Frauke Petry, leader of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD), believes Germany “needs more Switzerland … more democracy” and that Switzerland is some way ahead of her country when it comes to a “culture of democracy”.
Petry, who in January suggested German police should be allowed to shoot refugees trying to enter Germany, was a guest speaker at the general meeting of the Campaign for an Independent and Neutral Switzerland (CINS).
The event was held on Saturday in Interlaken, canton Bern, under police protection. It had been moved from Bern after receiving threats. Everything ran smoothly.
"Direct democracy and referendums are important because the self-evidence of democracy was being lost everywhere, said Petry, a 40-year-old chemist. "Prosperity is making people comfortable. And lazy – above all when they have to think."
Apart from the AfD there was no longer an opposition party in Germany, she continued, demanding an end to the “forced consensus”. “More controversy is needed once again,” she said.
"When journalists accuse us of being just a protest party, I ask myself whether they actually know how politics works."
What Petry wanted to see was a Europe of free nation states. “Borders and differences need to be recognised. If you mix every colour together, you end up with a grey brown that no one likes. Common features and cooperation in Europe don’t require EU membership,” she said to loud applause.
"That needs to be emphasised strongly in Germany today – in Switzerland it doesn't."
Since last summer, Petry has delivered fiery speeches attacking German Chancellor Angela Merkel and has transformed the AfD from an anti-euro group on the brink of collapse into an anti-immigrant party tipped to win up to a fifth of the vote in regional elections next weekend.
Freedom of speech
Her invitation by CINS, an isolationist group with close links to the rightwing Swiss People’s Party, had triggered considerable criticism. Leftwing groups had threaten to disrupt the meeting.
For that reason, CINS moved its annual meeting at short notice from Bern to Interlaken.
The organisation’s president, People’s Party politician Lukas Reimann, said an open society had to be able to withstand different opinions – also ones which were not acceptable.
“In the past the left had to fight for freedom of speech – today they are the ones oppressing it,” he said.
Christoph Blocher, the People’s Party’s billionaire figurehead, attended the event in Interlaken and said he was delighted Petry was speaking.
However, he ruled out any cooperation between his party and the AfD – Petry had called for alliances in the struggle for a common vision – saying the People’s Party would continue to focus on Swiss politics.
swissinfo.ch and agencies