[Marxism] Xenophobia in Switzerland

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Oct 9 07:19:24 MDT 2007

(This Washington Post article reports on growing xenophobia in 
Switzerland as if it is a new problem. Anybody who has seen "Bread and 
Chocolate", the great 1973 Italian movie about the travails of an 
undocumented Italian waiter in Switzerland trying to 
pass--tragicomically--as Swiss will know that this is not a new problem 
at all. "Bread and Chocolate" is available from Netflix and your better 
video stores.)

Swiss Fury at Foreigners Boiling Over
Grisly Attack on African Underscores Race Issue In a Harsh Campaign

By Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, October 9, 2007; A10

ZURICH -- At 1:30 a.m., Antonio da Costa heard a knock at the back 
entrance of the McDonald's restaurant where he worked as a janitor 

He opened the door, he recalled in an interview. There stood two men, 
each gripping a chain saw. One yanked the cord on his saw, stepped 
toward da Costa and shouted above the roaring machine: "We don't need 
Africans in our country. We're here to kill you!"

The two masked assailants cornered da Costa and began raking him with 
the whirring chain-saw blades. They slashed one arm to the bone, nearly 
sliced off his left thumb and hacked his face, neck and chest, the 
37-year-old Angolan said, his voice quavering as he recounted the May 1 

The gruesome assault in a suburb of Zurich -- consistently ranked in 
international surveys as one of the world's most livable cities -- 
dramatized the surge in racism and xenophobia as Switzerland confronts 
its most difficult social transformation in modern times. Today, more 
than one in five people living in Switzerland are foreign-born, the 
second-highest percentage among countries in Europe.

One of the world's oldest democracies is at the center of Western 
Europe's most divisive political debate: to embrace an increasingly 
globalized, multicultural society or to retreat into social isolation in 
an effort to preserve eroding traditional identities.

Across Switzerland, anti-foreigner and anti-Islamic attitudes have 
become so pervasive on the streets, in politics and within governmental 
institutions that the United Nations, European Union, Amnesty 
International and Switzerland's own Federal Commission Against Racism 
have expressed alarm in recent months.

The theme is dominating the campaign for national parliamentary 
elections Oct. 21 and is crystallized in a controversial campaign poster 
showing three white sheep kicking a black sheep off a Swiss flag above 
the slogan, "For more security."

The sign is the creation of the anti-immigration Swiss People's Party, 
which in three decades has grown from a fringe group to the party with 
the largest number of seats -- 55 of the 200 -- in parliament's lower 
house, the National Council, and a major player in the coalition government.

On Saturday, counter-demonstrators threw rocks and bottles at Swiss 
People's Party protesters during a political rally in front of the 
national parliament building. Police fired tear gas to break up the melee.

Doudou Diene, the U.N. special fact-finder on racial intolerance, 
accused the party and its campaign posters of "advocating racist and 
xenophobic ideas."

"That's nonsense," said Ulrich Schluer, a Swiss People's Party 
legislator, newspaper editor and creator of the sheep campaign. "It's 
not against race. It's against people who break laws. People are fed up."

Even prominent members of his party denounced the campaign posters as 
going too far, though none is known to have made an effort to have them 
removed from the train stations and streets of Switzerland.

"We have addressed the problems that most of the population is thinking 
about," Schluer, 63, said in an interview outside the opulent 
marble-columned National Council chambers in the capital, Bern. He said 
rising crime rates, concern over terrorism and the increasing drain on 
the national budget to support poor immigrant families have drawn more 
voters to the Swiss People's Party.

His party has initiated and won national referendums making it tougher 
for foreigners to enter Switzerland and obtain citizenship and easier to 
deport immigrants. Switzerland now has the strictest naturalization laws 
in Europe.

The Swiss parliament last week passed a party-sponsored bill allowing 
police to use Tasers -- weapons that fire electrically charged barbs of 
about 50,000 volts at the body -- to force recalcitrant immigrants onto 
airplanes during deportation.

