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Top manager enters political fray over asylum

Markus Rauh will give a speech at the birthplace of the confederation on National Day


Markus Rauh, former chairman of leading telecommunications provider, Swisscom, has caused a stir by coming out against a planned tightening of the asylum laws.

But Rauh – who will make the National Day speech at the Rütli meadow, the nation's symbolic birthplace in central Switzerland - tells swissinfo that he hasn't changed his political stripes.

Rauh became a household name last January when he wrote a letter to the editor of the "St Galler Tagblatt" newspaper, calling the revision of the country's asylum law "shameful". Since then, he has been among those calling on citizens to reject the legislation in a nationwide vote in September.

swissinfo: Why have you decided to be at the forefront of the battle against tougher asylum regulations?

Markus Rauh: Generally speaking this revision is unacceptable, and much of what makes up the new legislation is of the same tenor. If voters accept it in September, we will have the most brutal and toughest asylum law anywhere in Europe. That just doesn't fit with my personal values and Swiss traditions, especially our humanitarian one.

swissinfo: What do you reckon are your chances of defeating the amendments?

M.R.: If I didn't have the feeling that we have a chance of winning the vote, I wouldn't be fighting the revision.

swissinfo: You say your letter to the media has changed your life dramatically. To what extent?

M.R.: The media has been chasing after me, as well as all sorts of people who want me to take part in various events. It's the first time in my life that I have done something like that. I've lost a few good friends, but I've made a lot of new ones.

swissinfo: Have political parties courted you?

M.R.: No, fortunately not. It could have only been the Left, and I'm not one of them. And the Centre-right probably considers me to be its enemy now.

swissinfo: Why did you agree to give the National Day speech at the Rütli meadow?

M.R.: The organisers came looking for me. I was asked to make this speech and at first I didn't want to. But my family, my children gave me the courage to take on this task. That's why I said yes.

swissinfo: Will you speak about the amendments to the asylum law?

M.R.: The two things [National Day and the asylum law] are not connected. My speech on August 1 at the Rütli has a totally different background to my position on the asylum legislation.

I will only make a passing reference to the law. I have other themes I would like to discuss.

swissinfo: Speeches on the Rütli meadow have been disturbed in the past few years by rightwing extremists. What are you expecting?

M.R.: I have no idea how it will pan out. I hope that the meadow will be neither a high-security zone, nor will there be any clashes.

swissinfo: As the former chairman of Swisscom, you have followed the debate about its possible privatisation. Parliament is divided on the issue, while cabinet is pushing for a sale. How do you see the operator's future?

M.R.: I believe we have reached a stalemate. The government's proposal has been rejected. And it is not clear who should decide which way to pursue Swisscom's development.

It looks as though it will take some time before there is another attempt to privatise the operator, perhaps not before the beginning of a new parliamentary term in 2008. This uncertainty is certainly not very good for Swisscom.

swissinfo-interview: Christian Raaflaub

In brief

Rauh, a 67-year-old engineer from St Gallen was Swisscom's chairman of the board from 1997 until May 2006. He had worked previously for Unaxis and Leica.

In January, he wrote a letter to the editor of the St Galler Tagblatt newspaper writing of his shame of Switzerland's revised asylum law.

Since then, Rauh has joined a centre-right committee calling on voters to reject the legislation in September.

According to the committee, the new law does nothing to prevent abuses of the asylum system, but it threatens elementary human rights.

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Excerpts from Rauh's letter

I am ashamed to live in a country where 15 armed police officers can drag a mother and her children out of bed, take them away and deport them.

I am ashamed to live in a rich country with a humanitarian tradition where it is possible to treat rejected [asylum seekers] with nowhere to go like monsters and give them no help.

And I am ashamed of myself since I accepted this situation and did nothing to stop it and am reduced to writing a tame and helpless letter to the editor.

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