Austria will no longer allow drivers to commission vanity license plates with Nazi codes, in an effort to combat the rise of far right-wing groups, the Local reported Thursday. Symbols and phrases that were banned included SS (Schutzstaffel), NSDAP (Nazi Party), and HJ (Hitler Jugend), as well as 88 (Heil Hitler), 1919 (an SS code), and 74 (a number representing the pan-Germanic state).
The new regulation comes at a time when people around the world were debating the cultural and historic value of symbols that some consider outmoded and often racist, such as the Confederate flag in the United States. The law will only include new vanity plates, so residents who already have one of these license plates will be able to keep it until the plates expire. The announcement came after the government ordered SS symbols removed from the graves of two officers in a Linz cemetery on July 16.
In July 2014, Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of the far-right Austria Freedom Party, called for immigrants who refused to learn German to be deported and advocated for the number of foreign students in a classroom to be limited to no more than 30 percent. The traditionally Euroskeptic Austria Freedom Party has been on the rise for several years and often employs anti-immigrant rhetoric reminiscent of the Nazi era. In particular, the call to expel immigrants and limit their numbers in academic settings are both measures that Austrian-born Adolf Hitler quickly imposed on the Jewish population when he took power.
— Haaretz.com (@haaretzcom) February 17, 2015
The Austrian government has been developing its amendment to the Motor Vehicle Act for several months. In a February article published in Haaretz, transport ministry spokesperson Andrea Heigl said: “The far-right scene keeps developing new codes. The legislative branch must watch out for these trends."