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6 November 2014updated 17 Nov 2014 5:51pm

Strange geometry: is it ever possible to rehabilitate the Swastika?

A community of tattoo artists in Copenhagen vehemently reject the swastika’s associations with all things menacing and want to “reclaim the symbol” as a deeply ancient emblem of well-being and peace. 

By Antonia Quirke

Reclaiming the Swastika
Radio 4

Those of us who missed its launch last year might be surprised to learn that 13 November is “Learn to Love the Swastika Day”. As this documentary revealed (24 October, 11am), it seems that there is a community of tattoo artists in Copenhagen who vehemently reject the swastika’s associations with all things menacing and want to “reclaim the symbol” as a deeply ancient emblem of well-being and peace.

A “universal sign based on shapes of nature, with limb-like arms denoting eternal love to everyone”, the earliest known swastika is 15,000 years old and was apparently unearthed in the Ukraine, carved on to mammoth bone. But it can also be seen on terracotta figurines from Troy, on a 12th-century collar fashioned for a Slav princess and all over Russia and eastern Europe – as well as, of course, India. “Symbolising pure geometry and set at an angle which suggests continual motion”, there was a tremendous fad for it a century ago. Rudyard Kipling put it on his book covers, the RAF on the side of planes and Coca-Cola on merchandise; the Boy Scouts handed out swastika pins to those “worthy of praise”.

Then came Hitler.

“It is related to a very negative time in ­history,” one ink-wielder begrudgingly accepted, “but we need to take it back and show the world it is beautiful.”

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Do we? And can’t you just see David Beckham falling for all of this? A chain of swastikas up his neck, next to some Sanskrit about Victoria’s unmentionables? “We are spreading love,” he claimed (the tattoo artist, not Beckham), “and you can’t take away such a powerful symbol.” I rather think we can. Are our design cupboards so pitifully bare?

The swastika is the incarnation of the full-blown insanity of the Third Reich, which had entire demented departments devoted to trying to prove everything from the movement’s links to primordial superhuman motifs and sects to the existence of Atlantis. The swastika is done! Absolutely anybody wanting to involve themselves in trying to rehabilitate it is, at best, a foolish fellow traveller or, at worst, a stupid and wicked person. Not even a time-of-day-level conversation is required, let alone a nose-stroking Radio 4 doc. 

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