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.

  • Melinda

    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.

    But can you be sure the women are Muslim? Headscarves are commonly worn by (non-Muslim) older women in at least some parts of Europe (I can’t speak for all of Europe, and I don’t know about Switzerland), and since the picture shows primarily older women wearing headscarves, age does seem to be a factor here. It’s not that the women shown in the picture couldn’t be Muslim, but there’s not really much to suggest that they are.

  • Oksana

    Yes, I would like to confirm that this particular ad does not refer to Muslim women. This could be a typical sight in any Eastern European village. Being myself from Ukraine, headscarf is pretty much required for any older lady.
    I really like your website and its diverse viewpoints on Muslim women, but this particular post is a bit off.
    In any way, ugly ad!

  • http://www.nicolecunningham.ch Nicole

    I agree with you that to a non-Swiss it isn’t blatantly Muslim. However, most of the recent immigrants to the country are Muslim minorities from ex-Yugoslavia and Albania, primarily Kosovo. While the the Ivan. S. poster has a primarily “Yugo” overtone, I think it is safe to argue (thus my post) that the average Swiss person looking at the Wohlen poster would also think Eastern European AND Muslim.

  • L. Alahem

    you know what? between the French and the Dutch,I have two distinct reactions. Part of me wants to just resolve never to go there for any reason, and the other wants to visit in full niquab and DARE anyone to cross me. I have a wicked temper, being Norse by ethnicity. And AMERICANS are sneered at for being arrogant!

  • http://www.samaha.wordpress.com Samaha

    Yeah, being Bosnian, I immediately thought Balkan Muslims and Photoshop.

  • http://arablit.wordpress.com M. Lynx Qualey

    I am not Swiss, and I don’t know how to interpret it as a Swiss. But I do think any female can see: you’re not welcome in Svitzerland (at least by these folks) unless you’re under 25, curvy, light-skinned, and willing to walk around nude with sand on your butt for the greater gratification of the Swiss male.

    Totally disgusting.

  • http://musicalchef.wordpress.com musicalchef

    I agree with M. Lynx Qualey. While the women in the pic may or may not be Muslim, the message is clearly sexist and xenophobic. Immigrant women from South or East of Switzerland are ugly, prudish, and will ruin the “landscape” of pure, white, sexy Switzerland. And, as pointed out by another campaign ad, all brown, hairy, immigrant men are criminals.

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  • http://www.examiner.com/family-in-new-york/rahela-choudhury RCHOUDH

    Ugh this is so disgustingly sexist and misogynistic! I think it’s safe to assume this ad is defaming all non-Swiss immigrant women both Muslim and non-Muslim.