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Far-right party makes political breakthrough

Rightwing extremists on Swiss national day, August 1, in central Switzerland Keystone

For the first time in history a rightwing extremist has been elected to serve in a Swiss local government.

This content was published on April 29, 2005 - 17:44

The surprise election of teenager X* to the government of the commune of Günsberg in northern Switzerland has caused widespread dismay. But, at least for one political observer, the election should not be seen as a cause for alarm.

X, who represents the Party of Nationally Orientated Swiss (PNOS), gained 21% of the vote in the election at the end of April.

He fought a campaign for stricter sanctions against drug dealers and criminal asylum seekers, as well as support for farmers in the 1,164-member community.

His victory comes six months after another member of PNOS succeeded in being elected to the local parliament of the town of Langenthal in canton Bern.

Hans Stutz, a journalist and observer of the far-right scene in Switzerland, says that victory can be put down to low voter turnout.

In Günsberg the fact that the rightwing Swiss People’s Party did not field a candidate probably contributed towards the result, Stutz told swissinfo.

"It seems that members of the national-conservative camp are prepared to vote for a rightwing extremist," Stutz said.

"Climate of discrimination"

But although two PNOS members have now made the breakthrough into local politics, Stutz considers it relatively unlikely that representatives of the Far Right will be elected in the future.

For Stutz, a new development is that PNOS is now playing a part in institutional politics.

"This has only become possible because in the past 20 years the [rightwing] People’s Party, the Action for an Independent and Neutral Switzerland and other similar groupings have introduced a climate of discrimination and rabble-rousing in society," he said.

PNOS was founded in 2000 and now has an estimated 100 to 130 members. It is particularly active in central Switzerland and around Basel.

Stutz says the party has from the start tried to present itself as a moderate political force that eschews violence, although some of its members have previous convictions for violent offences.

"But if we look at the party manifesto we see that at its core it is partly national-socialist and partly racist."

The federal authorities’ report for 2004 on extremism confirms this view. "The party programme, party newspaper and other PNOS publications are characterised by xenophobic, antidemocratic and rightwing extremist rhetoric," it says.

Minorities targeted

Stutz says PNOS is dangerous because it has links to people who have used violence against members of minorities, including gays, Jews and foreigners.

There is also evidence that the youth section of PNOS is cultivating contacts with rightwing extremists in Germany, Stutz says.

But the political observer does not want to dramatise the election of the 19-year-old.

"Rightwing extremism is still a development on the margins of society, he told swissinfo. "I don’t see any reason for panic."

However, he does believe that the Swiss should speak up against extremist behaviour. "We must keep our eyes open and speak out when we witness far-right extremist comments and deeds."

swissinfo, Gaby Ochsenbein

* Name anonymised by editors

Key facts

The far-right scene in Switzerland comprises many small groups.
They use concerts and the internet to spread their message.
The 2004 report on extremism says there are 1,000 such extremists in the country and around 800 sympathisers.
The average age is between 16 and 22 years.
PNOS was founded in 2000 and has 100-130 members.

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