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Switzerland's Heart of Darkness

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    Switzerland is known as a haven of peace and neutrality. But today it is home to a new extremism that has alarmed the United Nations. Proposals for draconian
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 26, 2007
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      Switzerland is known as a haven of peace and neutrality. But today it
      is home to a new extremism that has alarmed the United Nations.
      Proposals for draconian new laws that target the country's immigrants
      have been condemned as unjust and racist. A poster campaign, the work
      of its leading political party, is decried as xenophobic.

      Has Switzerland become Europe's heart of darkness?
      By Paul Vallely

      At first sight, the poster looks like an innocent children's cartoon.
      Three white sheep stand beside a black sheep. The drawing makes it
      looks as though the animals are smiling. But then you notice that the
      three white beasts are standing on the Swiss flag. One of the white
      sheep is kicking the black one off the flag, with a crafty flick of
      its back legs.

      The poster is, according to the United Nations, the sinister symbol of
      the rise of a new racism and xenophobia in the heart of one of the
      world's oldest independent democracies.

      A worrying new extremism is on the rise. For the poster - which bears
      the slogan "For More Security" - is not the work of a fringe neo-Nazi
      group. It has been conceived - and plastered on to billboards, into
      newspapers and posted to every home in a direct mailshot - by the
      Swiss People's Party (the Schweizerische Volkspartei or SVP) which has
      the largest number of seats in the Swiss parliament and is a member of
      the country's coalition government.

      With a general election due next month, it has launched a twofold
      campaign which has caused the UN's special rapporteur on racism to ask
      for an official explanation from the government. The party has
      launched a campaign to raise the 100,000 signatures necessary to force
      a referendum to reintroduce into the penal code a measure to allow
      judges to deport foreigners who commit serious crimes once they have
      served their jail sentence.

      But far more dramatically, it has announced its intention to lay
      before parliament a law allowing the entire family of a criminal under
      the age of 18 to be deported as soon as sentence is passed.

      It will be the first such law in Europe since the Nazi practice of
      Sippenhaft - kin liability - whereby relatives of criminals were held
      responsible for their crimes and punished equally.

      The proposal will be a test case not just for Switzerland but for the
      whole of Europe, where a division between liberal multiculturalism and
      a conservative isolationism is opening up in political discourse in
      many countries, the UK included.

      SWISS TRAINS being the acme of punctuality, the appointment was very
      precise. I was to meet Dr Ulrich Schor - one of the men behind the
      draconian proposal - in the restaurant at the main railway station in
      Zurich at 7.10pm. As I made my way through the concourse, I wondered
      what Dr Schor made of this station of hyper-efficiency and cleanliness
      that has a smiling Somali girl selling pickled herring sandwiches, a
      north African man sweeping the floor, and a black nanny speaking in
      broken English to her young Swiss charge. The Swiss People's Party's
      attitude to foreigners is, shall we say, ambivalent.

      A quarter of Switzerland's workers - one in four, like the black sheep
      in the poster - are now foreign immigrants to this peaceful,
      prosperous and stable economy with low unemployment and a per capita
      GDP larger than that of other Western economies. Zurich has, for the
      past two years, been named as the city with the best quality of life
      in the world.

      What did the nanny think of the sheep poster, I asked her. "I'm a
      guest in this country," she replied. "It's best I don't say."

      Dr Schor is a small affable man. But if he speaks softly he wields a
      big stick. The statistics are clear, he said, foreigners are four
      times more likely to commit crimes than Swiss nationals. "In a suburb
      of Zurich, a group of youths between 14 and 18 recently raped a 13-
      year-old girl," he said. "It turned out that all of them were already
      under investigation for some previous offence. They were all
      foreigners from the Balkans or Turkey. Their parents said these boys
      are out of control. We say: 'That's not acceptable. It's your job to
      control them and if you can't do that you'll have to leave'. It's a
      punishment everyone understands."

      It is far from the party's only controversial idea. Dr Schor has
      launched a campaign for a referendum to ban the building of Muslim
      minarets. In 2004, the party successfully campaigned for tighter
      immigration laws using the image of black hands reaching into a pot
      filled with Swiss passports. And its leading figure, the Justice
      Minister, Christoph Blocher, has said he wants to soften anti-racism
      laws because they prevent freedom of speech.

      Political opponents say it is all posturing ahead of next month's
      general election. Though deportation has been dropped from the penal
      code, it is still in force in administrative law, says Daniel
      Jositsch, professor of penal law at Zurich University. "At the end of
      the day, nothing has changed, the criminal is still at the airport and
      on the plane."

      With astute tactics, the SVP referendum restricts itself to symbolic
      restitution. Its plan to deport entire families has been put forward
      in parliament where it has little chance of being passed. Still the
      publicity dividend is the same. And it is all so worrying to human
      rights campaigners that the UN special rapporteur on racism, Doudou
      Di, warned earlier this year that a "racist and xenophobic dynamic"
      which used to be the province of the far right is now becoming a
      regular part of the democratic system in Switzerland.

      Dr Schor shrugged. "He's from Senegal where they have a lot of
      problems of their own which need to be solved. I don't know why he
      comes here instead of getting on with that."

