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News and information from Switzerland about Switzerland: direct democracy, education, science, business, living in Switzerland and a lot more – current, informative, in depth and in 10 languages (English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Japanese, Chinese, Russian).
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Historian casts doubt on Swiss reverence of direct democracy

Sa, 02/16/2019 - 20:17
Even if the symbolic value of citizen participation in decision-making should not be underestimated, the actual importance of direct democracy in Switzerland is often exaggerated, claims leading Swiss historian Thomas Maissen. An interview with the Paris-based academic, published in in a German-language Sunday newspaper in Switzerland last month, prompted two days of considerable reaction by readers before fizzling out. Traditionalists and other unconditional supporters of direct democracy may have bristled after reading the article’s headline: “The Swiss overrate direct democracy.” In the interview, Maissen is also quoted as saying that “direct democracy is more symbolic than we admit.” Another perceived provocation might be Maissen’s reference to nationwide ballots on seemingly minor issues, including the initiative aimed at promoting cows with horns, rejected by Swiss voters last November. In the wide-ranging interview, the 56-year old historian with an academic career at ...
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Aerial photography, ‘voice phishing’ and quotas for Brits

Sa, 02/16/2019 - 18:00
Almost every article published by swissinfo.ch contains a percentage, an age, an amount of money or some other figure. Here’s a round-up of some of the most interesting statistics to appear in the past week’s stories. Monday 158,000 Swiss researchers found that around 158,000 cubic kilometres of ice are home to the world's glaciers, with the exception of the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica. This is significantly lower than estimates made a few years ago.  Tuesday 1,204 The Swiss assisted suicide organisation EXIT helped a total of 1,204 people end their lives in 2018, a sizeable jump on the previous year.   Wednesday 3,500 The number of Britons who will be allowed to enter Switzerland every year to live and work if Britain leaves the European Union without a deal on March 29.  Thursday 2,000,000 A woman was charged for allegedly persuading dozens of people to give their online banking details over the phone, stealing more than CHF2 million, in a scam known as ...
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Swiss film legend Bruno Ganz dies

Sa, 02/16/2019 - 12:20
Bruno Ganz, Switzerland’s best-known actor, has died in Zurich, his management has announced. He was 77. "It is with a heavy heart that we confirm our client Bruno Ganz passed away on February 16 at his home in Zurich after his battle with colon cancer," his agent Patricia Baumbauer, told swissinfo.ch in a written statement. "He was in the loving company of his family at the time. We will forever cherish the memories and celebrate his remarkable contribution to the world of cinema and theatre." Ganz has played an angel (Wings of Desire), Hitler (Downfall), a grandfather more than once (in Swiss films Heidi and Vitus), a vampire (Nosferatu the Vampyre), a waiter (Bread and Tulips) and many, many other characters. His roles gained him an international reputation. He was born in Zurich on March 22, 1941. His Swiss father was a mechanic and his mother came from northern Italy. He discovered acting while at school and started his career on stage. In film, he worked with directors ...
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The woman who guards a Swiss town

Sa, 02/16/2019 - 12:00
The small town of Schaffhausen, on the border with Germany, is being guarded by a woman for the first time in the centuries-old history of the Munot fortress. Karola Lüthi has been the guardian of the Munot fortress for two years. She is an active woman in her fifties. "I already wanted to do this job 20 years ago. But at the time, I couldn't make my wish come true. A female guard? Never in a million years," she says, sitting in her apartment located inside the tower.  Three years ago, she saw an ad for the much-coveted position. She had to first discuss it with her husband, because it was advertised as a job for a couple. "I wrote the application letter of the century because I absolutely wanted to have this position," she says. Her application managed to stand out from around 80 others and she was selected for the job. Call of duty The circular fortress of "Munot" was built in the 16th century and became the emblem of Schaffhausen. The building was mainly used to keep an ...
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Swiss cancer research yields breast-saving fat, better detection

Fr, 02/15/2019 - 18:12
The incidence of breast cancer in Switzerland is relatively high, but some local research offers hope – especially the finding that cancer cells can be converted into friendly fat. A recent study from the University of Basel found a way to convert malignant breast cancer cells into fat. In a nutshell, researchers at the university’s biomedicine department discovered that a combination therapy could force malignant breast cancer cells to turn into fat cells. “In experiments on mice, they succeeded in using a combination of two active substances to convert breast cancer cells, which divide quickly and form metastases, into fat cells that can no longer divide and can barely be differentiated from normal fat cells. This stops the tumor from invading the neighboring tissue and blood vessels, and no further metastases can form,” announced the university. The trick was to combine a cancer drug, Trametinib, with a diabetes drug, Rosiglitazone. Yet before cancer can be treated, it must ...
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Can participatory democracy raise voter turnouts?

