Swiss anti-foreigner party set to make election gains
Throughout much of Switzerland, the party's campaign posters are plastered with swastikas. Sandwiched between them is the grinning face of an elderly man, many of them defaced with an unmistakable toothbrush moustache scrawled in black on his upper lip.
Anyone could be forgiven for thinking that Adolf Hitler had crawled out of his grave and was planning a comeback during this weekend's hotly disputed Swiss general election.
If the anti-Nazi graffiti is anything to go by, then the strength of public opposition to the Swiss People's Party (SVP) led by the right-wing billionaire industrialist and Swiss Justice Minister Christoph Blocher, is massive. Yet the anti-immigrant, anti-Europe party, which has been accused of latent fascism is poised to emerge again as Switzerland's largest in Sunday's poll. Opinion polls published yesterday suggested that the SVP would increase its share of the vote to more than 27 per cent.
Mr Blocher, 67, attributes his political success to his nationalist, anti-welfare state, anti-scrounger policies and to his Thatcherite economic liberalism.
He has won popularity and stirred controversy because of an anti-foreigner campaign which has led his party to call for immigrants convicted of crimes to be booted out of Switzerland.
The SVP spelt out its proposal with a campaign poster showing cartoon-like white sheep kicking a black sheep off the red and white Swiss flag and out of the country. Alongside is the slogan: "My Home, Our Switzerland, Keep it Secure." The poster was described by a UN watchdog committee as "openly racist" and is thought to have been the factor that catalysed protests against the SVP in the Swiss capital, Berne, three weeks ago.
Mr Blocher said in an interview this week: "The expression 'black sheep' exists in every language. How can anyone seriously think that we were pointing the finger at Africans ? Everyone knows that black sheep means the criminal foreigners who must be expelled."
Switzerland has already imposed some of the toughest restrictions in Europe on unwanted immigrants, many of them stemming from Mr Blocher's role as Justice Minister. Three years ago the country began housing rejected asylum-seekers in an Alpine bunker.
But Switzerland is also a country in which more than 20 per cent of the population is made up of foreigners and where immigration is at record levels. Mr Blocher's populist rhetoric has undeniable appeal to the Swiss who fear they are losing out as a result of its more open borders.
His supporters are farmers, shopkeepers and lower-income groups. In speeches, he harks back to moments of national glory, such as the 1386 defeat of the invading Hapsburg army inspired by the Swiss nobleman Arnold von Winkelried, who sacrificed himself on the lance of an enemy to secure victory. "Winkelried sacrificed himself for the community. A good politician must also be prepared to sacrifice himself for his country," Mr Blocher insisted.
The publicity that the SVP has generated in the international media has shocked Swiss commentators. "Switzerland cannot handle international criticism" was yesterday's headline in the Neue Züricher Zeitung newspaper. Roger de Weck, a former editor of Germany's Die Zeit, said: "Switzerland is an amalgam of minorities and there is a general desire not to tread on each other's toes. If this culture is undermined, it will cause damage that will take decades to repair."