73

I've just earned the "Warm Welcome hat" and the red star on it looks like a communist symbol. I associate this symbol on this particular hat closely with many atrocities against my country: Poland, as well as Czechia, Hungary, Slovakia, Ukraine and many others from inside the Iron Curtain.

Warm Welcome hat

I hope I don't get banned by this. It's just… I was really shocked to see it this morning.


Disclaimer: text below was added by a moderator, not me

Can Stack Exchange be more mindful of the symbols used when it's just about fun?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. I'd also add - there's been a few particularly ugly answers. I do realise that some folks may disagree with this decision and may have strong views on this either way. Lets keep things constructive and civil please! – Journeyman Geek Dec 21 '19 at 6:40

11 Answers 11

96

Thanks for bringing this to our attention! I was (mainly) responsible for picking hats this year.

When this hat was first introduced in 2014, there was a comment on the Secret Hats post from that year mentioning this concern but it doesn't seem that any action was taken to correct it. When I looked into the past for hats to use, the trigger for this caught my attention but I did not notice the symbol/nor recognized it. Apparently, in 2014 several hats were designed after real hats and this was one of them.

This is my fault and I apologize for causing hurt. To mitigate this, our wonderful designer, Kalina, has updated the hat to bear an icon that reflects the feeling of welcome it's intended to convey - a heart. This is live now:

New Warm Welcome hat - an ushanka hat with a red heart in a circle on the front.

I hope you all enjoy this new version of the hat and can continue to have fun with the Winter Bash festivities this year!

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  • 29
    Cesar, perfect timely resolution! Thanks for your quick response. I would also say, that the fact that some people were offended does not imply that anybody or SE did something wrong. Handling a highly international community is hard and...controversial. Thanks again for being here on Meta with us and to Kalina for the design! – Anton Menshov Dec 17 '19 at 23:02
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    Why are we being forced to update to the new hat style? We should have the option to keep the old hat that we earned, if that's the design we like. – SurpriseDog Dec 17 '19 at 23:26
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    @SurpriseDog: "Our joys are at odds" has become my phrase of the season. – Jon Ericson Dec 17 '19 at 23:32
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    This was a good resolution to this situation. I'm quite thrilled that it turned out like this. Cheers! – Makoto Dec 17 '19 at 23:48
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    Fantastic! Thank you for the quick fix! <3 – Lightness Races in Orbit Dec 18 '19 at 0:45
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    @SurpriseDog Not really a hardship, surely, in the grand scheme of things. I will assume good faith but it's possible (actually trivial, even, if you put just a moment's thought into it) to have joys that are not at odds at all, which is exactly what Cesar has accomplished here, in less than a day. – Lightness Races in Orbit Dec 18 '19 at 0:47
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    Thanks Cesar and Kalina – Philipp Dec 18 '19 at 6:31
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    @SurpriseDog xkcd.com/1172 – Rand al'Thor Dec 18 '19 at 7:14
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    @faintsignal Changing the design of an item in a temporary event to mitigate/avoid a negative experience for some users isn't a broad political statement on behalf of the company, if that's what you're asking. – Adam Lear Dec 18 '19 at 7:30
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    It's been a while I saw an example of SE staff taking meta feedback into account. I don't care at all about hats but it's a good sign to see that meta isn't completely ignored. – Eric Duminil Dec 18 '19 at 8:30
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    Love the update, but when I put it on (wasn't wearing any until now), it's still showing the old design in chat. Any chance this can be fixed too? – Tinkeringbell Dec 18 '19 at 8:39
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    @Tinkeringbell The hat on the chat is updated now :D – doppelgreener Dec 18 '19 at 14:45
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    Oh man I liked the old one :( – Renan Dec 18 '19 at 17:30
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    As mentioned above, it's good to see that SE staff is taking meta feedback into account. Now, all is left is to actually take important requests into account ;) Keep up the good work. – Eric Duminil Dec 19 '19 at 9:17
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    Much more indicative of a warm welcome, and far more welcoming than the previous symbolism. Taking responsibility and action in a single stroke without a boiler plate response. I hope to see SE continue this path. Thank you for the update. – RageFoxx Dec 19 '19 at 16:11
47

I think: you make a good point. Sure, you are upset, and thus your question comes over loaded.

