Swiss politics become more confrontational

Jonas Knecht

The writer Tim Krohn tells swissinfo the political style of the Swiss People's Party is endangering Switzerland's consensus form of politics.

This content was published on October 28, 2007 - 10:58

Krohn says this could move Switzerland closer to democratic systems used in the rest of Europe, which is ironic since the rightwing party contributes much of its success to its isolationist stance.

Last weekend's parliamentary elections ended in a triumph for the People's Party and its strongman, Justice Minister Christoph Blocher.

In its campaign it focused on highly emotional issues, notably immigration and crime, as well as an alleged plot against Blocher amid mudslinging against other political parties.

swissinfo: Why have Swiss writers been quiet up until now about the unusually fiercely fought campaign?

Tim Krohn: It's not customary in Switzerland for writers to speak out. Artists in this country do not see themselves as trailblazing members of society. They voice their opinions as citizens during normal discourse among their peers or at the pub.

Culture here is not per se elitist as it is in other countries. There is no differentiation between the grass roots and an intellectual elite responsible for taking decisions. The people here remain sovereign. The opinion of a writer does not count for any more than the view of anyone else.

swissinfo: In that case, is Switzerland lacking an intellectual voice?

T.K.: Just because the voice of writers is not heard in the political discourse doesn't mean that there are no intellectual authors who have an opinion.

They just don't speak out on every issue.

swissinfo: How do you feel about the outcome of the elections?

T.K.: It was remarkable how drastically the political debate changed in the run up to the vote. The Swiss People's Party introduced a European style of political campaigning. One can say quite bluntly that Blocher is leading Switzerland to Europe.

It was trench warfare and we witnessed the kind of debate we are used to seeing between government and opposition parties in Germany, Italy or the United States.

It's no longer about striking a good balance. This is new and shocking, because the Swiss form of consensus politics, the will to find common ground in order to shape the country, is now in great danger.

Therefore the very thing that has made Switzerland a special case within Europe and what provided justification for its decision to go it alone is endangered.

There is a certain irony in that since of all political groupings it is the People's Party which has instigated the removal of this special status.

swissinfo: Do you then think Switzerland has become a country like any other?

T.K.: Switzerland has come closer to Europe in a way that I personally find questionable. We shouldn't strive to imitate the kind of mud-slinging that takes place in other countries during election campaigns.

I believe and hope that what happened this year will remain an isolated case. The other parties will in future not be so stupid to be led into a trap again by the People's Party, and will protect the Swiss peculiarity that is consensus politics. This is one of the country's greatest assets.

If Europe can learn to improve its own political system - and this is urgently required - than it should take from the Swiss model, which has functioned superbly for 150 years.

swissinfo: Why did so many Swiss vote for the People's Party?

Mainly because they found the idea mooted by other parties of voting an acting cabinet minister (Blocher) out of office indecent.

This was comforting in a way since they didn't want to see the system upset. They chose the opposite – to preserve traditional political values.

swissinfo: What do you think will be the consequences of the election at home and abroad?

T.K.: The question is: will the People's Party continue to follow this very un-Swiss course? Does it really want to create a new political climate of opposition and political combat and move away from cooperative efforts that shape the country? If this is the case, than we are facing great upheaval.

Foreign policy won't change much. Of course, Switzerland has moved a little to the right like many other countries have done. The entire political spectrum in Europe has shifted massively to the right over the past 20 years.

swissinfo: Much attention was placed on the Black Sheep campaign of the People's Party. The talk was about xenophobia and even racism. Has Switzerland become more xenophobic than neighbouring countries?

T.K.: I fear there is a trend in this direction. For years, one has seen this kind of development in France and Germany. It's also not new in Switzerland. Racism has always been present. What's changed is that the figureheads of this xenophobic party have become so popular.

swissinfo-interview: Gaby Ochsenbein

Tim Krohn

The writer currently lives in Zurich, and teaches at the Swiss Literature Institute in Biel.

He was born in 1965 in Wiedenbrück, Germany,and grew up in the town of Glarus in central Switzerland.

He studied philosophy, German language and literature and political science.

He was president of the Swiss Writers' Association from 1998 to 2001.

The author of novels, essays and plays has won various prizes for his works.

He was last cited for his 2007 novel, Vrenelis Gärtli, published by Eichborn, Berlin.

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