EU’s Soviet symbol trade mark ban cites Czech opinion

Citing Czech public opinion, a European court has backed a ban on registering the Soviet hammer and sickle symbol as a trade mark

Chris Johnstone | 20.09.2011
Soviet images are not banned in the Czech Republic, regardless of public opinion

The hangover of the Soviet Union in the Czech Republic and other former satellite states of Moscow is good enough reason for the hammer and sickle emblem not to be registered as a trade mark in the European Union, an EU court based in Luxembourg ruled on Tuesday.

The General Court of the European Union was reacting to an appeal from a British company Couture Tech Ltd linked to an unnamed Russian designer who sought to register the Soviet symbol as a Community trade mark. The initial application was refused by the trade mark office in 2006 with the company’s reaction an action in the General Court seeking to quash that decision.

In its judgment, the court upheld the original ruling, saying that it was sufficient for symbols to be offensive to the public  in some of the EU’s member state to be grounds for refusal.  It cited the case of Hungary legislation in particular, wherein, “the sickle, the hammer and the five-point red star are considered ‘to be symbols of despotism’ and their use is contrary to public policy.”

“There is no need to analyze other elements relating to the perception of the relevant public in Latvia and the Czech Republic,” the court added.

Most Czechs have a hostile attitude to the former Soviet Union, especially for the August 1968 crushing of local moves towards reformist Communism in the former Czechoslovakia by Moscow-led forces and the years of stultifying repression that followed.  However, the country has still itself to join the ranks of other former Soviet satellites that have banned Soviet symbols such as the red star and hammer and sickle. Moves by right-wing Czech senators to take such steps failed in 2005 and again in 2006.

No Czech ban on symbols

Some pointed out at the time that the symbolic move could be more trouble than it was worth more than 20 years after the communist regime in 1989. Some of the practical difficulties were also pointed out, such as the fact that a red star is one of the symbols of one the Prague’s top football teams, Slavia Prague, and a ban would presumably mean that the kit and marketing would have to be totally overhauled.

The center-right government is currently examining whether the largely unreformed local Czech communist party, the KSČM, can be banned although advice from the Ministry of Interior has cast doubt on whether there are ground for such a move since the party does not appear to be in conflict with the Czech constitution. 

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