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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow Gets Tough on Nazi Symbols

Moscow's chief prosecutor, tired of being accused of letting neo-Nazis off the hook too easily, proposed a tough new city law Wednesday that would turn punishing those who wear or sell fascist or fascist-like symbols into an easy one-stop procedure.

The proposed law submitted by prosecutor Sergei Gerasimov to the Moscow City Duma would bypass reluctant judges and allow police chiefs to punish offenders directly with hefty fines.

The initiative is another step in the battle that the Moscow authorities, led by Mayor Yury Luzhkov, are waging against Russian National Unity, or RNE. The group's members, who call themselves Russian fascists, wear black uniforms with red armbands with swastika-like symbols and perform a Hitler-like salute.

Existing Moscow law prohibits the use of banners, pins, uniforms, greetings, gestures, symbols and swastikas used in Nazi Germany and in Fascist Italy. Under the law, a judge can punish offenders with a fine, community service, a short-term jail term or even expulsion from the Russian Federation.

But the law has not been effective, said Alexander Statsenko, a senior prosecutor with the Moscow prosecutor's office and the author of the proposed law.

In December, the city's Izmailovsky district court refused to review nine cases submitted by police, saying that Moscow law did not provide judges with sufficient legal basis.

The judges, according to Statsenko, said the city law was too broad and went far beyond what Russian federal laws allow in the punishment of neo-Nazis.

So, Moscow prosecutors have proposed bypassing the judges altogether and expanding the definition of Nazi symbols, at least within Moscow city limits.

"Taking into account that for their propaganda some organizations use altered, slightly adjusted and fascist-like swastikas and other attributes and symbols (such as the swastika, uniform and greeting used by the RNE), the law needs to be altered to expand the definitions," Statsenko wrote to the City Duma deputies.

If the deputies agree to amend the existing city law on responsibility for production, distribution and demonstration of Nazi symbols, the new law will allow prosecution for any symbols or attributes reminiscent of the Nazis, he said.

The law would allow the dozens of district police chiefs to make the ruling themselves. They would have the power to levy a fine as large as 8,300 rubles ($363 at Thursday's official rate) on anyone caught selling or wearing symbols resembling those of the Nazis.

"We are offering our own way of making the law work one way or another," Statsenko said Wednesday in an interview.

But as Moscow legal professionals mulled over how to shut down the RNE in the capital, the group held a meeting in Yekaterinburg on Tuesday. RNE leader Alexander Barkashov announced that he was changing the name of his political group, Movement in Support of the Army, to Movement Against the Jews.

"Why is the word anti-Semite illegal?" raged Barkashov, who has a criminal case pending against him. "Everything done for the good of the nation should be legal."