As he prepares to step down after 16 years in the job, he tells
swissinfo.ch that part of the reason is the new liberal climate with its
emphasis on competition and where every person is encouraged to be out
The job of the commission is not to change people’s beliefs, but
rather to ensure that they do not act in racially discriminating ways,
G.K.: The mood towards foreigners, towards “others”, has definitely
worsened. The distinction between “me and them” or “us and them” has
become sharper. It is quite clear that denigrating others is a way of
making yourself feel more important.
G.K.: I’m very skeptical about all the explanations. People talk about globalization, an increase in immigration, uncertainty about the
future. But all these explanations bother me, because they all contain
What we really need to explain first of all is
why there has been such an upsurge in nationalism, because denigrating
people who are regarded, rightly or wrongly, as being “different” is
connected with an archaic tribalistic way of thinking that seems to be
coming back into vogue and which is a guiding principle even for much of
the conservative middle class.
G.K.: I won’t say categorically that we have not done some things
wrong. But you can’t use these figures to measure the achievements
either of authorities whose task is prevention, or of those whose task
is enforcement. We don’t know how many cases there would have been if we
And don’t forget that racism in the private
sphere is not covered. We simply don’t know how many cases there are of
racial discrimination when it comes to applying for apprenticeships or
jobs for example, or in looking for an apartment.
G.K.: There are certainly connections. It’s become more acceptable to
put the emphasis on what’s “mine”, and to behave brusquely towards other
people. These things are even seen as a virtue.
development is part of new liberal competition: the race goes to the
strong, no room for kid gloves. And all of this is combined with
so-called freedom of opinion.
What I am most worried about is
the pseudo-democratic opinion that is gaining ground which claims that
defining racism is just a question of interpretation. Of course there
are marginal areas where it’s hard to draw clear lines, but to regard
the issue in general as simply something a person is free to judge as
they see fit, is cause for alarm.
It’s not our job to work on
what people feel. Of course it would be desirable for people not to be
anti-Semitic, or not to regard travelers as inferior. But the main
thing is that they shouldn’t show it openly.
G.K.: Of course it does, but that doesn’t mean one should attach too
much responsibility to it. It is always individuals themselves who are
responsible. I can’t use as an excuse the fact I was encouraged by the
People’s Party posters, but it is clear that they do tend in general to
provide such encouragement, even if the posters themselves don’t meet
the definition of racism.
G.K.: Sure, but what does that mean? I would be happy if people
concluded that we are not responsible for that. The commission must
point things out, must issue warnings, but in the last resort it’s not
an education commission.
We don’t pretend to be able to do
everything, we don’t want to be responsible for everything. What we want
is for civil society to do more. We have enough non-governmental
organizations in this country who do good things with a minimal amount
of money. I would like to see more individuals supporting these
Gaby Ochsenbein in Basel, swissinfo.ch
(Translated from German by Julia Slater)
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