Fr, 02/15/2019 - 12:00
Biel (Bienne, in French) is best-known for being the capital of Swiss watchmaking and for being the biggest bilingual town in the country. But it has another claim to fame: its citizens are among the least likely in Switzerland to get out and vote. Local authorities want to change this with a more participative approach. We live in a golden age of popular rights and participation. Forums, roundtables, and politically-themed debates are constantly being organised in Switzerland and beyond – notably in neighbouring France. But while across the border the ‘gilets jaunes’ are demanding the right to initiate referendums, local leaders in Switzerland are trying to revive a sense of civic impetus in citizens. It’s needed: in Biel, over half of citizens have been losing interest in politics for some time now, and participation rates over the past 25 years are far from impressive. As a result, authorities in the bilingual city want to reform the municipality’s foundational document, its ...
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Can participatory democracy raise voter turnouts?

Fr, 02/15/2019 - 12:00
Biel (Bienne, in French) is best-known for being the capital of Swiss watchmaking and for being the biggest bilingual town in the country. But it has another claim to fame: its citizens are among the least likely in Switzerland to get out and vote. Local authorities want to change this with a more participative approach. We live in a golden age of popular rights and participation. Forums, roundtables, and politically-themed debates are constantly being organised in Switzerland and beyond – notably in neighbouring France. But while across the border the ‘gilets jaunes’ are demanding the right to initiate referendums, local leaders in Switzerland are trying to revive a sense of civic impetus in citizens. It’s needed: in Biel, over half of citizens have been losing interest in politics for some time now, and participation rates over the past 25 years are far from impressive. As a result, authorities in the bilingual city want to reform the municipality’s foundational document, its ...
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Hackers wanted for Swiss e-voting system

Do, 02/14/2019 - 18:00
Registration is open for those who want to help reveal cracks in Switzerland’s future e-voting system – and maybe earn a cash bounty. Critics say the test is a farce. In a public intrusion test, Swiss Post will allow hackers to legally attack its e-voting system from February 25 to March 24. The goal is to improve the system’s security. As of Thursday, nearly 2,000 hackers had registered here to participate in the test: with 26% in Switzerland, 15% in France, 7% in the US and 5% in Germany. Over the past 15 years several cantons have used e-voting on a trial basis with systems developed by Swiss Post or canton Geneva. Many Swiss voters – especially those living abroad – are eager to vote online. + Why Swiss expats are demanding e-voting Now Swiss Post and the federal government are harnessing the power of hackers to identify vulnerabilities in the new e-voting system before it’s used in real life. Over the course of a month, the international hacker community is encouraged to ...
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Changes ahead for homeschooling families

Do, 02/14/2019 - 14:00
There are 1,000 children being homeschooled in Switzerland, 600 of them in the western Swiss canton of Vaud. But the rules there could be tightened, which will affect families like the homeschooling Bydes. In Switzerland, education is regulated by the cantons, which means there are differences across the country despite recent moves to harmonise the schooling system. Students taught at home have to pass regular tests in Maths and French or German. Inspectors visit their homes at least once a year to check that the children meet the standards set.  There are proposals to revise the law in canton Vaud, which might require homeschooling parents to have teaching qualifications in the future. Julien Schekter, a spokesman for the Vaud cantonal government, explained, "This revision will specify the framework within which homeschooling must be provided in order to ensure that sufficient basic education is provided". More will be known about these changes by the end of the summer. Meet ...
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How you move a priceless 1.5-ton Buddha across continents

Do, 02/14/2019 - 09:00
The loan of a three-metre tall, 2,000-year-old Gandhara-period Buddha statue proved to be a bigger challenge than anticipated for Zurich’s Rietberg museum.  Museum curator Johannes Beltz remembers when he first set eyes on the statue housed in the Peshawar museum, located near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.  “The museum was half empty as many exhibits were on their way to South Korea for an exhibition on Buddhism. The other artefacts were covered up as there was some renovation work going on,” he told swissinfo.ch.  Disappointed, Beltz asked for the largest statue to be unveiled. It was love at first sight and he was determined to bring the huge stone sculpture to Switzerland.  “It is probably one of the biggest Buddhas of that period of Gandharan art. It is almost perfectly intact which is very rare for such a massive sculpture,” he says.  The ancient state of Gandhara, located in the present-day Peshawar region, was known for its Indo-Greek art work and was one of the ...
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Startup makes life-saving robots inspired by flies

