After Minarets, the Germans: The Swiss Populists’ New Enemy No. 1

Having succeeded in its referendum campaign against minarets in Switzerland, the populist SVP is now focusing on a different threat — this time from the north. The party is targeting Germans ahead of a local election in Zurich. Worringly it seems that its German-bashing is becoming respectable.

The far-right Swiss People’s Party (SVP) is not content to wrest on its laurels after its spectacularly successful campaign against minarets. Now the populist party has a new enemy in its sights: Germans.

Ahead of local elections in March, the party has been waging a campaign against the many Germans who have settled in the German-speaking city of Zurich. And the SVP has chosen to hone in on what it claims is a hogging of academic jobs in Switzerland by German professors. While the attacks on what it calls “German sleaze” in the Swiss ivory towers fits into the party’s populist rhetoric, the tendency towards German bashing — like the rejection of the minarets — looks like it may be going mainstream. The party has recently upped the ante, asking in a newspaper insert “Are the Germans a race?” in response to an open letter written by 200 professors at universities in Zurich accusing the party of racism and xenophobia. The academics had been responding to earlier SVP claims that German professors at Zurich universities were giving jobs to young German academics over Swiss applicants. The SVP campaign failed to mention that there are more Swiss than German academics at the city’s universities.

‘Fawning’ to the Germans

Fittingly SVP member Christoph Mörgeli, one of the masterminds behind the anti-German campaign, recently lost out on a professorship at the University of Zurich to a German applicant. “It’s not about me,” he said during a talk show on Friday. “But when one pays taxes here and does military service, then it is a bit surprising when the boss is suddenly someone called Schulze.” Mörgeli also called into question the awarding of an honorary doctorate by the University of Bern to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, saying it showed a certain “fawning position” toward the Germans.

While such comments may be expected rhetoric from a member of the SVP, his fellow talkshow guests seemed just as eager to join in the attacks Switzerland’s German immigrants.

Roger Schawinski, formerly head of the German TV station Sat.1, argued that the Swiss should not speak hochdeutsch, or high German, with the Germans, but rather Swiss German. What was surprising about the comment was that Schawinski is regarded as a liberal, someone who had previously spoken out against xenophobia. “When it comes to Yugoslavs in Switzerland, we also say that integration happens above all through language,” he said.

And veteran Social Democratic parliamentarian Rudolf Strahm spoke of the problem of the “exclusion” of poorly educated Swiss people by better qualified Germans in the labor market.

‘The Bullet Is Waiting for You’

There are now over 250,000 Germans living in Switzerland, a country of 7.6 million, and 28,000 have settled in Zurich alone. In particular the health services and academia have attracted many German jobseekers. The number of those heading south has increased steadily. Switzerland, not a member of the European Union, waived any visa requirements for EU citizens in 2002.

While the SVP campaign against the Germans has until now focused on Zurich, which holds municipal elections on March 7, the party can be expected to up the rhetoric to the national level if they see that the issue goes over well with voters.

And the German-bashing is already having an affect. The police in Zurich say that they have already received five reports of threatening letters to Germans in the city. One woman, who has been living in the country for 30 years, recently received the chilling message: “The bullet is waiting for you, you miserable German.”

Originally published on SPIEGEL ONLINE International:,1518,675309,00.html

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