A campaign poster for the right-wing Swiss People's Party is dividing opinion even within the party. The image unveiled on Sunday is of an apple with a Swiss flag being eaten by worms that represent the party's adversaries.
The poster unveiled two months ahead of federal elections shows the apple eaten by five worms wearing the colours of the European Union and of the other main political parties. "Should the Left and the nice guys destroy Switzerland?" asks the slogan in German.
The slogan in French, slightly watered down, asks: "Worms in our apple? No thanks!"
"A reminder of dark times"
Since Sunday, the poster has been the subject of harsh criticism on German language social networks. For some, the image is crude, disgusting, and shows a lack of new ideas.
Others also consider that it has "very tasteless" similarities with elements of Nazi propaganda. On Twitter, several Internet users pointed out that, in the 1930s, images of the parasite and even specifically of the worm-infested apple had been used to dehumanize Jews.
"It reminds us of very, very dark hours," one Internet user tweeted in response to the People's Party campaign poster. "Comparing political opponents to animals, and even vermin, smells very strongly of Nazi propaganda," said another.
"Who will take us seriously?"
Critical voices have of course been raised in the other political parties, but also in the People's Party itself. Several elected party members at cantonal and national level have called the campaign poster "clumsy", "excessive" and "counter-productive. "In these images it is neither the Left nor the nice guys that we see but rather vermin which is to be exterminated," wrote People's Party parliamentarian Claudio Zanetti on Twitter. "What do you expect of these indescribable images? Who will take us seriously?"
Federal MP for the People's Party Thomas Hurter told the Nau.ch website he thinks the image is "misplaced and insensitive". "Pure slander" does not correspond with "our Swiss style", he said, adding that the message was incomprehensible.
Former party president for Schaffhausen Pentti Aellig took issue directly with the People's Party national president, Albert Rösti. "Dear Albert," he wrote, "in Schaffhausen 35% of the electorate vote for the People's Party because we refrain from this type of campaign poster. "Think of all the supra-partisan commissions and joining of voter lists -- and stop this campaign."
Francophone People's Party parliamentarians contacted by Swiss television RTS seemed a little less critical, with the exception of federal MP Jean Pierre Grin, who said he found the message "a bit shocking" and that a campaign poster should rather deliver a positive message.
"Beautiful Swiss apple being eaten away"
When questioned on Sunday in the Sonntagsblick newspaper, People's Party president Albert Rösti defended the campaign, saying its purpose was to highlight the threats facing the country, in particular the "framework agreement with the EU" and "the excesses of the climate debate". He said that "the beautiful Swiss apple is being eaten away".
Bernese SVP MP Werner Salzmann argued in the German-language newspaper Tages-Anzeiger that the controversy resulted from a misinterpretation of the worms image, since they were not vermin but "living beings that belong to the cycle of nature".
This is not the first time that People's Party campaign materials have been in the news. In 2007, the visual of black sheep was the subject of a wide-ranging debate. In 2009, it was the anti-minaret poster that was banned from being displayed in several Swiss cities.