Swiss theatre docked funds for mocking populist MP

Zurich cantonal authorities have cut 50,000 francs from the Theater Neumarkt’s 2017 grant to cover costs associated with a show that mocked Roger Köppel, an influential publisher and MP for the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP).

Swiss theatre docked funds for mocking populist MP
Photo: Caspar Urban Weber/Theater Neumarkt

The experimental theatre, based in central Zurich, will get 280,000 francs in cantonal government subsidy for the 2017 season, a reduction of 50,000 francs on this year’s grant, Swiss media reported on Thursday.

The subsidy will return to the full amount in 2018.

Earlier this year the theatre courted controversy with a performance by German director Philipp Ruch which played on the politician’s surname to suggest Switzerland should ‘deköppel’, or untangle itself, from the SVP national councillor.

The audience was also invited to curse the MP in what Tages Anzeiger described as a “voodoo” performance.

Offended, the SVP asked for a cut of the theatre’s public funds, a request that was rejected by the city government, which funds the large majority of the theatre’s budget. But not so, it seems, by the canton.

According to the Tages Anzeiger the cantonal government said the subsidy cut “takes account of the expenses of the cantonal authorities in connection with the controversial concept in the 2016 programme”.

The Center for Political Beauty, a Germany-based artists collective led by director Ruch, reacted to the canton’s subsidy cut by saying it was “a childish and immature abuse of power,” said 20 Minuten.

Köppel was elected to the Swiss parliament in 2015. A journalist and publisher, he is the former editor of Tages Anzeiger and Germany’s Die Welt, and currently the owner-publisher of Swiss magazine Die Weltwoche.

Speaking to 20 Minuten on Thursday, he said the funding cut was “good news” for the theatre.

“Subsidy cuts have a positive effect on quality,” he said.

SVP President Mauro Tuena said he would have liked the canton to be “braver” by issuing a permanent reduction in subsidy, not just for one year.

“It sends a positive signal to all subsidized companies that taxpayers’ money should not be spent on any kind of  nonsense,” he added.

The canton of Zurich contributes subsidies to more than 100 cultural institutions in the canton in five-year terms, mainly using lottery money.

Ten institutions receive over 200,000 francs as part of the overall 16 million franc budget.

With the current round of funding coming to an end at the close of this year, on Thursday the canton outlined its grants for the next five-year term.

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Can ‘collegial’ Swiss government stay intact?

For the first time since 1928 the Swiss federal government will next month conclude a four-year term without any changes in the seven-member lineup. Can the team stay together?

Can 'collegial' Swiss government stay intact?
Official photo of the Swiss government for 2015. Photo: Federal Council

In past terms for more than 80 years there were changes due to resignations or a government member’s death.

But not this one.

The outgoing government was also noted for its stability and collegiality, in marked contrast to certain earlier governments, broadcaster RTS noted.

In the run-up to Sunday’s federal elections, the question on political observers’ lips is whether the current government will remain in place.

Currently, the seven-person executive body includes Simonetta Sommaruga, a Social Democratic party member who is serving as president this year in what is a rotating presidency every year, as well as Justice and Police Minister.

Other members are Foreign Affairs Minister Dider Burkhalter (Liberals); Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf (Conservative Democratic Party); Economy Minister Johann Schneider-Amann (Liberals); Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications Minister Doris Leuthard (Christian Democrats); Defence Minister Ueli Maurer (Swiss People’s Party); and Home Affairs Minister Alain Berset (Social Democrats).

While the seven members have their differences, representing parties on the left, the centre-right and the right, they have kept their differences behind closed doors.

In a “serene climate they have been able to work efficiently,” an RTS report commented.

Ten years ago, the government was marked by regular quarrels that burst out in public among such players as Pascal Couchepin of the centre-right Liberals and Christoph Blocher, the Swiss People’s Party member who was voted out of office in 2007.

These spats have been set aside for the past four years.

Former cabinet minister Adolf Ogi of the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) said there was a political reason for the collegiality.

“The parties are afraid of losing their seats,” Ogi told ATS.

“The concordance that we have known for years no longer exists,” he said.

“It’s a bit like the stock market, it has become volatile.”

It may be in the interest of the major parties to leave the government unchanged, since no member has indicated an intention to step down.

But members of the SVP say it’s time the party, which has the most MPs in the lower house of parliament, had two government members.

Felix Müri, vice-president of the SVP’s parliamentary wing, created waves earlier this week when he suggested that the party is ready to leave the government unless it gains an extra seat.

But other party officials later downplayed the threat saying the SVP has no intention of forming an opposition.

The government will be elected next month by a joint sitting of the upper and lower houses of parliament following the outcome of Sunday’s elections.

One of the central questions is whether Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf can hang on to her seat.

The former SVP member was first elected to the seven-member body in 2007 when fellow party member and incumbent minister Christoph Blocher was voted out.

Widmer-Schlumpf, from the canton of Graubünden, was subsequently turfed from the SVP and joined the newly created Conservative Democratic Party.

Her legitimacy has been questioned because of the small size of her party but she was subsequently re-elected in 2011.

Her re-election this time round may be more difficult.

François Nordmann, diplomat and former Swiss ambassador to the UK, is among those urging Widmer-Schlumpf to stay.

In a commentary for Le Temps newspaper, he praised the way she has handled her finance portfolio, including the measures she has taken to deal with tax evasion issues, approving the automatic exchange of information with other countries, for example.

First, though, it will be up to Widmer-Sclumpf to decide if she wants to stay on, once the parliamentary election results are known.