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Racism & Xenophobia in Swiss Politics

by whataboutbob Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 04:00:47 AM EST

A hat-tip to someone, for posting this in yesterday's Salon: most people in Switzerland are tolerant and open-minded towards those residents who hail from other lands, and over 20% of the Swiss population is foreign born. In fact, what would Switzerland be without business with the "Ausländ" and the diversity of "Ausländers" in their culture? However, there is a vocal minority in Switzerland (the far-right wing SVP - or Swiss Volks Partei), that is overtly stating racist and xenophobic themes, in order to play on people's fear to gain political power. This piece of racist crap is the SVP's PR campaign for the coming parliamentary election:

I have been very upset by this propaganda, and have been waiting for a political party in Switzerland to stand up and denounce this campaign...FINALLY!! A leader with backbone steps forward!: swissinfo - Swiss People's Party is accused of "racist" campaign


Switzerland's biggest political party, the rightwing Swiss People's Party, has come under renewed fire for its hard-hitting election campaign attacking foreigners.
On Wednesday Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey denounced posters depicting three white sheep booting a black sheep out of the country as "irresponsible" and liable to incite racial hatred.

"I think it is important that there are people in this country who have the courage to stand up and denounce this type of campaign, which to be quite frank disgusts me. It disgusts me because it stirs up hatred. They are racist campaigns," Calmy-Rey, a member of the centre-left Social Democrats, told Swiss-French radio.

The "black sheep" posters underpin a People's Party initiative to expel foreign criminals, which was launched on August 1 - Swiss National Day - three months ahead of October's parliamentary elections.

And now, a UN intervention:

On Thursday Swiss Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin revealed that the UN special rapporteur on racism, Doudou Diène, had contacted the Swiss government seeking an explanation. Couchepin added that the government was preparing its response.

The letter, which was sent three weeks ago, was co-signed by the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Jorge Bustamante. Earlier this year Diène published a report, castigating Switzerland for its "political climate influenced by xenophobic tendencies".

Of course, now the SVP is crying "politics":

Roman Jäggi, spokesman for the Swiss People's Party, hit back at the latest criticism, describing the poster campaign as "completely fair".
"It is not racist," he said. "We have a big problem with violence and in particular youth violence, and foreign criminals are a big factor," he told swissinfo.

Jäggi said it was reprehensible that the Swiss president had attacked a poster campaign by another party, adding that Calmy-Rey was clearly electioneering on behalf of the Social Democrats.

The People's Party dismissed Diène's intervention as "worthless", describing the UN special rapporteur on racism as a troublemaker who never had a good word to say about Switzerland.

Here is an observation from a political scientist in Geneva:

Pascal Sciarini, professor of political science at Geneva University: "the People's Party's recent electoral success is down to its tough line on foreigners, the European Union and the UN, and it is now a prisoner of this strategy."They have to keep the fires burning, and that means they have to come up with new ideas and at the same time harden their stance," he said.

Sciarini cited the initiatives against minarets and foreign criminals as evidence of the People's Party's desire to push an ever-harder line and to keep control of the immigration debate. "They are getting more intelligent and more subtle, and are the best when it comes to marketing their policies and attracting the media's attention," he said. "They are polarising people more and more: you are either for them or very much against."

So the politics of hate and division (let's call it the spread of "Bush democracy") are up for a vote in Switzerland...and how will the Swiss respond? We will soon find out...but I can only hope that the good, tolerant and humanitarian side of the Swiss steps forward. Stay tuned for the October elections...

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If the Swiss people don't fight this, but buy into this hate and division, it will be a stain on Switzerland. I hold out hope...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Sun Sep 2nd, 2007 at 07:32:12 AM EST
How much national support do they have?  There are obvious parallels with the BNP, although at a national level they are not much of a threat but at local level they have been making gains over the last few years.

It's good to see the UN intervening though. I don't know how much they can actually do but it is good to see them responding to the issue, it almost feels as though some lessons have been learnt from history.  Not tolerating such an overt campaign is critical, but still it is disappointing that such a campaign was able to make it out into the public domain in the first place.

Is there independant scrutiny of political party's campaign materials in Switzerland? (We have the Electoral Commission in the UK). In the UK, other political parties (and trade unions and equality bodies etc) are very quick to jump on anything the BNP does, and with the key parties, anti-BNP forms a part of the campaigning strategies ie just VOTE and if not for us, then not the BNP either.

Great diary Bob, thanks.  Very important issues across all of Europe.  Just how to effectively halt the spread of racism and xenophobia?

