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Parliament set to pass law banning red star

The Hungarian Parliament is expected to debate and pass the bill popularly known as "lex Heineken" by the end of September, after the European Commission raised no objection to the proposed ban on using totalitarian symbols such as the swastika and red star for commercial purposes, according to media reports.

After apparently putting plans on hold earlier this year to adopt the so-called "lex Heineken" bill, the issue is on the table again. Following the opinion of the European Commission at the end of June, legal impediments are lifted, Kristóf Szatmáry, commissioner in charge of commercial policies, told pro-government daily newspaper Magyar Idők.

Szatmáry added that if Parliament passes the bill, all totalitarian symbols, including the five-pointed red star and hammer and sickle associated with communism, must disappear from products on store shelves, restaurants, advertisements and services.

According to online news portal index.hu, not only Heineken beer would be banned under its present logo, with its prominent red star, but also other brands including Milky Way chocolate bars, San Pellegrino mineral water, Redstar jeans and Converse shoes. Russian airline Aeroflot may also be affected because of the use of a hammer and sickle in its logo.

The current Hungarian penal code already bans the red star, but the EC in 2005 ruled out an initiative to ban all use of communist symbols. Additionally, the Hungarian Constitutional Court ruled that the use of the red star can be punished only if it is connected with behavior that disturbs public order.

EC may want modifications

Index.hu reports that, according to its sources at the European Commission, the situation may not be quite so simple with regard to the ECʼs position. Although the EC has permitted the law to go forward for debate in Parliament, it has reportedly attached a number of comments and proposed modifications that would make the legislation conform with EU law. These, the report speculates, may extend to matters of competition law and anti-discrimination.

Although the red star has qualified as a totalitarian symbol in Hungary since 1993, this is certainly not the case in every country, index.hu emphasizes, pointing out that international courts would not necessarily take the Hungarian legislation as a basis in deciding on any dispute relating to the ban.

The regional representation of Converse shoes was cited by index.hu as saying it would await a review by the Constitutional Court before forming a strategy in response, and would wait and see how far the Hungarian government wants to proceed with the initiative before taking further steps. It stated that it does not plan to change its brand image, adding that it wished "good luck to the government in convincing an international brand that the logo it has used for 109 years is a totalitarian symbol."

For its part, Heineken Global told index.hu in the spring that the company would "protect the Heineken brand, to which the red star belongs, always, everywhere and by every means."