One of the things I love about Switzerland is that every citizen can actively participate in shaping the future of the country. Every few months, I get a huge envelope with information on complex questions, and that I can give my opinion about things like: “Should the army buy new airplanes?” — “Or should we abolish the army?” — “Should we build a new tunnel through the Alps?”.
If the majority has a different opinion than myself, I can calm myself down by telling myself that the people have decided, maybe stupidly, but they will get what they want and what they deserve. We are not led by a government far away whose decisions we do not understand. The result of this is that many positive changes in the world — like the women’s right to vote — arrived embarrassingly late in Switzerland, but when they are finally here, they are truly backed up by the majority. The men in this country voted to give women the right to vote. It was not some government official who decided it. Ultimately, this is fantastic, although it is hard to handle sometimes.
Last Sunday, however, is the first time that I cannot get over losing against the majority in a popular vote. Because I am sure that the majority has made a horrible mistake that will hurt this country badly.
It was a huge mistake to accept the “initiative against mass immigration” by the right-wing nationalist party. I can believe that the Swiss majority will sometimes make mean, and xenophobic, and idiotic decisions. What I cannot fucking believe is that the xenophobia and meanness is even so strong that it leads them to vote against their own economic interests.
You would think that this must have happened with a huge amount of propaganda from the right-wing nationalist party who is responsible for this highly idiotic initiative. And there was a lot of propaganda over the years. But it was mild before the vote, as if the party was not sure if it wanted this initiative to come through.
There was something else going on: A mood, an atmosphere, a way of thinking has become more and more widespread in Switzerland in the last years.
Suddenly, several nice people that I know said things like:
“God how much I hate those fucking Germans”, when we were walking on the street and heard people talking in High German.
“There has to be an end to the economic growth. It cannot go on like this.”
“Those God-damned foreigners, building houses everywhere, destroying the landscape. Where will this end?”
So from listening to people I know it is actually true: People are sick of the current economic boom that is mainly owed to the immigration of highly-skilled foreign workers, and are wishing for a crash, in order to have emptier trains and streets and cheaper rents, and in order to hear less High German on the street. Apparently they also think it is a better thing to run the economy into the ground in order to stop the destruction of the landscape, instead of, you know, passing laws that directly protect the landscape, which would be easily possible.
And if they lose their job in the process, so be it, apparently.
The cost of this mistake will probably be very high. The EU has already stopped negotiations on crucial collaborations in science and infrastructure, which will hurt us really badly. The first companies and professors are already leaving.
I think one thing can be learned for this entire disaster: It is not for economic reasons that people fear foreigners, because this was clearly not an argument here. And, even more curiously, it is not even because the foreigners are hard to integrate into our society, because the ubiquitous German immigrants are obviously culturally very similar and mostly eager to integrate.
It is because people simply do not like foreigners. All the travelling to other cultures, and eating foreign food, and enjoying foreign music and foreign movies is just superficial. Truly, deeply, people want to stay amongst their own, like animals sticking to their herd.
That is the sobering thing about direct democracy: It makes you realize, again, how people really are, not how you would like them to be.