Mi, 02/13/2019 - 12:00
The drones of Lausanne start-up Flyability can reach inaccessible areas, reducing not only costs but also the risk of a fatal accident. The flying robots have quickly become one of the success stories and symbols of Switzerland’s “Drone Valley”.  “After the earthquake in Haiti [in 2010] and the nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima [in 2011] it became clear that robots weren’t able to penetrate difficult environments to examine the situation or to check for victims. We said to ourselves that it had to be possible to make a robot that could get into isolated places with many obstacles and tight spaces,” says Patrick Thévoz.  + Drones - the basics So in 2014 Thévoz and his cousin Adrien Briod founded Flyability in Lausanne. They had both recently graduated with a Masters in microtechnology from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL). Thévoz then worked as a business strategy consultant and Briod did a doctorate in flying robots. These two experiences were perfect for ...
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Swiss film producer honoured at Berlin Film Festival

Mi, 02/13/2019 - 10:56
Swiss producer Arthur Cohn was recently recognised for his career achievements with the Cinema for Peace award at the Berlin Film Festival. The 92-year-old has won numerous honours, including six Oscars. Cohn received the award on Monday evening from American actress Faye Dunaway and former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. His best-known productions include Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini (1972), Black and White in Color (1976), Dangerous Moves (1984), Central Station (1998) and One Day in September (1999). In his acceptance speech, Cohn emphasised his productions have always been guided by the emotional side of history. He expressed his wish that today's cinema would contain less sex and violence, but more humanistic values. Cohn received a long standing ovation. The Cinema for Peace Foundation aims to promote "peace and understanding around the world. " Previous winners include U.S. actors Leonardo DiCaprio, Nicole Kidman and Charlize Theron, the Dalai Lama, former Soviet ...
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Using Swiss AI and drones to count African wildlife

Mi, 02/13/2019 - 08:40
After a promising first run in Namibia, a Swiss project could aid savanna conservation using drones and automatic image analysis. To get a sense of how many animals live in a given area, game counts are typically done in real time by sharp-eyed people in vehicles. The Savmap project, started at Swiss federal technology institute EPFL and involving scientists in Switzerland, Namibia and the Netherlands, uses drones and artificial intelligence (AI) to count wild animals more efficiently.  “Human eyes are very good at detecting animals, but not at screening countless images. Computers can process a lot more data,” explains Swiss geo-information specialist Devis Tuia, who received a personal grant from Swiss National Science Foundation to form a lab to develop data science-based solutions for the use of remote sensing data in the environmental domain. This can be used to improve wildlife monitoring methods in places like Namibia, for example.  During the four-year project, which ...
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More and more people opting to die at home

Di, 02/12/2019 - 16:27
The treatment and comfort offered dying people in Switzerland could yet be improved, according to newly-published research.  In a new report (“Death in Switzerland: individual and societal perspectives”) the researchers found that four out of five people die in hospitals or care homes – places often ill-equipped for treating the dying, and which do not always take account of their needs. More and more people wish to pass away at home, the researchers found: the demand for home care is rising strongly. But such care can be costly and is not reimbursed by basic insurance coverage. The families of those who die at home often end up exhausted. The overall conclusion of the study was that palliative nursing facilities need to be boosted, without forgetting that the end of life period can only be planned and controlled to a certain extent.  “Timely palliative treatment should be a given for the care and treatments planned during the end of life period,” the researchers write.
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Religious groups advocate ‘conversion therapy’ for homosexuals

Di, 02/12/2019 - 13:25
Even in modern Switzerland, homosexuals are being bullied into undergoing conversion therapies to change their sexual compass.  Thomas Lauber grew up in a strict Swiss religious community and was forced to deny his sexual orientation. He took part in seminars in which he was told that his homosexuality was a demon, from which he must free himself. He has since come out as gay, and is president of the Fribourg LGBT group, Sarigai.  In Geneva, also, there is a self-help group called Le Lab, which helps people reconcile their homosexuality with their spirituality. (RTS/swissinfo.ch) 
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Should academics be taking the plane for short trips?

