Swiss Fury at Foreigners Boiling Over
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
ZURICH -- At 1:30 a.m., Antonio da Costa heard a knock at the back entrance of the McDonald's restaurant where he worked as a janitor after-hours.
He opened the door, he recalled in an interview. There stood two men, each gripping a chain saw. One yanked the cord on his saw, stepped toward da Costa and shouted above the roaring machine: "We don't need Africans in our country. We're here to kill you!"
The two masked assailants cornered da Costa and began raking him with the whirring chain-saw blades. They slashed one arm to the bone, nearly sliced off his left thumb and hacked his face, neck and chest, the 37-year-old Angolan said, his voice quavering as he recounted the May 1 attack.
The gruesome assault in a suburb of Zurich -- consistently ranked in international surveys as one of the world's most livable cities -- dramatized the surge in racism and xenophobia as Switzerland confronts its most difficult social transformation in modern times. Today, more than one in five people living in Switzerland are foreign-born, the second-highest percentage among countries in Europe.
One of the world's oldest democracies is at the center of Western Europe's most divisive political debate: to embrace an increasingly globalized, multicultural society or to retreat into social isolation in an effort to preserve eroding traditional identities.
Across Switzerland, anti-foreigner and anti-Islamic attitudes have become so pervasive on the streets, in politics and within governmental institutions that the United Nations, European Union, Amnesty International and Switzerland's own Federal Commission Against Racism have expressed alarm in recent months.
The theme is dominating the campaign for national parliamentary elections Oct. 21 and is crystallized in a controversial campaign poster showing three white sheep kicking a black sheep off a Swiss flag above the slogan, "For more security."
The sign is the creation of the anti-immigration Swiss People's Party, which in three decades has grown from a fringe group to the party with the largest number of seats -- 55 of the 200 -- in parliament's lower house, the National Council, and a major player in the coalition government.
On Saturday, counter-demonstrators threw rocks and bottles at Swiss People's Party protesters during a political rally in front of the national parliament building. Police fired tear gas to break up the melee.
Doudou Diene, the U.N. special fact-finder on racial intolerance, accused the party and its campaign posters of "advocating racist and xenophobic ideas."
"That's nonsense," said Ulrich Schluer, a Swiss People's Party legislator, newspaper editor and creator of the sheep campaign. "It's not against race. It's against people who break laws. People are fed up."
Even prominent members of his party denounced the campaign posters as going too far, though none is known to have made an effort to have them removed from the train stations and streets of Switzerland.