted under the law for anti-semitic remarks that were considered sufficiently close to Nazi rhetoric. However, I do not know how systematic the prosecution of this type of speech is. More in my first comment...

Note on pronunciation: Both v's are pronounced like English "f". (Remember: A Volkswagen is a Folksvagen in German!).


Ulrich said...

I'm convinced that in the US, the case I mentioned and similar ones would not succeed under the First Amendment. The Germans are aware that the law restricts free speech and accept it for historical reasons.

I am not entirely comfortable with this for very pragmatic reasons. I believe that opinions do not go away simply because you forbid voicing them in public--they will fester on and get propagated behind closed doors without being contradicted. That's my main point: An opinion that is voiced publicly can be challenged, one that is whispered in private cannot.

It is for that reason that I was opposed to the jail sentence a (British!) Holocaust denier received in Austria. All it did was silence the guy, for a while. But it did nothing to debunk his "theory"--if anything, it turned him into a martyr.

Again, I'm watching all of this from afar and would be interested in comments from people closer to the scene.

Heika said...

Another word we could really use in English, especially currently with the likes of Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh on the scene. And in theory, I am totally with you on laws against saying things that would stir up hatred and for that reason I followed closely the trial, jailing and release of that pseudo historian you mention, Irving I think his name was. If people get punished for hate mongering, the hate mongering just goes underground to fester.

But I'm also concerned that it's getting harder and harder to challenge demagoguery because people seem to know so little about either past or present that someone like Beck has an easy time persuading people to hate or fear others. So I guess I do like the idea of there being a fine if some right wing windbag gets caught stirring up the populace with flat out lies about a person or a group.

I'd make it an equal opportunity fine if I thought the left did that kind of stuff. But I don't see that being the case. I mean does Rush Limbaugh have a left wing equivalent?

In any case, great word of the month.

Ulrich said...

@Heika: Yes, Irving was the name of the guy who got jailed in Austria--I couldn't remember the name.

As to Volksverhetzung on the left: I don't see it because one of the conditions it needs to thrive is resentment that can be mobilized to stir up irrational hatreds (cf. the comments on an earlier post), and I don't see that type of resentment on the left right now.

Ulrich said...

Forgot to mention that the word really sounds ugly, which is only appropriate for its ugly referent.