Today's New York Times goes front page and above the fold with a story on the Swiss People's Party (SVP) and its not-so-subtly racist campaign to boot out entire families of immigrants, provided one member has committed a crime in Switzerland. Rather than simply documenting the party's often deeply offensive campaign tactics, Times correspondent Elaine Sciolino attempts to account for SVP's growing popularity. Like in other European countries—many of whom have seen a precipitous increase in the popularity of populist, anti-immigration parties—Switzerland's mainstream parties seem to have all but ceded the sensitive issue of integration and assimilation to the SVP, who frequently rail against the disproportionate representation of immigrants in Swiss prisons:
The message of the party resonates loudly among voters who have seen this country of 7.5 million become a haven for foreigners, including political refugees from places like Kosovo and Rwanda. Polls indicate that the right-wing party is poised to win more seats than any other party in Parliament in the election, as it did in national elections in 2003, when its populist language gave it nearly 27 percent of the vote.
"Our political enemies think the poster is racist, but it just gives a simple message," Bruno Walliser, a local chimney sweep running for Parliament on the party ticket, said at the rally, held on a Schwerzenbach farm outside Zurich. "The black sheep is not any black sheep that doesn't fit into the family. It's the foreign criminal who doesn't belong here, the one that doesn't obey Swiss law. We don't want him."
More than 20 percent of Swiss inhabitants are foreign nationals, and the SVP argues that a disproportionate number are lawbreakers. Many drug dealers are foreign, and according to federal statistics, about 70 percent of the prison population is non-Swiss.
Sciolino observes that SVP has yet to launch a P.R. campaign like that of the French far-right, "where…National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen campaigned for president in the spring alongside black and ethnic Arab supporters, the SVP has taken a much cruder us-against-them approach." Perhaps, but Le Pen's P.R. campaign was inaugurated only after intense lobbying from his daughter, Marine. The party, alas, is still brimming with skinheads and crypto-fascists.
The Times also watches an amazingly crude three-part campaign film produced by SVP (since withdrawn), which can be viewed here:
In a short three-part campaign film, "Heaven or Hell," the party's message is clear. In the first segment, young men inject heroin, steal handbags from women, kick and beat up schoolboys, wield knives and carry off a young woman. The second segment shows Muslims living in Switzerland—women in head scarves; men sitting, not working. The third segment shows "heavenly" Switzerland: men in suits rushing to work, logos of Switzerland's multinational corporations, harvesting on farms, experiments in laboratories, scenes of lakes, mountains, churches and goats. "The choice is clear: my home, our security," the film states.
In other Swiss news, a radical left group rioted at a SVP rally in Bern yesterday. The Guardian reports:
The Swiss capital of Berne was turned into a battle zone at the weekend when leftwing radicals seized control of the main square outside parliament, routing the main far-right political party two weeks before a general election and catching the Swiss police off guard. Dozens of protesters were arrested and around two dozen people injured, mostly police officers, as police deployed tear gas, water cannon, and rubber bullets to try to regain control from gangs of highly organised, masked people who turned the small and normally sleepy capital of Switzerland into a scene of devastation.
The Federal Square, site of a charming Saturday morning flower and vegetable market, resembled a war zone by Saturday night, littered with debris, masonry, shattered glass and torched metal.
Last month, I wrote about the rise of the SVP and European populism in general.
According to a recent poll in the Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat, most Finns would welcome an increase in immigration to their country.