DAVID COMMON: DIARY
The Swiss, Racism & Christmas Trees
December 13, 2007
If you've always thought of Switzerland as some alpine oasis, occupied by a content populace and smiling mountain goats, take a look at the recent election.
Violent riots, huge protests and outwardly racist posters figured prominently in the campaign.
The source of all the consternation was the Swiss People's Party. It proposed heavily restricting immigration in a country that already tightly controls who gets in. These ideas were and remain very popular. In its multi-party, consensus-based system, the SVP took nearly a third of the votes, by far the most.
The SVP very skillfully used a sheep as their symbol, an image of tradition in the country. The party's most popular poster showed that white sheep kicking another sheep, presumably out of the country. That other sheep was black. One could argue, as the SVP did, it only wanted the "black sheep" of society — the criminals and hoodlums — tossed out. Others saw it more literally, as a desire to kick blacks out of the country. There have, in recent years, been higher numbers of black, often Muslim, immigrants.
The party's campaign video had to be pulled after the actors in it sued, once they saw the finished product. Set against upbeat music, the video showed traditional images of white Swiss workers walking through gorgeous architecture to work, hiking over mountains and laughing with one another. Then it showed "Bad Switzerland" — the Switzerland where women wore headscarves and crime was committed almost exclusively by blacks. You can't fault them for not being clear in their message.
After the election, the SVP and its uber-popular though highly divisive leader, Christoph Blocher, should have taken a considerable amount of power inside the government.
Not so fast.
The Parliament has ousted the right-wing billionaire Blocher from his cabinet seat. He had been justice minister and the parliament has made it clear it doesn't want him in a decision-making position. Now the SVP is threatening to sit in opposition unless the party gets its way.
After campaigning so hard against the SVP during the election, and failing, Blocher's many opponents must now be happy.
On another note altogether, and in keeping with my attempt to write about stories not hitting the headlines, it seems there's a Christmas tree shortage in Europe this year. Tiny Denmark is one of the largest suppliers of the firs to 25 European countries. From 1998-2004, the price paid for the trees collapsed thanks to oversupply. There were simply too many growers. That pushed many of them out of the business and now, demand has taken over. The most prized varieties of trees are going for three times their usual value. Denmark's tree farmers aren't too upset.