But that is the thing: even simple "icons" (symbols!) can have dramatic effects on certain people. And probably: when you suffered under a dictatorship, then you react pretty much allergic when symbols of that dictatorship are used like this. I kept such a Sowjet army fur cap as tourist souvenir on a cupboard for many years, so when I saw that winter bash hat, I was like "whatever". But I for sure can see that this causes real emotional distress for others!

And for the people who go "it is just hat", maybe: would you say the same if the "hat" was maybe a red "Make America Great Again" cap? Oh, right, that is something that much more people can relate to (in positive, or negative ways). So we would probably agree that we don't want a red MAGA cap hat.

To be precise: most US citizens who don't understand how that fur cap can cause distress, the same people will immediately understand the potential issues from using that MAGA cap. Because that is something very close to them.

So, seriously: maybe there are really other, better hats to pick for welcoming, then one that causes some members of our global community go "are you crazy sending me this communist s..t?"

Finally: avoid interpreting such events as "evil malice". The point of symbols is that they can have (very) different meaning, depending on the context of looking at it. For most US folks, that Sowjet fur cap is just that, a somewhat "funny" relict of past times.

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    I don't interpret this as "evil malice". I was just disappointed. However, like you said, maybe a Soviet fat can be funny thousands of miles away, it's not here, were we suffered from the people wearing it. – emix Dec 17 '19 at 9:05
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    @emix Sure. This was more meant as note to future readers. Operating in a global community can be a complicated thing, and I just want to express that we should avoid going down the wrong rabbit hole of staying furious/upset. Address issues, hopefully get them fixed, move on. – GhostCat salutes Monica C. Dec 17 '19 at 9:10
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    Agreed. Thank you again for your kind words. – emix Dec 17 '19 at 9:19
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    I too dislike red MAGA caps; but perhaps an SS cap would be a better example to get the point across. – tripleee Dec 17 '19 at 9:23
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    The MAGA cap is not the symbol of a genocidal movement. – Luis Rico Dec 17 '19 at 9:42
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    @tripleee That example was about two things A) easy to recognize and B) a lot of emotional package coming with it. And that red cap comes with both these attributes. – GhostCat salutes Monica C. Dec 17 '19 at 9:46
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    Would you be making the same points if it was a swastika instead of a red star? – MechMK1 Dec 17 '19 at 10:00
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    @MechMK1 The point is: the number of people who look at a symbol and find it "offensive" in some way. All I am saying with my last paragraph is: in the cultural context of the US, that fur cap is probably something that most people don't have an issue with. But that doesn't mean such a cap should be used for winter bash. The swastika is simply something that more people consider "plain evil". Does that answer your question? – GhostCat salutes Monica C. Dec 17 '19 at 10:11
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    @GhostCatsaysReinstateMonica The point is, this isn't the US. This is the internet, and as such has a worldwide audience. I thought this push for inclusion was precisely for such situations, where the needs of minorities would be considered, especially if they were "invisible" before. I'm very disappointed by this decision. – MechMK1 Dec 17 '19 at 10:15
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    @MechMK1 Sorry, I don't get you. They picked an inappropriate symbol, they should go forward and retire it. They probably picked it because they weren't aware of the related issues. That can happen. The thing is to then react quickly and fix the problem. The internet is too big to anticipate everything in advance. – GhostCat salutes Monica C. Dec 17 '19 at 10:21
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    @GhostCatsaysReinstateMonica I agree with that, 100%. My point was that the reason this happened at all is the Americentrism that's all too prevalent. – MechMK1 Dec 17 '19 at 10:33
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    @SuvitrufsaysReinstateMonica The hurt that has been caused by the regime represented by this hat is not too old to be forgotten. Hopefully, your relatives wasnt dragged out at 2am from their homes by soviet soldiers, wearing a similar hat, to be sent to a prison camp in Syberia because a high profile communist party member wanted their flat.....So you are not able to understand why such a symbolic hat can be offensive. You don't have to understand it actually, but a global site which is paying attention to its users should....and thankfully, it did. – Z3d4s Dec 17 '19 at 17:16
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    I myself had members of my family imprisoned for trying to bring our country to free. It’s been 30 years already, but expect such emotions here in Poland, but as well in Czech, Slovakia, Ukraine, Hungary and more I can tell. It’s just how it is. In overall I’m really happy with SE’s swift response to this. We have to remember our past so we won’t make same mistakes again. – emix Dec 17 '19 at 17:48
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    "For most US folks, that Sowjet fur cap is just that, a somewhat "funny" relict of past times." –– Stack Exchange (the sites) explicitly invite users from all over the world (that's why there are non-English sites, for example) and Stack Exchange (the company) cater to international businesses (that's why their business pages are available in languages mostly spoken outside of the United States), and disregarding national traumata such as Soviet rule over Eastern Europe is insensitive. In the welcoming culture that SE claim to aim for such tactlessness is out of place. – I am not the way you speak Dec 17 '19 at 19:08
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    @Iamnotthewayyouspeak Yes sure. But we learned repeatedly over the last months that the wish of SE Inc. to service a global community of users ... occasionally suffers from the fact that SE Inc. is in fact a very typical US centric company. So this doesnt come as surprise. – GhostCat salutes Monica C. Dec 17 '19 at 19:12
44

