Saturday, February 8, 2014

einwanderungsinitiative: what an apple tree means to me as ausländerin

in the past couple of months, i've seen a ton of political posters.

this isn't unusual, because Switzerland is a country of "half-direct democracy". As such, it provides the opportunity for a person or political party to propose a change to the Bundesverfassung (Swiss Federal Constitution). After the proposal, they have 18 months to collect 100,000 Swiss signatures-- no small feat when you consider that Switzerland only consists of 8,112,000 citizens, meaning a significant percentage of them have to agree and sign the petition.
If they collect enough, the proposal goes federal and becomes a "popular initiative", which can officially be voted on by all Swiss citizens. These votes are counted by canton (much like USAmerican votes are counted by state) and the majority wins.

This also means that it's in each party's best interest to keep the people informed about the initiatives and to convince them to vote a certain way. Political posters are everywhere-- in gardens, on fences, by the bus stop, in the train station-- normally featuring the name or symbol of the initiative and a big "JA" or "NEIN" telling you what to vote. After a while, you get used to it and sort of stop paying attention.

Which means that I didn't realize how relevant this particular poster was until I'd seen it for the twentieth time.

What the Swiss people are now voting about is whether or not to set a limit on Masseneinwanderung. Translation: limiting Immigration with a capital I. limiting those people working, learning, starting businesses, getting jobs in Switzerland.
people who are not Swiss.

 As a nation, Switzerland is a sort of island in the middle of Europe. It's not part of the EU, it stubbornly sticks to its own governmental system and its own shops and its own currency and its own schools and its own variation of language and millions of things more. The Swiss are incredibly patriotic, with dozens of traditions that vary by canton, city, and village.

But. There are foreigners.
Foreigners basically means "anyone who is not Swiss and/or hasn't got a family tree with at least two generations living in Switzerland and/or cannot speak perfect Swiss German". Foreigner means someone who somehow does not belong.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. I've gotten some wonderful people who like the USA and are interested in it, or better yet, people who like me as a person and are interested in me, not my country. The people here are welcoming, especially if you make an effort to speak German or Swiss German, and friendly. Most of them are happy that a little American girl is trying to learn their language and adapt to their culture. But every so often, I am forced to remember that I am not Swiss.

You see, Swiss like to organize things. Everything, from buses to chocolates to schoolwork, is carefully ordered and put in place. But the problem is that here, there are often only two categories of people: Swiss and Non-Swiss. Swiss people get the chance to vote, to sign petitions, to launch initiatives and referendums. Non-Swiss people do not. Whenever someone who is Swiss gets into trouble and makes the newspapers, he is just a person. Whenever someone who is Non-Swiss gets into trouble and makes the newspapers, he is one of those Non-Swiss People. The People's Party noted that “Switzerland has serious problems with immigration… Almost half of the crimes committed in Switzerland are carried out by foreigners.” (Um. and what about the other half?) Some Swiss people appear to live in the fear that one day they will wake up to find that Switzerland is no longer Swiss.

And really, that's what makes me unhappy. living in Switzerland as an exchange student, I don't care about bilateral strategy or economic decline. I don't care about the job market or about Swiss vs. EU passports. And maybe that makes me ignorant, or inexperienced, or simply just naive.
Because what I care about is my, and others', rights to be acknowledged. As more than categories, as more than stereotypes, and as more than Swiss/Non-Swiss.

What I care about is my right to be seen, as a person.
not just as an Ausländerin.

1 comment:

  1. Nicely written, Hannah. Has this had any effect on how you view related debates back in the States?


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