Di, 02/12/2019 - 12:00
The University of Basel is considering a proposal that students should take the train rather than fly for short-haul academic trips, as a way of cutting CO2 emissions. It’s not the only Swiss university looking at cutting down academic plane travel. There has been much talk in recent years, in international circles, about the paradox of researchers needing to collaborate and network but racking up many polluting air miles as they jet to conferences and events. This was what was behind the “1,000-kilometre principle” discussed at a recent University of Basel Senate meeting and put forward by students. Under the proposal – the first of its kind in Switzerland – those studying at the university would take the train rather than the plane for university-organised trips under 1,000 kilometres (such as to Brussels or London) if there are “adequate train and travel links”. It would not affect professors’ research travel, according to the meeting’s minutes.   The university agreed with ...
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Can the city of peace stop the arms race?

Mo, 02/11/2019 - 18:00
Last week on the train to Geneva, I heard the tell-tale wail of sirens. That time of year again: to dust off the bunkers that every upstanding Swiss household has, test those blast-proof doors, and make sure those sirens can still howl in unison.  For so many years, Swiss civil defence was treated by many of us as a bit of a joke; I remember doing a very tongue-in-cheek report which included a scene in which my neighbour and I drank coffee in her bunker, surrounded by skis and bottles of wine.  No one, the jokey message suggested, ever expected those bunkers to be used for their original purpose…but they were awfully useful as wine cellars, ski depots, or at a pinch, ‘I want to be alone’ spaces for truculent teenagers.  But, just a couple of days after that annual siren test, an information sheet from the ICRC fluttered into my inbox, asking: ‘Is the world ready to face a nuclear war?’  The word ‘NO’ springs to mind faster than the speed of, well, one of those inter-ballistic ...
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Should Switzerland end its ban on blasphemy?

Mo, 02/11/2019 - 12:00
​​​​​​​ According to the European Court of Human Rights, the Prophet Mohammed may not be called a paedophile. This kind of statement also risks a fine in Switzerland, but some say the article behind it is outdated. When the Christian Asia Bibi became the first woman to be sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan, the country’s blasphemy laws became the focus of international attention. Although she was recently acquitted, critics said the laws were being used to repress Christian minorities or to get rid of undesirables. Pakistani Islamists in turn argued that it was the duty of every Muslim to kill blasphemers. Blasphemy is also an offence in Switzerland. Offenders may not be at risk of execution, like in Pakistan, but they could still face a fine. Article 261 of the Swiss Criminal Code says that “Any person who publicly and maliciously insults or mocks the religious convictions of others, and in particularly their belief in God, or maliciously desecrates objects of ...
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Geneva: Switzerland’s most cosmopolitan canton

Mo, 02/11/2019 - 11:32
New statistics underline Geneva’s status as the Alpine nation’s most international canton: almost two-thirds of residents hold a foreign passport.  According to cantonal statistics published at the beginning of February, the percentage of dual nationals (Swiss people with at least one other nationality) out of the total Geneva population almost doubled from 16% in 2000 to 27% for the 2014-2016 period.  The number of permanent foreign residents without a Swiss passport also rose two percentage points to 37% of the total population of 372,471.  Meanwhile, the percentage of people with Swiss citizenship only fell from 49% to 36% over the past 15 years, the office said. Of these, 86% are Swiss from birth. The figures relate to residents aged 15 and over and do not include international civil servants and asylum-seekers. The growth in the number of dual nationals can partly be explained by the recent rush to secure a Swiss passport before naturalisation changes came into force at ...
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Swiss dismiss freeze on construction zones

So, 02/10/2019 - 18:30
Voters in Switzerland have thrown out a proposal aimed at curbing urban sprawl. The initiative from the youth chapter of the Green Party failed to attract broad support. Final results show 63.7% of voters and all 26 cantons on Sunday rejecting the proposed freeze on construction zones across the country. Environment Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said the outcome showed that the initiative had too many flaws and that existing legislation was better suited to regulate building activities. Admitting defeat, Luzian Franzini, co-president of the Green Party's youth chapter, said it was difficult to counter misleading arguments made by a broad alliance of opponents. "The clear result is disappointing, but at least we were able to launch an interesting debate," he told Swiss public radio SRF. The initiative's supporters argued that additional legal steps are needed to protect and preserve green spaces and arable land against rampant urbanisation in Switzerland. The proposal ...
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