The right-wing Swiss People’s Party (Schweizerische Volkspartei, SVP) seems to spark controversy every time it puts up a political poster.
The right-wing Swiss People’s Party (Schweizerische Volkspartei, SVP) seems to spark controversy every time it puts up a political poster. (Who can forget its placards in favour of last year’s referendum to ban minarets, which depicted the spires as menacing rockets atop the country’s flag.) Last week, new billboards appeared on streets in Canton Ticino showing rats taking bites out of Swiss cheese. But instead of creeping Islamisation, this time party officials had a new target: next-door neighbour Italy.
The latest SVP initiative, which includes a website and Facebook page, is a protest against the 45,000 Italians, known as frontalieri, who cross the border each day to earn a living as builders, factory workers, nurses and researchers in the Italian-speaking canton. On average, the Italians work for lower salaries than their Swiss counterparts, while a bilateral accord stipulates that a share of income tax paid by cross-border employees is returned south – last year, Ticino authorities sent 56 million Swiss francs to Italian coffers.
With the Swiss economy in the process of righting itself and cantonal unemployment higher than the national average, local members of the SVP believed they had found a potential vote winner come election time. So the SVP, currently the biggest party in the Swiss parliament, hired a Ticino advertising agency to come up with a provocative message.
But just as the party drew flak for its black sheep poster in support of deporting foreigners – which even the UN condemned as racist – officials again found themselves in hot water for caricaturing their southern neighbours as rodents. The Swiss ambassador to Rome was quickly forced to issue an apology.
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