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Political advertising

Federal railways removes ad with swastika symbol

The Swiss Federal Railways has announced that train stations will no longer display an advertisement campaigning against a controversial hardline initiative because the use of the swastika symbol offends the public. 

“The poster with the swastika on a red background deeply hurt our customers’ feelings,” the railways said in a statement. The advertisement was made by a group against an initiative to expel foreigners who have committed crimes in Switzerland, up for a nationwide vote next Sunday. It shows the Swiss cross converted into a swastika with the words ”1933: Germany 1948: South Africa 2016: Switzerland” displayed below.

The posters were displayed in digital form in the Zurich and Geneva train stations over the past two days.

The head of the centre-right Conservative Democratic Party, Martin Landolt, made waves when he tweeted a picture of the advertisement on February 15. 

The advertisement was designed by British-Swiss advertising copywriter Parvez Sheik. Sheik told the communication industry publication persoenlich.ch that private donors had financed the hanging of his advertisements in the train stations at a cost of CHF3,585 ($3,611).

A train station is considered to be public space based on a 2012 Federal Court decision made in the aftermath of the railways’ decision to remove an advertisement against Israel’s settlement policies. The move was ruled to have been made unjustly. 

Following the ruling, the Federal Railways must allow political advertisements to be displayed in their stations. However, in their statement, the railways said they “assume that displaying a swastika so prominently goes beyond the bounds of the Federal Court’s decision” and that they “do not involve themselves in political campaigns in any way, nor take an official position”.

Displaying a swastika, which has been illegal in some countries including Germany and Austria since 1945, is allowed in Switzerland under certain circumstances. 

The symbol, used by the German National Socialist (Nazi) party during World War II, may not be used in Switzerland if it expresses the same ideologies for which the Nazi party intended it. In this case of political advertising, its use was legally allowed.

swissinfo.ch and agencies


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