Three Lessons from Switzerland’s Immigration Referendum

February 24, 2014


BERLIN—On February 9, a small majority of Swiss voters approved a proposal by the right-wing populist Swiss People’s Party (SVP) to significantly limit migration inflows from other European countries. The Swiss vote garnered attention across Europe because it now requires the renegotiation of certain agreements between the European Union and Switzerland — a non-member — which had thus far been ensured by bilateral treaties. The issues at stake are the free movement of goods, capital, services, and, most importantly, people — the EU’s “Four Freedoms.” Based on the referendum, the number of Germans, French, or Polish citizens allowed to migrate to Switzerland will be contingent on a quota system.

Muslims Disappointed Following Meeting with St. Gallen Director of Education

November 16, 2010

Stefan Kölliker, the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) director of education for St. Gallen, has recently met with Hisham Maizar, a representative of the Federation for Islamic Communities in East Switzerland, concerning the education council’s decision in August 2010 to call for the banning of headscarves in schools.
Despite Maizar’s efforts, Kölliker has stated that he has no intention to change his position on the issue. Maizar called the decision “disproportionate,” and “fully politically motivated,” due to the low number of cases involving headscarf-wearing students. Nevertheless, he told Kölliker that he would gladly speak further with him concerning questions related to Islam and schools, while Kölliker stated that it was “conceivable” that he might accept such an offer.

Langenthal Minaret Controversy Continues

November 11-15, 2010

Langenthal, a town in Oberaargau known for design, porcelain, and reflecting average German-Swiss tastes and opinions, continues to make headlines due to a local minaret project. Though occurring one year following the banning of minarets in Switzerland by national referendum, the minaret project had already received approval from city officials before the referendum, and thus has been permitted.
This is being contested by the “Stop Minaret” action committee, which is taking the decision to court and recently has attempted to erect a monument in the city to commemorate the persecution of non-Muslims in Islamic countries. The monument, which is supposed to be placed in the middle of a traffic circle, has been rejected by the local council.
Thomas Rufener, the mayor of Langenthal, is a member of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), though he criticizes the way political parties and the media have exploited the issue to gain attention and serve other agendas. The local Muslims find the situation paradoxical as the majority of them are Macedonian Albanians, and they had arrived in Switzerland precisely because they could not live freely as Muslims in the former Yugoslavia.
Nonetheless, business continues as usual for those who come to deal with the local Langenthal companies. A foreign employee of a local hotel mentions that those in Langenthal on business rarely notice the protests as they take place on the weekends, while Swiss visitors are simply used to them.

Winterthur Approves Muslim Cemetery

November 1-9, 2010

Following Bern, Lucerne and Zurich, the city of Winterthur will soon become the latest Swiss city to have a Muslim section in the local cemetery. The project has been planned since 2008, and following a unanimous vote in the city council it will also receive a loan of 1.53 million Swiss francs. If, as expected, the project passes the communal council, Muslim burials could begin as soon as 2011.
12 per cent of the population of Winterthur is Muslim, and the new 380 graves were supported by all except one member of the Christian Democrats (CVP) who argued that it would symbolize yet another form of separation. Nevertheless, even the far-right Swiss People’s Party came out in support of the project, stating that “we don’t always have to be against everything.”

Wearing your Weapon

26 October 2010

Media commentator Rainer Stadler reminds us in this piece that migration, Islam, violence and criminality have become the daily bread and butter for the media. Whether concerning Tony Blair’s former sister-in-law, recently converted to Islam, or the ubiquitous claims of “failed integration,” the Swiss tabloid press has become more aggressive with regard to the political questions involving foreigners.
The right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) has recently come up with another trick: while rejecting the notion that talk show journalism has a significant effect on public debate on Tele Züri, politician Christoph Mörgeli prominently wore a tie sporting the SVP’s now-famous sheep placard (showing a black sheep getting literally kicked out of a Switzerland populated by white sheep).

Copyright for anti-Islam propaganda?

