The sheep are back in Switzerland. Campaigning for an immigration initiative in a Feb. 28 referendum, the country’s largest political party, the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), has plastered public spaces with posters, flyers, animated billboards, and newsletters showing a white sheep kicking a black sheep over the border.
This month, the Swiss will decide whether to pass the party’s Durchsetzungsinitiativ proposal that will legalize the “rigorous expulsion” of foreigners who commit two offenses within a 10-year period without a trial or appeal. The blanket rule would apply to grave crimes like murder and rape as well as lesser infractions like arguing with a police officer.
Designed by the Swiss advertising and PR company, Werbeagentur Goal, the sheep metaphor has proven effective image for the right wing party over the years. SVP used variations of the graphic in the 2007 general election and in a successful 2010 referendum campaign on measures to limit the rights of immigrants.
With the slogan, “More security for all,” SVP keeps reusing the artwork despite thunderous global criticism. The Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council said that the posters could “provoke racial and religious hatred” when they first appeared in 2007.
British travel writer and Swiss emigre Diccon Bewes explained in an email to Quartz that it’s more about efficiency rather than political correctness for the Swiss:
Even some non-conservatives don’t really see a problem with the poster. [They say] “black sheep is just a figure of speech and it doesn’t mean anything more than that,” is what I have often heard. Making mountains out of molehills and seeing bad when there is none is also a common response.
Bewes, who has compared the red, white and black Swiss political graphics with the Nazis’ propaganda aesthetic, further explains that the incendiary sheep metaphor is not considered offensive throughout the country in general. “Sadly the Swiss in general are not shocked by it,” he said. “Remember that most of the condemnation of the original poster came from abroad.”
Bewes also observes a subtle, but potentially meaningful design update to the current version of SVP’s heavily branded campaign materials. Compared with the 2007 and 2010 versions, there’s a now a solitary white sheep booting the black sheep outside the Swiss border. “For me that symbolises that it is no longer the state or society (three sheep) that is responsible but the individual,” said Bewes:
In other words, if you want to make Switzerland safer and get rid of foreign criminals, the only way it to do it yourself and vote yes. It makes it a lot harder to ignore. There is even an animated version for electronic billboards just in case you don’t get the point!
In 2009, the SVP also deployed highly controversial red, white, and black posters depicting mosque minarets shaped like missiles to campaign against the construction of new Islamic towers in the country. Despite global outrage on the symbolism and the spirit of the proposal, the Swiss passed the initiative banning new minarets by a 58% majority.
A recent poll also showed a slim majority in favor of the “rigorous expulsion” initiative.
Quartz reached out to SVP but did not hear back.