Mavens invoke Mussolini to frighten, demoralize voters
The posters taped on the walls at a political rally here capture the rawness of Switzerland’s national electoral campaign: Three white sheep stand on the Swiss flag, as one of them kicks a single black sheep away.
“For Greater Security,” the poster reads.
The poster is not the creation of a fringe movement, but of the most powerful party in Switzerland’s federal Parliament and a member of the coalition government, an extreme-right party called the Swiss People’s Party, or SVP. It has been distributed in a mass mailing to Swiss households, reproduced in newspapers and magazines and hung as huge billboards across the country.
As voters prepare to go to the polls for a general election in two weeks, the poster – and the party’s underlying message – has polarized a country that prides itself on peaceful consensus in politics, neutrality in foreign policy and tolerance in human relations.
Suddenly, the campaign has turned into a nationwide debate over the place of immigrants in one of the world’s oldest democracies and over what it means to be Swiss.
“The poster is disgusting, unacceptable,” Micheline Calmy-Rey, president of Switzerland under a rotation system, said in an interview. “It stigmatizes others and plays on the fear factor and in that sense it’s dangerous. The campaign does not correspond to Switzerland’s multicultural openness to the world. And I am asking all Swiss who do not agree with its message to have the courage to speak out.”
Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin, of the Free Democratic Party, has even suggested that the SVP’s worship of Christoph Blocher, the billionaire who is the party’s driving force and the current justice minister, is reminiscent of that of Italian Fascists for Mussolini.