Visual images and ‘Advertisment’ in political protest

A provocative banner placed anonymously on the Bundesplatz in Bern, Switzerland resulted in a nationwide shock and a drastic response from the depicted person (Erdogan, Turkey). The established and trustworthy Swiss newspaper NZZ wrote an article about it on 28 March 2015 (Gemperli, 2017).

The main topic was a banner in public space in the capital of Switzerland during a political demonstration depicting Erdogan, a pistol targeting his image and the word “Kill Erdogan with his own weapons”.

My log notes:

Stefan513593 - Visual images in protest and propaganda - 2

Stefan513593 – Visual images in protest and propaganda – 2

I am not commenting here on the political or juridical conditions of that event. I am more interested in after reading the article about what is happening in my place of residence in Switzerland and how images can have dramatic consequences. Much more than just words I believe. Powerful images that have an immediate impact across communication channels. And rapidly transmitted to other countries and people, even if one can not read German language or can read at all. The image below, cut out of the newspaper in my paper log just shows this and – will have an emotional as well as am intellectual response by those who will read my post.

What is the context? On April 16, 2017 a constitutional referendum will be held in Turkey about the future constitutional formation and question of power for the president. On March 25, 2017 a demonstration was held by to demonstrate against the decay of human and democratic rights in Turkey. The local participating Revolutionären Jugendgruppe RJG Bern (youth revolutionary association against fascism) demonstrated strongly for the armed rebellion of the Kurds against Turkey.

The NZZ article was exploring the open question of criminal procedures because of calls for violence and criminal acts. Gemperli explored further the question of meaning and message, that the pistol could be seen as a symbol and “mit eigenen Waffen” (with his own weapons) the repression of free speech.

The first thing that crossed my mind is that they used english language on a banner in german speaking Switzerland. Obviously the author’s intention was to address an international audience and Erdogan and not only the local public. Another aspect is how they used of english. The german idiom “mit eigenen Waffen schlagen”  doesn’t mean to kill a person, but rather to ‘beat someone at their own terrain’ or possibly also ‘to fight fire with fire’. The banner took this idiom with the pistol as sign. What was changed, and kind of deviation from the german idiom, was the word “kill” replacing the word “schlagen” (beat).

This image is quite a good example for R. Barthes semiotics and the way myths are perceived and consumed. In this case the Swiss public may see the image as the presence of signified essence (‘mit eigenen Waffen schlagen’). Barthes explained that key of myth is that the receiver is consuming it innocently and not as a semiological system (Barthes, 2013, p.242). But the image may also be seen and deconstructed into a fact. The author of the banner might have applied quite a subversive approach to language, images, and sign. The combination of image and text makes the banner a provocative sign open for interpretation.


I do think that the sitation with that banner was complicated for the followin reasons:

  • Context:The receiving public is from different culturs and languages
  • Sign: The German idiom was appropriated and modified
  • Language: The translation of the German idiom was one incorrectly into english
  • Visual: The rather dull and kitsch image can be rather seen a propaganda

I think that this image, not necessarily the subject matter, gives interesting insight into how visual culture and myth works. I am wondering how a contemporay articulation could be done building on the German idiom and the signified could done so that it might be considered art.



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