      Such remarks only confirm the opinions of his opponents. Mario Fehr is
      a Social Democrat MP for the Zurich area. He says: "Deporting people
      who have committed no crime is not just unjust and inhumane, it's
      stupid. Three quarters of the Swiss people think that foreigners who
      work here are helping the economy. We have a lot of qualified workers
      - IT specialists, doctors, dentists." To get rid of foreigners, which
      opponents suspect is the SVP's real agenda, "would be an economic

      Dr Schor insists the SVP is not against all foreigners. "Until war
      broke out in the Balkans, we had some good workers who came from
      Yugoslavia. But after the fighting there was huge influx of people we
      had a lot of problems with. The abuse of social security is a key
      problem. It's estimated to cost F50m a year. More than 50 per cent of
      it is by foreigners."

      There is no disguising his suspicion of Islam. He has alarmed many of
      Switzerland's Muslims (some 4.3 per cent of the 7.5 million
      population) with his campaign to ban the minaret. "We're not against
      mosques but the minaret is not mentioned in the Koran or other
      important Islamic texts. It just symbolises a place where Islamic law
      is established." And Islamic law, he says, is incompatible with
      Switzerland's legal system.

      To date there are only two mosques in the country with minarets but
      planners are turning down applications for more, after opinion polls
      showed almost half the population favours a ban. What is at stake here
      in Switzerland is not merely a dislike of foreigners or a distrust of
      Islam but something far more fundamental. It is a clash that goes to
      the heart of an identity crisis which is there throughout Europe and
      the US. It is about how we live in a world that has changed radically
      since the end of the Cold War with the growth of a globalised economy,
      increased immigration flows, the rise of Islam as an international
      force and the terrorism of 9/11. Switzerland only illustrates it more
      graphically than elsewhere.

      Switzerland is so stark an example because of the complex web of
      influences that find their expression in Ulrich Schor and his party

      He is fiercely proud of his nation's independence, which can be traced
      back to a defensive alliance of cantons in 1291. He is a staunch
      defender of its policy of armed neutrality, under which Switzerland
      has no standing army but all young men are trained and on standby;
      they call it the porcupine approach - with millions of individuals
      ready to stiffen like spines if the nation is threatened.

      Linked to that is its system of direct democracy where many key
      decisions on tax, education, health and other key areas are taken at
      local level.

      "How direct democracy functions is a very sensitive issue in
      Switzerland," he says, explaining why he has long opposed joining the
      EU. "To the average German, the transfer of power from Berlin to
      Brussels didn't really affect their daily lives. The transfer of power
      from the commune to Brussels would seriously change things for the
      ordinary Swiss citizen."

      Switzerland has the toughest naturalisation rules in Europe. To apply,
      you must live in the country legally for at least 12 years, pay taxes,
      and have no criminal record. The application can still be turned down
      by your local commune which meets to ask "Can you speak German? Do you
      work? Are you integrated with Swiss people?"

      It can also ask, as one commune did of 23-year-old Fatma Karademir -
      who was born in Switzerland but who under Swiss law is Turkish like
      her parents - if she knew the words of the Swiss national anthem, if
      she could imagine marrying a Swiss boy and who she would support if
      the Swiss football team played Turkey. "Those kinds of questions are
      outside the law," says Mario Fehr. "But in some more remote villages
      you have a problem if you're from ex-Yugoslavia."

      The federal government in Berne wants to take the decision out of the
      hands of local communities, one of which only gave the vote to women
      as recently as 1990. But the government's proposals have twice been
      defeated in referendums.

      The big unspoken fact here is how a citizen is to be defined. "When a
      Swiss woman who has emigrated to Canada has a baby, that child
      automatically gets citizenship," Dr Schor says. But in what sense is a
      boy born in Canada, who may be brought up with an entirely different
      world view and set of values, more Swiss than someone like Fatma
      Karademir who has never lived anywhere but Switzerland?

      The truth is that at the heart of the Swiss People's Party's vision is
      a visceral notion of kinship, breeding and blood that liberals would
      like to think sits very much at odds with the received wisdom of most
      of the Western world. It is what lies behind the SVP's fear of even
      moderate Islam. It has warned that because of their higher birth rates
      Muslims would eventually become a majority in Switzerland if the
      citizenship rules were eased. It is what lies behind his fierce
      support for the militia system.

      To those who say that Germany, France, Italy and Austria are nowadays
      unlikely to invade, he invokes again the shadow of militant Islam.
      "The character of war is changing. There could be riots or eruptions
      in a town anywhere in Switzerland. There could be terrorism in a
      financial centre."

      The race issue goes wider than politics in a tiny nation. "I'm broadly
      optimistic that the tide is moving in our direction both here and in
      other countries across Europe, said Dr Schor. "I feel more supported
      than criticised from outside."

      The drama which is being played out in such direct politically
      incorrect language in Switzerland is one which has repercussions all
      across Europe, and wider.

      Neutrality and nationality

      * Switzerland has four national languages - German, Italian, French
      and Romansh. Most Swiss residents speak German as their first language.

      * Switzerland's population has grown from 1.7 million in 1815 to 7.5
      million in 2006. The population has risen by 750,000 since 1990.

      * Swiss nationality law demands that candidates for Swiss
      naturalisation spend a minimum of years of permanent, legal residence
      in Switzerland, and gain fluency in one of the national languages.

      * More than 20 per cent of the Swiss population, and 25 per cent of
      its workforce, is non-naturalised.

      * At the end of 2006, 5,888 people were interned in Swiss prisons. 31
      per cent were Swiss citizens - 69 per cent were foreigners or asylum-

      * The number of unauthorised migrant workers currently employed is
      estimated at 100,000.



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