As Switzerland prepares for a controversial immigration referendum next month, the Swiss Federal Railways is under pressure to remove political ads featuring a woman in a burqa, which critics have called offensive propaganda.
The Feb. 12 referendum would naturalize as many as 25,000 third-generation immigrants under the age of 25, provided they speak one of the four official languages of the country, respect Swiss law, and meet other criteria.
The far-right Swiss People’s Party (SVP), which ordered up the ad campaign, opposes the referendum, saying broader naturalization would have “damaging consequences to Swiss culture and identity.” The SVP’s anti-referendum ads depict a woman in a burqa—a “symbol of lack of integration,” said one prominent SVP politician—with the campaign’s slogan: “Uncontrolled naturalization? No to facilitated naturalization.”
The railway, specifically, is under pressure because the SVP has runs the ads in train stations where thousands of passengers see them every day. On Facebook, critics described the burqa ad as ‘racist,” “hateful,” and “propaganda,” one English-language Swiss news outlet reported.
The Swiss Federal Railways said in a statement this week: “As long as political advertising does not constitute a breach of law, we have no room for maneuver. It’s not our job to morally assess political advertising.”
The ads were created by Goal AG, an agency known for its controversial ads about Muslim assimilation and immigration. In 2009, as Switzerland considered whether to deport immigrants who had committed serious crimes, Goal AG created a poster showing a white sheep booting a black sheep off a Swiss flag.
Goal AG is now expanding, focusing on political advertising in Angela Merkel’s Germany, the Financial Times reported in December.