Switzerland’s Dark Side
As much as I love Switzerland, there are some things about the country that I don’t like at all. The biggest of these is the (I think) rampant xenophobia that I encountered there and still continue to see. It is a huge issue for the tiny country. I always thought of Europe, Switzerland included, as group of very progressive countries. Some more than others, but in general, countries that value all citizens, take care of the weakest members, etc. For the most part they are. The health care systems are great (although some of the British might disagree with me on that one!), good vacation time (6 weeks vacation to start? Yes, please!) and work/life balance are all very important there.
But for some reason, immigrants bring out the fear and hatred in so many Swiss that it blows my mind. One of my first glimpses of this was an ad campaign run by one of the political parties there, the SVP (Swiss People’s Party). Their main campaign, and it seems like their only campaign, deals with trying to stop the “massive immigration” taking place. They put up posters and ads everywhere and one in particular really bothered me while I was living there. Here it is:
Of course as someone from the US, I immediately saw racist undertones in this image. Without the horrors of a history of slavery though it’s not quite the same for Switzerland. But, I do think the colors of the sheep were chosen intentionally as a lot of the immigrants entering the country are from the Middle East and northern Africa. When I brought up how disconcerting these signs were to me there weren’t really any Swiss who agreed with me. I also tried to point out how I was personally put off and actually felt unwelcome myself (after all, I was an immigrant). My statement was always countered with, “well, you’re not the type of immigrant this means”.
To some extent I can see their concerns, Switzerland is a tiny country with real estate and space in short supply. I agree that there should be caps on how many immigrants can enter per year otherwise you have the potential to overwhelm the system. They also have concerns about their country’s rich culture being eroded with the influx of people who don’t necessarily want to assimilate. I personally feel those fears are ungrounded though. Pretty much every Swiss I met LOVES their country and its culture. They proudly wear the traditional Appenzeller farmer’s shirts, partake in sports that are only known in Switzerland and listen to the old traditional music pretty often. I don’t see that changing any time soon.
In my mind, it’s perfectly possible for Switzerland to keep their sense of identity and history while adapting to our changing world. One where people move about more readily and bring some of their positives (and negatives) with them. This would require having a set limit on how many people can enter every year (which I think exists but I’m not positive) and a mandatory class on Swiss culture and language so they can more easily interact with others in their new home. I don’t think that making an “outsider” feel even more so, and often blatantly unwelcome, creates the environment for instilling their desire to assimilate into Swiss culture. Honestly it probably does the opposite, which is exactly what they don’t want.