I actually share the frustration with this hat.

This was the first hat I earned this Winter Bash, and before knowing it, I saw my avatar in this hat with a red star right in the middle. I almost hit "I hate hats" button, as I vividly felt "involuntarily joining the glorious Soviet army marching Europe" – not the best feeling, to say the least.

While the red star itself is not an offensive symbol necessarily, its usage on a traditional "Russian-ushanka" hat certainly is for a lot of people, not excluding many Russians.

Moreover, some would be offended by it obviously being a militarized symbol (or, at least, strongly associated with military and war), and I find it confusing, why that was chosen for a hat, especially the one that is supposed to picture "Warm Welcome".


I would strongly call for and support retiring this hat. Hopefully, this year. At least, for the next Winter Bash.

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    Don't understand why people are refusing to understand that things are moving and everything becomes different from day to day. Imagine the world in 1000 years later from now, we'll not be able to talk or to write to each other, because every possible symbol or their combinations will be prohibited and you'll be punished for using them. I'd not like to live in a world like that. Now stars are prohibited, then something else, then we were discussing renaming "Pidora" to something else just because in some language this means something. That's weird and you'll never be able to satisfy everyone. – Victor Polevoy Dec 28 '19 at 13:00
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    @VictorPolevoy, regardless of my attitude towards your point, I do not believe Soviet occupation and Warsaw pact happened that long ago for it to apply. I was born in the Soviet Union and before revolutions of 1989, and consider myself to be still young. – Anton Menshov Dec 28 '19 at 17:21
  • In my opinion, we shouldn't give any meaning to things. Things are things, stars are stars, hats are hats. I see this hat as a hat with a star, that doesn't concern me, why should I be offended by having this hat removed? What if I liked it? Or does it make me bad then? That's just stupid and people should not follow their instincts or memories and they should be able to distinguish things from meaning, reality from their memories. If a dog had bitten me before, I will not understand all dogs like the ones who want to bite me. This is both, logically and sequentially stupid.Meaningissubjective – Victor Polevoy Dec 29 '19 at 12:39
  • It is up to people intelligence to be able to remove all marks from things and make things be just things without meaning anything. Meaning is something which people put into things artificially and everyone should understand that. The thing itself does not harm nor produces any offence. In 2019 I expected people are intelligent enough to do that, however, that doesn't seem to be so, unfortunately. – Victor Polevoy Dec 29 '19 at 12:48
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    @VictorPolevoy, first, I don't appreciate naming my opinion or behaviour stupid. Second, I have no idea what you are trying to achieve talking this way. Third, I really advice you to try listening to the other point of view – it will help you uncover several layers of the problem, as well as to balance your opinion. As right now you sound like "I am right. If you don't agree with me – you are unintelligent, wrong, and, probably, stupid" – Anton Menshov Dec 29 '19 at 12:49
  • Firstly, I did not say that your opinion was stupid. If I wanted to, I'd say that to you directly. At second, what I want to achieve is people using their mind. I don't say it to you, I say it to the humankind in 2019. At third, what's the other point of view? Someone got killed, some countries were in occupation, someone suffered. Let's now blame everything else as well: guns, people faces, hands which were using guns, let's forbid everything. What if someone thinks as a simple coat as an offensive symbol of that time, shall we forbid everyone from wearing coats? Do you think this soundright? – Victor Polevoy Dec 29 '19 at 12:57
  • @VictorPolevoy I choose to disengage from this conversation for the aforementioned and some notaforementioned reasons. – Anton Menshov Dec 29 '19 at 12:58
  • Again, I did not want to offend you. I am sorry if you've taken it that way. I just wanted to understand the reasons behind your thinking like this. Thank you and have a nice day. – Victor Polevoy Dec 29 '19 at 12:59
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Stack Exchange is not trying to promote communism. As you can see in the Wikipedia article you linked to, the red star is used (more often than not) to symbolize other things than communism. Heineken isn't promoting communism in Poland either.

