Bye-Bye Black Sheep

Now that Swiss voters rejected a racist political ad campaign, will this be the end of a 10-year-run of xenophobia?


Until recently, political life in Switzerland was known for cozy relationships between parties and the anti-heroic stance of politicians. For the last 10 years, this rather pacific style of politics has been shattered by the rising influence of the SVP/UDC (Schweizerische Volkspartei/Union démocratique du centre), the Swiss People's Party, and its billionaire leader,Christoph Blocher.

Their demagoguery and populist xenophobia has spread on television, newspapers and in the streets of Switzerland. Their campaign exploiting fears about immigration and security allowed this extreme right-wing party to gain the majority in the Swiss parliament.

Last October, citizens voted on a law that would allow an entire foreign family to be expelled from the country if any family member is found guilty of violent crime, drug offense or benefit fraud. The infamous poster supporting this initiative, which was spread on billboards all over the country, showed three cartoon-like white sheep standing on the Swiss flag kicking out the single black sheep. The slogan, "For More Security," does not leave much room for misunderstanding. (Nor does this UDC video ad.)

The SVP/UDC said the advertisement was not racist, just a metaphor. One representative of the SVP party explained: "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." But there is no need to be a semiotician to understand the impact of this shocking picture. The resurgence of this fascist propaganda caused a huge nationwide debate and protests from anti-racist and human rights associations.

A counter-attack political ad campaign was launched against Christoph Blocher, the former justice minister. Instead of renewing its mandate for four years, the representatives soundly kicked this black sheep out of the government. Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, was elected to the Swiss Federal Council instead. Blocher is still bleating against this outrage and has led opposition to Widmer-Schlumpf from within their party.



I'm hopeful that the most recent run of xenophobia ended last Sunday when Swiss voters considered a law that would that would require citizenship to be approved through secret ballots cast by neighbors of the prospective citizen. Secret ballots were particularly effective in repelling immigrants from Kosovo or Albania. However, five years ago, the Swiss Supreme Court outlawed these procedures, ruling that they could be discriminatory. Traditionally, obtaining a Swiss citizenship is a very tough journey that lasts at least 12 years. Twenty percent of Switzerland's population is foreign and around one third of them were born in the country.