SPIEGEL ONLINE Interview With Swiss Justice Minister Christoph Blocher 'We Must Tell the Muslims We Are a Christian Nation'
SPIEGEL ONLINE spoke to right-wing Swiss Justice Minister Christoph Blocher about his controversial Swiss People's Party, its allegedly xenophobic electoral campaign and the possible Swiss referendum on building minarets.
Swiss Justice Minister Christoph Blocher has made a name for himself as an ardent opponent of Swiss EU membership and as a critic of Swiss immigration laws.
Christoph Blocher: I do not think that the fact I am taking center stage to such an extent in these elections is a good thing either, but my opponents are responsible for that. They have now been massively attacking my person for four years -- because of my policies.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Your opponents criticize the SVP's posters as xenophobic. One poster shows three white sheep standing on a Swiss cross and kicking a fourth, black sheep away -- "for more security," as the caption states. Even the United Nations has protested against the poster. Were you perhaps surprised by this commotion?
Blocher: What has surprised me most is that the poster was displayed in public for four weeks without anyone finding it offensive.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What do you have to say about the allegations of racism?
Blocher: The expression "black sheep" exists in every language. How could someone seriously reach the conclusion that Africans are meant? Everyone knows that the "black sheep" are the criminal foreigners who need to be removed from the country.
Blocher: No. At the time, we considered whether the poster might give that impression. Someone suggested making one of the sheep white and the others black. But a black sheep is simply black. You know, it doesn't really matter that this is now being debated. The poster presents the problem. The political opponents prefer to talk about the style, rather than about the content.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Your opponents, led by the Social Democratic Party (SP), want the new parliament to vote you out of the Swiss government, the Swiss Federal Council, in December. Are you afraid of that?
Blocher: The possibility is theoretically very real. But if you are asking me whether I am afraid or whether it would be a catastrophe for me to be voted out of the government, then the answer is no: I do not think about it every day.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: So joining the opposition would not be painful for you?
Blocher: If I am voted out of the government, then I would have to join the opposition immediately. I would see many more possibilities in that position today than in the past. In Switzerland, the opposition is tempting, because one can enforce popular votes by means of referendums and popular initiatives.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The electoral campaign was very tough, and both sides attacked each other fiercely. Your Swiss People's Party (SVP) is part of a common government formed by all major parties. The Social Democrats, who are also part of the government, have now been calling for you to be voted out of the government for more than a year. Does the Swiss model of consociationalist government, which has such a long tradition, still have a future?
Blocher: The question is indeed whether or not the government will hold up. If the Social Democrats are openly calling for me to be voted out of power, one must discuss the question: Who should really have to go? It could be the SVP. But it could also be the SP. Because I do not believe the center parties want to leave the government. But they will then be the ones who tip the scales.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: So do you want to throw the Social Democrats out of the government?
Blocher: I do not believe the SP will become an opposition party. They stand to lose more than we do. A left-wing party depends more strongly on participation in the government and administrative apparatus than a people's party that stands for freedom.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why do you believe that?
Blocher: Because it (the left-wing party) depends more on the state. Our main struggle is to curb state power. To achieve that, we do not necessarily have to be part of the government. But the Social Democrats, who seek to expand the state -- that is naturally difficult when you're not part of the government.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: A committee that also features prominent representatives of your party would like to ban the construction of minarets in Switzerland and has petitioned for a referendum on the issue. What is your stance on that?
Blocher: I cannot make a public statement on this issue, because my ministry will have to pass legal judgement on this initiative. But the question will be whether or not a minaret is a necessary part of a mosque. If not, then what is it? We will have to examine this. Besides, I do not know of any Muslim country that allows church towers.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: But Switzerland is a democracy, and freedom of religion applies there.
Blocher: We must tell the Muslims -- first: We are a democracy. Second: We are a Christian nation. You wouldn't like it either if we built church towers in your countries.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: You are a controversial politician, but you are enormously popular among your supporters. You make appearances in large venues, in front of hundreds of people, and speak about topical issues.
Blocher: I often get astonished reactions from my European ministerial colleagues when I tell them about such public appearances. People come to listen to me. They can ask questions, without censorship. That is the value of direct democracy. In Europe, many citizens have a sense of powerlessness vis-à-vis politicians, who act in a detached way, far above them. During the last German electoral campaign, I did not understand half the statements made by politicians either. That is why I must make an effort to speak in such a way that people can understand me. But I like ordinary people and I tend not to feel very comfortable among the elite.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The European Union is engaged in a dispute with Switzerland about corporate taxes. The EU considers the low taxes imposed on holding companies in some cantons as illegitimate state subsidies. Do you think it is possible that the EU could impose sanctions on Switzerland after the elections?
Blocher: The danger cannot be averted. Of course Switzerland has options too. But I would not now go so far as to ask who can hurt whom and by what means. I do not believe the EU will do that. The Germans may want it, but there is no consensus among the other countries. They have no interest in sanctions being imposed on us, because sanctions would also affect them as well, sooner or later.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Will Switzerland reach a compromise with the EU in the end?
Blocher: There is reason to fear that one will be reached again.
Interview conducted by Mathieu von Rohr.