Weaponised Swissness
in The free speech wars
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Unlike many other European countries, Switzerland has managed to fly under the radar when it comes to critical discussions of free speech. Heralded as the epitome of democracy and neutrality, Switzerland’s dominating right-wing parties, questionable policies and sinking journalistic standards rarely figure in the broader international discourse. This is partially due to asynchronous political and historical developments as well as the relatively low importance of Switzerland as a global player, but mostly it is due to the unrelenting and very successful purveying of national myths (neutrality, direct democracy and autonomy). This chapter shows how free speech arguments building on these myths are being used to further right-wing policies, propagate hate speech and embolden perpetrators of journalistic smear campaigns. The right-wing SVP party has dominated the political landscape since the mid-1990s with its anti-EU platform. Any opposition to its isolationist agenda has been framed as detrimental to the autonomy and independence of Switzerland and as a threat to the freedom of speech of conservative and right-wing politicians. After the hard-won (partial) victory in strengthening the law for hate-speech protection, right-wing parties are seeking to roll back this protection by popular vote by arguing that any restriction of hate speech is an attack of free speech among other civil liberties. Journalistic smear campaigns are regularly used in an attempt to silence (female) public figures while ironically defaming them as enemies of free speech. Among these are university professors and politicians such as Franziska Schutzbach, Jolanda Spiess-Hegglin and Tamara Funiciello. Although these campaigns are usually initiated by right-wing media outlets, mainstream media channels regularly participate and further their agenda.

The free speech wars

How did we get here and why does it matter?


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