Switzerland’s Latest Referendum: No Uglies Allowed

On November 28th, the Swiss voted in one of their many referendums. The topic of this referendum was the deportation of criminal foreigners. This seems innocent enough, but the Swiss, at least for one local party, found a way to give it an anti-female anti-Islam twist.  Sadly, this initiative, spearheaded (as usual) by the Swiss People’s Party (SVP/UDC in French) passed at almost 53%, albeit with a low participation rate by Swiss standards.

Known for its colorful campaign posters with “Islamic themes” (see, for example, the minaret posters from 2009 and the “black sheep” campaign) the UDC did not disappoint this time around in their national campaign, which centered around Ivan S., a burly man of dubious Eastern European, with the caption: “Ivan S, rapist, soon to be Swiss?” (a picture of the black sheep and the Ivan S. poster side by side can be seen here)

As if the wife beater-clad and mustached Ivan S. wasn’t sensational enough of a character, the local UDC in Wohlen took the poster tradition a bit further, and created a poster from which even the national party structure took its distance.

On one side, the poster shows a series of shapely, blonde and naked Swiss ladies bathing in the pure, clean water of the Zurich, with the caption “Switzerland 2010.” On the other side, with the caption “Switzerland 2030,” a series of veiled and fully clothed women, also of dubious Eastern European origin, smoking and carrying on in the now dirty water of the lake of Zurich (shown at right—you can see both pictures here). The message of the Wohlen section is clear:  foreign immigrant women are dirty, ugly and polluting.

Thomas Burkhard, a member of the Green party in the same district, called the poster “Scandalous, sexist and defamatory.” Since the referendum was voted on, the poster has been removed from the party’s site.  Although the federal UDC party leadership chose not to adapt the poster, one of the executive members, Peter Tanner, said it “highlighted the potential risks of multiculturalism.”

What makes the UDC campaigns scary is not what they ask now, but what they prepare viewers to vote on later.  Both the minaret and the deportation votes were accepted in referendum and give a strategic achievement to UDC by preparing public opinion for even more extreme referendums. Also, the simplicity of their arguments is easy to digest by Swiss who are vote-weary (they vote a lot here) and not particularly savvy.

While the deportation initiative, unlike the one on the minarets, did not specifically target Muslims in Switzerland, they both involve a fake problem the Swiss don’t really need to vote on.  At the time of the minaret vote, only four minarets existed in Switzerand, and most Swiss Muslims didn’t ask—or more likely hadn’t thought of asking—for more.  Likewise, provisions in Swiss legislation  (see article 66 of the 2005 law on foreigners) already exist to non-renew the work and residence permits of criminal foreigners.

However, up until this initiative, these were judged on a case-by-case basis in regards to each person’s personal situation. While the UDC argues that their initiative will strengthen the existing legislation, what they are actually asking for is tantamount to double jeopardy.

As far as the images depicted on the posters themselves, the Wohlen campaign uses Muslim women as a vehicle for their propagandist message.  Just as the minaret poster used a burqa-clad woman to drive the “creeping Shariah” point home, the Wohlen poster uses women’s bodies to show just how non-sexy Muslim immigrant women are in the face of pure Heidi hotness.

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