Should we expect hats with Swastika next?

No. Unlike the red star, that symbol is (in black on white, when positioned 'diagonally') exclusively used to refer to the Nazi period. It's safe to say that will never happen.


I do understand why you have negative associations with this hat. The good news is that it's possible to enjoy Winter Bash without being confronted with this particular hat. If you have a customizable ad blocker like uBlock, you can add rules to filter them out:

##div[data-hatid="87464937"]
##div.wb-hatimg-87464937

Those result in no more Warm Welcome:

enter image description here

(Similar results could be obtained with a custom stylesheet or userscript.)

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11

Is this...an overreaction...?

I can't speak as if I'm a native there, but everyone interprets the laws of their country slightly differently. There's also the debate of the letter of the law versus the spirit of the law, and thus, I feel like situations like this need to be taken in context.

Wikipedia's interpretation of the law (which is not the actual law because I can't read Polish) suggests that the law which banned Communist/totalitarian symbols was actually struck down due to being unconstitutional.

In 2009, in Poland[9] § 2 to 4 were added to Article 256, which ban "fascist, communist or other totalitarian symbols" unless used "as part of artistic, educational, collecting or academic activity." On July 19, 2011, the Constitutional Tribunal of Poland found this ban unconstitutional due to the violation of freedom of expression.[27] In June 2017, Poland updated its "decommunization" legislation to include Soviet propaganda monuments, prompting negative reactions from the Russian government.[28]

So...your argument isn't really based in law in that this is not allowed in Poland unless you can cite another reference to demonstrate that it is...and if that's the case, I'm perfectly happy to eat crow.

I do see that your argument against the hat is an emotionally charged one, which is a perfectly fine one to have - heck, my group of friends and I get triggered any time we see someone in a red hat. That's going to take eons to get over, honestly.

But I want to draw a line - not liking a symbol is not the same as the symbol being actually illegal to use in Poland. Then again, you're really not under any obligation to wear the hat, either...

But I also want to call attention to this because what seems to be the official word on this is that this hat won't ever appear again. Emotional feedback is easily actioned upon, whereas thoughtful and rational discussion seems to happen after the fact. That is disappointing. I find that unacceptable.

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10

The red star "might" look like a communist symbol - but not necessary is.

Instead of the red star, I would like watch the "Stack Exchange" icon on it - that will look cool, IMHO.

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9

Do we have suggestions for alternative "Warm Welcome" hats? Since it says "Warm" I think a knit ribbed cap (tuque is apparently the official term in the Wikipedia list) -- or perhaps something like a Chullo? The ear-flaps might suggest the "extra warmth" that I think the Russian hat concept was going for?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hat for more suggestions.

