Thomas Aeschi: questionable statements, questionable criticism

The debate about questionable statements by SVP man Thomas Aeschi has hysterical and hypocritical features.

Irène Kaelin, President of the National Council, questions the immunity of members of parliament.

Alessandro della Valle / Keystone

The President of the National Council, Irène Kälin, attracted attention at the weekend with the idea that in future parliamentarians would at best have to expect criminal prosecution for statements they make in a Council debate. “It must not be that politicians in parliament can rush racist without consequences,” the Greens were quoted as saying in the “Sonntags-Zeitung”.

The “racist agitator” that Kälin has in his sights is SVP parliamentary group leader Thomas Aeschi. He said last week, when the National Council debated the Ukraine war, that “Nigerians or Iraqis with Ukrainian passports should not suddenly rape 18-year-old Ukrainian women.” Aeschi later explained that his statement referred to a sexual offense in Düsseldorf at the beginning of March, which, according to the German media, was such a case.

First passive, then outraged

Kälin’s proposal to abolish the absolute immunity for parliamentarians because of Aeschi’s statements is opportunistic. It would have been enough if the Council President had admonished the SVP man directly. In order to distract from her omission, she now wants to make immunity up for grabs, which is central to the functioning of Parliament. How can free and committed Council debates be possible when parliamentarians always have to reckon with someone trying to pin criminal proceedings on them? Parliament can itself react to insubordinate behavior by individual members. The accusation of passivity is therefore not only aimed at Kälin: One can certainly ask why none of the parliamentarians, who are now outraged and deeply horrified by Aeschi’s statements, stepped up to the lectern and objected.

The racism discussion that has been going on for a few days is as hysterical as it is hypocritical. That applies to the much scolded Aeschi himself. He was deliberately misunderstood, he complains. But the role of the innocent lamb is not really believed. Aeschi had to be aware of the explosive nature of his generalizing statement, and he should therefore have made it clear at the same moment and not afterwards that he was referring to a real incident. But the SVP parliamentary group leader obviously wanted to seize the opportunity and, with the warning of criminal refugees (in the plural), address the topic at an early stage, with which his party had been able to achieve many successes in the past. The shot backfired.

Television as a tribunal

However, Aeschi’s political calculations are in no way inferior to those of his antipodes. The Green faction leader Aline Trede canceled her appearance in the SRF “Arena” because of the “racist agitation by SVP exponents” in protest, while SP President Mattea Meyer preferred to express her disgust at the “agitation of the SVP” personally in front of the camera to announce. She was reinforced by the moderator Sandro Brotz, who, as a kind of chief prosecutor, accused the SVP man of having made racist statements (“crystal clear”, “there is nothing to shake about that”) – the public television also seems to be a tribunal recently.

Sure, one can get angry about Aeschi’s vote, but in view of the world situation, obsessive preoccupation with it seems out of place. Difficult disputes will come to Switzerland, the influx of thousands upon thousands of refugees will be a social and financial challenge, and sensitive issues such as the right to be accepted and support will have to be discussed openly with one another. The politically motivated bickering over a questionable statement is not a good omen.

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