Change The Narrative: How A Swiss Group Is Marginalizing Hateful Rightwing Populists

“The [far right] populists don’t know what’s hit them, and they really don’t know how to deal with it.”

By Jon Henley
The Guardian (4/7/19)

How do you beat rightwing populists? With pink socks, viral videos, condoms – and an iron determination not to let them decide what matters.

That’s how Operation Libero are doing it anyway.

As advancing nationalist parties prepare to meet in Milan on Monday to forge an alliance in the run-up to May’s European elections, anti-populist activists in Switzerland may have some lessons on halting – even reversing – the seemingly unstoppable rise of rightwing populists.

“It’s about the political space, who’s defining and shaping it, who’s communicating strategically within it, who, basically, is holding it,” says Flavia Kleiner, 28, the group’s self-assured co-president, over tea in a Zurich bookshop and coffee house.

Well, those young people have changed the dynamics of the country. The populists seem to be running out of steam. It’s pretty cool.”

At the moment, in lots of places, it’s populists. Everywhere, the conversation’s about identity: who we are, where we’re from, the past. But that’s their turf. We have to go on the offensive – clear the fog, refocus attention, reframe the debate.”

As the ground zero of postwar European populism, Switzerland is home to arguably Europe’s most consistently successful rightwing populist party, the Swiss People’s party (SVP). For 25 years, the SVP had been steadily building its electoral success through a series of increasingly nation-first, anti-immigration popular referendums.

The right “don’t know what happened.” 

In February 2016, months after the SVP had scored its highest ever share of the vote, 29.4%, in national elections, with the political mainstream seemingly helpless to halt its advance, Switzerland went to the polls again, this time for an SPP-sponsored referendum demanding the automatic deportation of immigrants found guilty of even minor offences.

Had the proposal passed, any of the country’s two million non-Swiss residents – a quarter of the population – caught, for example, speeding twice in any 10-year period, could have been automatically returned to their homeland, with judges barred from considering personal circumstances.

It didn’t pass.

Voters rejected it overwhelmingly by 59% to 41%, on a higher turnout – at nearly 64% – than for any popular referendum in years. “One moment we were talking about immigration and doing just fine,” the SVP’s leader said at the time. “The next, everyone was talking about rule of law. I don’t know what happened.” …

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