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    A Chullo would have also fitted better with the knitting theme. Just sayin'. – MechMK1 Dec 17 '19 at 14:37
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    @MechMK1 Perhaps one in a nice StackOverflow orange? A man walks down the street in that hat, people know he's not afraid of anything. – anaximander Dec 17 '19 at 15:04
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    I think the simplest course of action would be to keep the ushanka and just remove the star from it. Maybe dye it a brighter colour as well - I nominate cyan. – F1Krazy Dec 17 '19 at 16:42
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I've just earned the "Warm Welcome hat" and the red star on it looks like a communist symbol

Yes, it does. That was the whole point of it.

It's a joke. The joke is that "communism" and "warm welcomes" are not 2 things you would normally associate with each other. That is why it's funny.

Now I understand that some people might not get the joke, or that some people might not find the joke funny even if they do understand it. But why is that a problem? Not everybody agrees with everyone's views and opinions, that just life. If you don't like it then just move on, why make it such a big problem?

The real problem here is that just because you don't agree (and clearly some others too), you want to spoil the fun for the rest of us. In one of your comments you said something about your family having to suffer to live in a free country - yet here you are trying to force your views onto everyone else. Shouldn't everybody have the same right to freedom? Including freedom of speech?

I mean, the winter bash is just meant to be a bit of fun, so stop taking it so seriously. Otherwise we might as well just scrap the whole thing and get rid of every hat... because apparently fun is too offensive these days.

And nobody is trying to say that the atrocities against your country is funny. It has nothing to do with history. It's a joke about what communism represents, and if anything, the joke is more FOR your beliefs, than against them. Perhaps you would benefit from trying to understand that.

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3

"This star on the warm welcome hat looks like a communist symbol"

This star are always be here not only on the hat but also as a mark symbol for favorite questions. While I hadn't read the question I used this functionality without remembering the USSR but now it is changed. SE should remove it also in such case I guess.

enter image description here

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1

Here's my opinion. This hat - or any other hat means nothing. I mean they could mean something important or unimportant somewhere outside SO, but not here.

StackOverflow should stay aside from any kind of political or semipolitical discussions, so either hates or likes with regard to hat(s)/nick(s) should be subject of deletion or at least kind refuse to discuss them here.

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-2

I know this issue has been addressed, and the hat has been changed to a non-Communist looking hat. An effort which I support. But I feel the need — based on personal experience — to post this.

What you might think is a “joke” can inadvertently hurt someone.

If there is no reason to use iconography and symbolism that might alienate others, then don’t do it. And if you can’t figure out how to make the same point without using such symbolism, try again… Try harder…

For the benefit of those who are not 100% clear as to why the hat is offensive to some — even after reading @emix’s initial question and other comments/answers supporting him — I wanted to share this recent op-ed in The New York Times (“The Long, Strange Tale of California’s Surf Nazis”, Sept. 28, 2019) about surf culture in California and the racist symbols — and straight out racism — it fostered and normalized in many ways.

This quote by Greg Noll — a fairly famous figure in the world of surfing — casually states the following:

“We’d paint a swastika on something for no other reason than to piss people off. Which it did. So next time we’d paint two swastikas, just to piss ’em off more.”

This quote sums it up, in my humble opinion:

“Putting a swastika on something to anger people means you know that it angers them and very likely why. Allied troops liberated Auschwitz 14 years before Noll made his film. Southern California was full of veterans who’d seen death camps with their own eyes, as well as Jewish families who’d lost relatives and families of all kinds whose sons died in the fight. Angering those people for kicks meant that the slaughter of six million Jews didn’t strike you as a big deal.”

That’s that! The reality is anyone saying a clear symbol of oppression to some is “no big deal” is really numb/disconnected from the way others might feel about it.

And for personal background/context, I truly empathetic with @emix’s feelings: I am a first generation American, but my parents — not grandparents, but direct parents — were survivors of World War II and the Holocaust. I word it that way because instead of the typical “clean” Western narrative of “People went to the Concentration Camps and that was that…” my parents were pretty much on the run though Communist Eastern European countries or sent the Gulags in Central Asia. I grew up directly knowing, feeling and understanding “where they came from” and realized that sensitivity towards language and symbolism matters.

So when I saw that “Warm Welcome” hat in it’s initial form, I put it on… Then felt a bit weird about it… And then switched to the “Jester” hat I have now.

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