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sun Sep 2nd, 2007 at 08:01:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I've just remembered a conversation that I had with a london couple that I met one evening in Venice.  We ended up sharing a table at an Irish pub and started chatting.

They were just Mr. and Mrs. Average.  He was a maintenance worker, she had an office job of some kind and both commuted into central London to work.  Not completely ignorant but only vaguely aware of 'issues'.

They made a number of homophobic comments, and some overtly racist comments about immigrants, migrant workers, and British ethnic minority groups. "They take our jobs, live off our benefits. There ain't no-one speakin' English on the tube no more. Just all these foreigners around ya. What has it come to when you can't even communicate in yer own country?"

Point out that many migrant workers take jobs that British people don't want to do, that it brings a boost to the economy... well, they'll accept that but as long as 'their' jobs aren't threatened, as long as these people know their place, as long as they get 'sent back' if they cause any problems.  Make them all speak English before they come here too.  So a conditional acceptance on very narrow terms, still viewing these groups as a threat to native Brits.

And our right wing newspapers peddle all of this, it makes it so easy for a party like the BNP to jump on the issues and run with them, the ground work is all being done by the Daily Mail.  So many people are already vaguely on board, all it takes is a little nudge and rather than an ignorant misunderstanding of differences, it becomes an active dislike, which with some becomes acted upon through racist attacks.  My diary on Prejudice and the Allports Scale looked at this process.

How can we turn around the Mr. and Mrs. Average so that they can be critical and recognise racism in it's various forms? Ideally I'd take them all one step further to stand up and challenge racism when they come across it, but that'll be the day.

I forget often, that through my work, through my educational background and just by being part of the various social circles I am, that most people are not as well educated or intelligent or politically aware as the people I am most used to interacting with.  

This is another reason for me being active in politics and in my local community, because I need that reminder of reality, that the majority of people don't question, they don't have depth of understanding, they don't see cause and consequence outside of their own little bubbles.

So that's the nut that needs cracking, and it concerns me to see examples like this one in Switzerland where a political party can release materials that are so overtly racist in this way.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sun Sep 2nd, 2007 at 10:26:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A somewhat similar story from Finland.

Three Somalian refugees were deported from the country earlier this year, having been convicted for committing a crime. So my newspaper went out and asked for reactions from the "man on the street", and damn! The man on the street is pretty damn racist. One derogatory comment about Somalians after another. That was definitely one of those days when I was ashamed to be Finnish...

"The basis of optimism is sheer terror" - Oscar Wilde

by NordicStorm (m<-at->sturmbaum.net) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 04:49:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Norways's worse. Solveig's Moroccan son-in-law lives in Oslo and is a well-qualified (in Norway too) production engineer. Sent in maybe 200 job applications and never even got an interview.

Not that they would admit it for one minute, and they would be right to point out the great work they do in overseas development - but in NORWAY - oh dear, no...

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 04:55:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A Swedish newspaper (I think) had an interesting article a couple of years ago. They sent out applications to numerous job openings, using a variety of names, both "Swedish" and "foreign". The result, not surprisingly, was that those with Swedish-sounding names were invariably more likely to be called to an interview than those without.

"The basis of optimism is sheer terror" - Oscar Wilde
by NordicStorm (m<-at->sturmbaum.net) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 05:02:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I've read that similar experiments have been done in France, with the same results.
by Gag Halfrunt on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 07:12:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ditto in the UK with the same results.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 07:53:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
...and in Norway
by Solveig (link2ageataol.com) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 09:31:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
and damn! The man on the street is pretty damn racist.

Yep. It gets pretty clear pretty soon by even reading the Helsingin Sanomat discussion boards.

You have a normal feeling for a moment, then it passes. --More--
by tzt (tzt) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 09:41:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As distressing as the plakat may be, I think you have reason to hope.

The Swiss have always had a fringe racist population [based on two years of residence in the CH and opinions of remaining friends and extended family, there]. The factions are small, but they're allowed to express their opinions freely.

Yet when facing the ballot box, the Swiss tend to reject overtly bigoted candidates.

by Loefing on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 03:36:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Is it just me, or does that poster seem more likely to shame people into confronting rather than re-enforcing latent (soft rather than hard-core) racist sentiment?
by det on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 04:41:58 AM EST
I doubt that most people think about it much. Racism always works best in a subtle disguise.

