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Most Swiss are pro-Rütli anti-extremists

There are an estimated 1,000 rightwing extremists in Switzerland

(Keystone Archive)

The vast majority of Swiss believe rightwing extremists had a negative effect on Swiss National Day, according to a survey.

Hans-Jürg Fehr, president of the centre-left Social Democratic Party, said Justice Minister Christoph Blocher from the rightwing Swiss People’s Party had to take some of the blame.

Eighty-three per cent of Swiss thought extremists had spoilt the traditional celebrations on the Rütli meadow, according to a poll published in the SonntagsBlick newspaper. But 88 per cent were against discontinuing the event.

About 700 militants – twice as many as in 2004 – turned up on the Rütli meadow on August 1 and heckled Swiss President Samuel Schmid.

They seriously disrupted Schmid’s National Day speech with lengthy chanting – especially whenever mention was made of foreigners or integration with other cultures – and personal insults such as "Judas" and "pig".

Twenty-four per cent of the 1,001 people questioned across Switzerland said rightwing extremists should be banned from the Rütli. Two-thirds thought access should only be denied if a law – such as the anti-racism law – had been broken.

Thirty-four per cent of respondents said the celebrations should only go ahead with sufficient police protection, but 31 per cent wanted the event to take place as it always has and without any special measures.

Only six per cent said the Rütli celebrations should be discontinued.

Seventy-four per cent said August 1 was "Switzerland’s birthday" and should be celebrated accordingly.

As for the danger to Switzerland posed by the far-right movement, 12 per cent of respondents thought it "very big", 38 per cent "quite big" and 39 per cent "quite small".

Seven per cent of those surveyed believed the far-right movement posed no danger to the country.

Political reaction

The public appearance of Neo-Nazi skinheads during the National Day celebrations has put the issue of extremism back in the spotlight.

Adolf Ogi, a former cabinet minister, called for "a proper festival on the Rütli".

In an interview with the SonntagsBlick, Ogi said he wanted to see "a celebration of the four cultures, the four languages and the 26 cantons".

He said a Rütli ban was unnecessary. "We must counter the Neo-Nazis with our values."

When asked whether the People’s Party had prepared the ground for the Neo-Nazis, Ogi said it would be wrong "to condemn only the People’s Party and to tar them all with the same brush".

Last week Moritz Leuenberger, a cabinet minister and member of the Social Democratic Party, indirectly criticised his cabinet colleague Christoph Blocher and Blocher’s People’s Party.

Leuenberger said expressions such as "characterless" and "half a minister" - which the militants used on August 1 to describe Schmid - were clearly the language of a certain government party.

Hans-Jürg Fehr, meanwhile, told the Matin Dimanche newspaper that Blocher’s silence made his co-responsibility even greater.

Fehr said Blocher must at least declare his solidarity with Schmid and explicitly condemn the Neo-Nazis’ activities.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The Federal Police Office says there are about 1,000 rightwing extremists in Switzerland.
According to one militant group, the protest was organised by the rightwing Party of Nationally Oriented Swiss (PNOS).
A PNOS member was elected to the town council in Günsberg in canton Solothurn in April.
Four PNOS members were found guilty of racism last month.

end of infobox

In brief

Having a Swiss National Day on August 1 was introduced at the end of the 19th century but it only became a national holiday in 1994.

National Day marks the founding of the Swiss Confederation on August 1, 1291.

Three alpine states signed a treaty on the Rütli Meadow that day pledging to act together to defend themselves against outside attack.

The Swiss celebrate National Day with brunches, speeches, bonfires and fireworks.

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