"Right-wing xenophobes" trumpet Britain's Economist, Spain's El Pais and Belgium's Le Soir. "Extreme right-wingers" say London's Guardian and Independent. "Nationalist" sniffs the French Liberation and "Nazi," no less, declares l'Unita of Italy. The Swiss billionaire industrialist Christoph Blocher dismisses all such descriptions of himself and his party.
"Liberal conservative" is how he describes himself, as if to confuse those ignorant
Europeans that want to place him on the dark side of their world, which they split neatly into extreme fascists and moderate democrats.
Blocher, the de facto leader of the Swiss People's Party, made history in October when he led the party to victory in general elections - with 26.6 percent of the vote - transforming it for the first time into the largest party in the federal parliament. The local press dubbed the victory "a political earthquake" and "a revolution."
According to the "magic formula" that has been operating in Switzerland since 1959, the cabinet is made up of four parties - the Socialists, Christian Democrats and Radicals all have two seats each and the People's Party has one. Next Wednesday, the federal parliament is to determine the make-up of the new government, which is expected to reflect the revolution in the elections.
If the People's Party is granted an extra seat, Blocher - who has demanded the second seat for himself - is expected to use the occasion to push for his controversial policies. If he is blocked, Blocher threatens to flee to the opposition and work from there, shaking the foundations of Switzerland's traditional consensus. His rhetoric is nationalist and anti-European. In the past he has compared the European Union to the Third Reich and has resolutely fought to prevent Switzerland joining. It is also anti-establishment and he roundly attacks the elite and large parties "that are incapable of addressing the citizens' concerns."
Blocher plays on the economic difficulties and growing feelings of a lack of security, using racist demagoguery that connects Albanian immigrants and "black Africans" with drugs and crime. "The Swiss are becoming negroes," his election posters declared.
One of his party's electoral candidates in 1999 posted his racist views on the Internet, and another expressed admiration for the Waffen SS.
When the dormant account saga emerged in 1997, Blocher himself demanded that no Swiss money should be passed to Holocaust victims. "Such compensation is an admission of guilt," he said. Two years later he told Yedioth Aharanoth: "The threats from the U.S. to boycott Swiss banks... are like the Nazi boycott when they called on the public not to buy from Jews."
In the same year, the Zurich Court declared that Blocher had used anti-Semitic stereotypes in a 1997 speech which included the sentence,"Jews are interested only in money." The speech came at the same time as an expose of a letter in which Blocher had complimented a Holocaust-denier on his book.
But while the rest of Europe could draw clear associations from all of this, in Switzerland the perception is different. He may look like a duck, and quack like a duck - a duck named Joerg Haider, for instance - but Blocher is a unique bird with no equivalent in the European political arena. Almost all experts on Swiss politics share this opinion, and even Israeli diplomats and Jewish community leaders concur.
Blocher, they say, is a "national patriot," "charismatic populist," even "likable" to some and certainly "not dangerous" in any sense. Although he does sometimes pander to racist and anti-Semitic voters, he seemingly has never publicly supported national-socialism. If he has stumbled "once or twice," he has retracted and apologized.
It is also emphasized that neutral Switzerland has not the same history as Austria, which enthusiastically embraced the Anschluss, and the background of the People's Party - originally a farmers' party - is not like the Austrian Freedom Party, which from its inception was a lodestone for veteran Nazis.
Blocher's personal background also differs from that of Haider - who was born to Nazi parents - and even if his rhetoric is radical, his policies are conventional. His 24 years in federal parliament are proof of it, as is his toeing of the Swiss "political compromise" system.
Israel's Foreign Ministry tends to accept this basic interpretation too. Blocher's entry into the government will attract close scrutiny of his policies and actions, but it will not necessarily upset the cart. One way of dealing with Blocher, the Foreign Ministry has recommended, is to keep taking "the anti-nausea tablets."
Theoretically, it is possible Blocher could end up as Swiss foreign minister, a scenario some would welcome: "Blocher is not one of the politicians who would have supported the moves behind last week's launch of the Geneva accord," said a Swiss analyst. If that is so, there will be people over here who would not need any Foreign Ministry prescription.
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