/"To follow the herd, you have to be a sheep at first." (Einstein)

"If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles." Sun Tzu

by Turambar (sersguenda at hotmail com) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 06:19:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I am not sure people need to "think" about it. I look at the poster and see two sheep studiously averting their eyes (the "good Germans") while a third boots out a sheep whose only discernable difference is his colour. The black sheep looks hurt and sad. Ask a child his/her reaction to that image and I think (and hope) that the predominant response would be "Why are the white sheep being mean to the black one?". I would also hope that the gut response of most adults would not be very much different.
by det on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 06:42:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But it's a BLACK sheep! It certainly must have done terrible things to deserve this colour!

/trolling along peacefully

"If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles." Sun Tzu

by Turambar (sersguenda at hotmail com) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 06:45:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It must have reincarnated without asking the Chinese government for permission.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 06:49:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I assume their argument is that the image of the black sheep is fairly ubiquitous and has nothing at all to do with racism. Which is bullshit; of course they knew exactly what they were doing.

"The basis of optimism is sheer terror" - Oscar Wilde
by NordicStorm (m<-at->sturmbaum.net) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 07:10:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't agree that that would be the majority response (of white people).  Plenty of people are very quick to shout "I'm not racist, but..."

They think they are justified in discriminating against racial/ethnic minorities and immigrants because of all these 'truths' that they happen to know.

So many people are not able to tell when they are being fed racist propaganda, because it is always there around them and usually in much more subtle ways than this.  

The 2 white sheep averting their gaze were too cowardly to put a stop to the black sheep being in their country. The white sheep kicking the black sheep out is a hero. And the black sheep doesn't look hurt, that's 'sheepish' guilt, it's been caught out and received its comeuppance.

This is the image the poster was designed to promote and that is the message that unfortunately will seep into the minds of many people who see it.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 08:06:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In other words: the poster is like a Rorschach blot or... a Tarot card.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 08:36:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Not like a Rorschach blot - since that is just a blot and you assign your own meaning without being given any direction.  

Definitely more like a tarot card, since the symbols used are more likely to conjure up certain associations over others.

I don't know, what do the stars say about all this?

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 08:48:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Funny...
I saw this same picture ina blog comemnting the weirdness of being able to put sucha  blatant racist ads on the street.

the image one gets from switzerland is not precisely wonderful

http://acolostico.blogspot.com/2007/08/cositas-de-suizos.html

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 06:49:11 AM EST
Black sheep... I know you people are all nice and tolerant and stuff, and I'm like, not a bigot or anything. But I've gotta say, them black sheep are totally creepy. There are some across the road from my apt. I mean, look. They start out all cute and cuddly:

But then they grow, and grow, and suddenly they are not so nice, and have evil eyes, and look at me weird on the way to work!


You know not the terror of encountering them every day! No, Switzerland is being taken over and terrorised by these nasty beasts, and I for one is glad that some politicians are finally dealing with the problem! For a future Switzerland without these woolly horrors, for the children, and for all that is good.

by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 08:30:02 AM EST
I had no idea the problem was so bad.  The children!
Won't somebody please think of the children?!
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 08:51:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]


"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 08:58:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
F'Murr.

The mountain shepherd's Bible!

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 09:12:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In fact, the little black lamb in Photo 1 won't become a blue-faced adult as in Photo 2 (that one used to be a little white lamb).

But it's true they're much nicer when they're small. (Like humans..?)

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 09:21:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Are you saying a white lamb turned black? It's infectious? Get them out.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 09:32:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Once you go black, you can't go back...

"The basis of optimism is sheer terror" - Oscar Wilde
by NordicStorm (m<-at->sturmbaum.net) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 09:34:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, this just goes to show how sneaky they are. What will the black lamb turn into? A nice stew??
by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 09:34:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Possibly. But wool colour doesn't change over time.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 09:42:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Or so Gerhard Schröder would have us believe...

"The basis of optimism is sheer terror" - Oscar Wilde
by NordicStorm (m<-at->sturmbaum.net) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 09:52:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What, me creepy?



You have a normal feeling for a moment, then it passes. --More--

by tzt (tzt) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 09:45:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There is unfortunately little reason to think that Switzerland would escape the wave of racism and xenophobia that appears to be sweeping through Europe and Russia these days (from Sarkozy's victorious racist campaign to the violent riots against central asians in northern Russia). I see that the SVP is already part of the governing coalition, how much power do they have?
by Fete des fous on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 07:05:37 PM EST
SVP gained about 26& of the parliamentary seats in the last national election, and aligned with the FDP (pro-corporate party) in the parliament, they have a majority there. They have two of the 7 Bundesrat seats. There appeal tends to be much more rural than urban, as far as I can see.

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 08:20:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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