Possibly unnoticed by many this week will have been the disturbing general election results in Switzerland
Once again, a country with an already checkered and highly questionable historical past adds further fuel to that fire by embarrassing itself in front of the international community.
In a display of extraordinary poor judgment, the electorate voted into power the far-right wing People’s Party (SVP) giving them now 55 seats in the Swiss Parliament, making them the biggest party in there.
In reality, it’s leader Christoph Blocher is nothing more than Switzerland’s answer to Jean Marie Le Pen in France and his party no better than the BNP in the UK.
They are extremist, xenophobic and racist and, much like many far-right wing groups, appeal to the lowest common denominator within the population by exploiting their largely unfounded and irrational fears about issues such as employment, law and order and immigration.
What is uniquely disturbing about this is that it should have happened in what, ironically, is one of the richest countries in the world – a place where the local population have the least reason of all for having such concerns in the first place (the average salary is in excess of $38,000 per annum according to the World Bank in 2001).
Even more shameful than that however is that this election result represents yet another step in the altogether unsettling history of a country that has far too often shown itself to be aloof and elitist and largely disinterested in involving itself in the international community which it is a part of whether it likes it or not, often choosing instead to bury it’s head in the sand and ignore problems around it.
It alleged a position of neutrality during World War II and closed it’s borders to German Jews fleeing the Holocaust in their country knowing full well what fate lay in store for them consequently, whilst at the same time it’s banks gladly accepted millions of dollars from Jewish families trying to move both themselves and their assets out of the way of Hitler. Subsequently, Swiss banks agreed in 1998 to pay out $1.25BN to Jewish families and Holocaust survivors in compensation.
It declined to become a member of organisations such as the United Nations (which if finally became a member of only last year) and the European Union, which have a social and humanitarian aspect to them and yet had no qualms about signing up for the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank – hardly surprising with banking as one of Switzerland’s main industries.
Indeed this very same banking industry which yields enormous wealth for the country does so arguably at a tremendous cost to the rest of international community amidst complaints from numerous other countries that Switzerland’s strict secrecy laws afforded to account holders has allowed vast sums of illegally gotten funds to be stored there from organised crime through to despotic, barbarous illegal regimes around the world.
In the face of all of this in their past, the voters then go out and place into power a man who has campaigned openly on a racist ticket of comparing legitimate asylum seekers with drug dealers and criminals.
Yet remarkably enough as is so often true in these cases, Christoph Blocher himself is a wealthy businessman whose personal fortune in Switzerland is estimated to be in the billions, thus making him one of the very people who would be least affected even if the country were even in reality to be swamped with illegal immigrants.
Conceivably however (and hopefully too) out of all of this may come some form of salvation in the form of a somewhat uniquely Swiss method of governmental power sharing with divides Parliamentary seats up between the four main political parties in the country.
This system, known as the “magic formula” and set up in 1959, divides the 6 Government posts almost equally between the 4 main political parties in Switzerland irrespective of electoral results but this new major swing to the right wing People’s Party may now jeopardise all of that.
In it’s own way, this oddly power sharing method of government may bring about a compromise of sorts which may dilute this situation and avoid the worst aspects of such a party taking control (although Christophe Blocher is already saying that he won’t accept the present system and wants another Government post to be allocated to his party).
One can only hope here that the international community will display it’s revulsion as this result in the same way that it did when Joerg Haider’s Freedom Party scored significant gains in the election in Austria in 1999.
Certainly it is reasonable to expect this, even though in the past Switzerland has not exactly been the subject of much reprimanding from any of the major international powers suspiciously enough, which in turn may well be connected to it’s wealth held within it’s private banking system.
In the meantime, all countries have moments when there is a need for national reflection and this is most certainly one for the Swiss to take advantage of.
Neutrality, after all, is neutrality and not a convenient excuse to use to conceal the fact that you harbour extremist views which you would politely rather not divulge in public unless you absolutely must.
John Bourke is a writer and veteran Public Relations consultant who has worked with the media in both the UK and US for the last 20 years. He is a Contributing Editor to PRAVDA.Ru.