Three years ago, the party helped defeat a national referendum to ease 
the citizenship process for second- and third-generation foreigners; its 
campaign posters depicted brown hands reaching into a basket of Swiss 
passports. Another poster showed a picture of Osama bin Laden on a Swiss 
identity card with the caption, "Don't be fooled."

The party is now calling for a national referendum on banning minarets 
on mosques and another on allowing deportation of a family if one of its 
members younger than 18 is convicted of a crime. It is also pushing to 
repeal the federal law making discrimination and incitement to racial 
hatred a crime.

"These campaigns remind me of the worst times in Europe between 1930 and 
1938," said Yves Patrick Delachaux, a Geneva police officer and author 
who has made a career of combating racism in his police department. "The 
same types of posters were used to encourage people to kick the Jews 
out. We have to be very careful with such propaganda."

Switzerland's Federal Commission Against Racism warned in a report last 
month that racial discrimination has become institutionalized in 
government agencies and that the centuries-old Swiss tradition of 
community decision-making has been corrupted by xenophobia.

In Switzerland, each local community determines who among its immigrants 
will be granted citizenship. In many towns and villages, public votes 
are taken among citizens.

The Commission Against Racism said those decisions "sometimes take the 
shape of a refusal with discriminatory and even racist overtones." The 
commission said most people denied citizenship were Muslims and natives 
of the Balkans who were granted asylum during the ethnic wars of the 1990s.

Glenda Loebell-Ryan, a candidate for parliament and head of the Zurich 
branch of SOS Racism, an anti-discrimination group that assists victims 
of racism, accuses anti-immigration parties of "instilling fear in the 

She said the political rhetoric is fueling the kind of aggression that 
led to the chain-saw attack on Antonio da Costa at the McDonald's 

Asked about da Costa's account, Swiss People's Party legislator Schluer 
said: "Sometimes a mistake can happen. I don't say all Swiss men and 
women are the most ideal human beings in the world."

Philipp Rothenbach, prosecutor in the case, said in a written statement, 
"The search for the unknown perpetrators is ongoing." He added that 
there were no independent witnesses to the attack, but said, "The 
investigators have pictures from a video camera from McDonald's."

Da Costa, who came to Switzerland 11 years ago as an Angolan war 
refugee, said he had grown accustomed to the racial slurs and looks of 
suspicion from white Swiss over the years. But he said nothing prepared 
him for the two men and their chain saws.

"We know Switzerland is a nice country, there's security everywhere," 
said da Costa, who speaks three languages but has worked most of his 
time in Switzerland as a janitor. "You never think something like this 
can happen.

"I couldn't defend myself against two chain saws," he said. As they 
slashed at him with the buzzing blades, da Costa said, he tried in vain 
to protect his face with his arms. "I couldn't feel my fingers. I was on 
my knees. I tried to tell them I didn't want trouble, I just came here 
to work. They were treating me like I was an animal.

"One put the chain saw on top of my head and said, 'We're going to cut 
you in half.' "

He closed his eyes at the memory. "I tried to hide my eyes. I didn't 
want to see the way they were going to kill me," he continued, in 
French. "I was praying. In my head I'd already died. I'd lost all hope 
of living.

"Then it was a miracle. He saved me," da Costa said, referring to God. 
"I found the courage inside. I got up and pushed open the door with my 
chest because I couldn't use my arms, and ran." He fell, breaking his 
teeth; the men stood over him and tried to restart the saws, but could 
not, he said. He sprang up and jumped a fence, eluding them.

That night he underwent six hours of surgery to stitch the cuts on his 
face, chest and arms and reattach his left thumb. Five months after the 
attack, half of his face is slathered in a white salve, his left arm 
remains in a red cast, 16 purple slashes are outlined on his right arm 
and damaged teeth continue to fall out.

"My own children are afraid of me -- my own children," said da Costa, 
his eyes welling with tears. "They want to know, 'Why did somebody cut 
up my daddy?' "

Researcher Corinne Gavard in Paris and special correspondent Shannon 
Smiley in Berlin contributed to this report.

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