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Do The Election Results Show the Swiss Have Become Racist?

The U.S. and international press has sounded alarm bells regarding they perceive to be a Nazi-like campaign to kick out immigrants by the party that claimed victory in Switzerland's elections yesterday. Robert Mayer attempts to get at the truth behind the inflammatory headlines.

by
Robert Mayer

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October 22, 2007 - 12:48 am

Parliamentary elections have come and gone in Switzerland, where the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) is looking to take the biggest share of the votes at around 29%, gaining seven more seats in the 200-member parliament. And you know what? Despite the inflammatory headlines you may read, it doesn’t really matter.

The U.S. and international press and their buddies in the world of NGO activism, have stirred up a hornets’ nest around the globe about what they perceive to be a Nazi-like campaign by the party that was victorious in Sunday’s Swiss elections to kick out all of the country’s immigrants.

The controversy surrounds a poster plastered all over the country depicting three white sheep standing on a Swiss flag and one of them is kicking a black sheep off. Underneath read the words, “For More Security.” Another poster depicts a Muslim woman wearing the veil, the caption reading, “Where are we living, Baden or Baghdad?” The charges of Nazi-like racism stem from the fact that these campaign posters are obviously referring to the country’s Albanian and Turkish immigrant populations; immigrants making up about 20% of the country’s population overall.

The story is extremely frightening if it is taken outside of its cultural context. Listening to the press, you’d think Hitler was reincarnated in the world’s most neutral and independent nation, which many people look at as extremely tolerant and multi-cultural.

Why do people think this? I have absolutely no idea. The Swiss cannot be called anything other than Swiss. It is what they are, and what they have been for hundreds of uninterrupted years. They love the great outdoors, whether the country’s majestic glaciers at the height of Jungfrau or the serene lake Lucerne. Bike racks are more common than parking spaces and Sunday afternoons in Basel are full of cyclists and dog walkers. They are also fiercely patriotic and traditional. They know their history and are proud of who they are and where they came from, at both the national and cantonal levels. In sum, they have a very, very clear idea of what it means to be Swiss and what it takes to have a harmonious Switzerland.

However, the press doesn’t see it this way. People who support tighter immigration measures are considered blatantly xenophobic regardless of the fact that many of these immigrants do not mesh with Swiss society. They are simply expected by the press to accept anyone who waltzes in regardless of values and identity, taking both the good and the bad.

Well, here’s the bad.

The crime rate in cases of bodily harm, serious injury, and rape has risen by multiples over the past two decades. At the end of 2005, in which 29,952 convictions were made, only 48.8% of convictions were of Swiss nationals while the rest were foreign residents or illegal aliens, despite comprising only 20% of the population. And by the end of 2006, with 5888 people being interned in Swiss prisons, a whopping 69% were foreigners, mostly young males. Yet I have not seen these figures cited by such institutions of credibility like Reuters, unless used in a quote by an official who they’ve spent an entire article actively trying to discredit.

Violent crime is so rare in Switzerland that when it occurs, the community is shocked. It’s simply un-Swiss. This is not to say that violent Swiss don’t exist, but when the majority of such crimes are committed by immigrants while they only represent 20% of the population, the effect can only be magnified. A Turkish man who stabbed his wife to death in public a few years ago in Basel totally rocked the city.

What the SVP aims to do is introduce by either legislation or referendum a law that would deport immigrants who commit such serious offenses after they’ve served their jail terms. After all, they aren’t Swiss citizens who have integrated into Swiss society, who obviously do not represent or profess their loyalty to the nation or its values, so why should they be allowed to stay? One of the more radical measures they aim to introduce is the deportation of an entire immigrant family for the most grievous crimes that a minor, under the wing of his parents, can commit. Yet this is not a one-size-fits-all formula; it would only apply in the most horrible of situations and would have to be approved by the judiciary. Things like murder, not traffic violations, would see this rule used.

The American press especially seems to look at the election in terms of its own majoritarian politics. Just because the SVP won the most seats with 29% of the votes doesn’t mean anything in Swiss politics. The Federal Council, the country’s executive branch, is made up of seven cabinet ministers who are chosen by the parliament. For decades, the Federal Assembly has used a “magic formula” to choose the ministers, assigning two portfolios to the three biggest parties and one to the fourth. This ensures that decisions are made by deliberation and consensus among all the parties, so with the SVP’s only marginally better showing, this formula will likely not change. This ensures that any policy initiatives the SVP brings to the table will be watered down or met with opposition.

All in all, this Sunday didn’t change Switzerland very much. The major difference was that rather than walking by the Rhein, voters brought their dogs to the voting booths instead. And like before, what they voted for above all else was a vote for Switzerland and Swiss-ness. If the press and international NGOs consider that to be abhorrent and xenophobic, well, who cares what they think? Switzerland is a patriotic nation even more so than just a country, and that nation wants its newcomers to fit in, not break the law, and be just as proud of being Swiss as they are.

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