The French party Front National is advertising their rightwing agenda on election posters that very much resemble those of the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) during their campaign against minaret construction. The SVP’s poster showed a Muslim woman, almost completely veiled in black cloth, next to an “army” of minarets, covering the Swiss flag. The poster of the National Front’s youth organization shows a similar lady next to a map of France, which is also pierced by minarets and additionally bears colors and symbols of Islamic countries’ flags.

Apparently there is a copyright even on supremacy, and so the SVP now claims violation of copyright. Front National assert that the poster was their idea and even postulates that the People’s Party are building on the “achievements” of the Front National. Furthermore, the French party claims, there are only a few images that can be employed to depict the “creeping Islamisation” of France.

Extremist Swede gives millions to German anti-Islam party

Patrik Brinkmann, a Swedish far-right businessman, has announced to donate €5 to Pro NRW, a Cologne-based anti-Islam populist party. In a report to air Sunday night on Germany’s public broadcaster WDR, Brinkmann says he fears Germany is becoming “too foreign” and that shari’a law will be introduced in the country.
Brinkmann, who moved to Berlin in 2007, claims that politicians do not share his fears. 

“That’s why I believe that a new right wing (in Germany) can not only succeed, but in five or ten years be as large as the FPÖ in Austria or the SVP in Switzerland,” he added, referring to Austria’s Freedom Party and the Swiss People’s Party, two far-right groups which have enjoyed a certain amount of electoral success. 

The millionaire, who reportedly already has ties to Germany’s extreme-right NPD and DVU parties, will finance a building for Pro NRW to be used as an anti-Islam center. Burkhard Freier, the deputy head of the North Rhine-Westphalian branch of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Verfassungsschutz, considers Pro NRW and a related group, Pro Köln (Pro Cologne), dangerous organizations. They are, however, insignificantly small and opposition to their supremacist world-view is strong.

The veil will not be banned in Zurich schools

Zurich cantonal authorities have decided not to ban the wearing of veils in schools. The cantonal parliament rejected by 104 votes to 65 a motion put forward by the rightwing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) which wanted to ban the veil in places of education “in order to makes Swiss values respected in schools”. The motion had also wanted to do away with a special exemption for Muslims from swimming lessons during Ramadan.

Among those who rejected the motion on Monday, the centre-right Radicals said the current cantonal recommendations were “absolutely sufficient”, while the Green Liberals called the motion highly “intolerant”. Last year, the Swiss People’s Party, currently the largest party in Switzerland, championed an initiative to ban the construction of minarets in Switzerland.

Swiss reject SVP citizenship plan

In a referendum Swiss voters have voted by 64 percent to reject a proposal by the far-right Swiss People’s Party (SVP) that would have made it even harder for resident foreigners to gain citizenship. Only one of Switzerland’s 26 cantons backed the plan. At present, naturalisation is decided by a commission, usually at regional level. The far-right had wanted to overturn a supreme court ruling so that applications could be decided by popular vote among local communities. More than a fifth of Switzerland’s 7.5 million residents are of foreign origin. To gain citizenship candidates must have lived in the alpine state for 12 years and pass tests on Swiss culture and language. The SVP’s campaign was challenged by Switzerland’s left parties, trade unions and Greens who described it as racist.

Switzerland: Ministers attack minarets campaign

Three members of Switzerland’s seven-strong cabinet have publicly condemned a campaign by rightwingers to ban the construction of minarets On Monday Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey, who also holds the rotating Swiss presidency, told journalists in Geneva that such an initiative “could put Swiss interests and Swiss citizens in danger”. Her comments came a day after Defence Minister Samuel Schmid said the campaign was going down the “wrong road”. Then on Wednesday it was the turn of Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin to come out against the proposal, saying that a confrontation between people of different faiths had to be avoided. Their public statements against a public initiative at such an early stage is an unusual move. Their caution is attributed to anticipation of backlash in light of the Denmark cartoon controversy and the popularity of the minaret issue in the upcoming election. Though Schmid belongs to the same rightwing Swiss People’s Party as some who back the initiative, it’s believed that he feels the initiative has gone too far.