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Top news - SWI swissinfo.ch
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).
Updated: 6 weeks 2 days ago

Radioactive waste: Japan learns from Switzerland’s mistakes

Mon, 03/11/2019 - 11:44
How and where should countries build safe permanent storage sites for highly radioactive nuclear waste? As Japan remembers the victims of the  Fukushima power plant disaster, it is looking at the Swiss approach to the problem to figure out how to involve locals in the discussion. Eight years have passed since that terrible March Friday when an earthquake and tsunami struck the east coast of Japan. The huge tidal wave crashed down on the atomic power station of Fukushima, knocking out its cooling system. The result was a three-reactor meltdown, which amounted to the most serious nuclear disaster in history along with Chernobyl. The disaster of March 11, 2011 once again reminded the world of the risks associated with atomic energy. While study of the effects of Fukushima on people and the environment continues, another much older problem is as yet to be resolved. Where can the thousands of tons of radioactive waste produced every year around the world be stored? For Pascale Jana ...
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Women bankers criticise UBS over maternity leave cuts to bonuses

Mon, 03/11/2019 - 11:39
Top women bankers at UBS have criticised Switzerland’s biggest lender over its practice of using their maternity leave as a reason for imposing long-term cuts to their bonuses, raising questions over its commitment to gender equality. Some have resigned in frustration — forgoing promotions in at least two cases — while others having begrudgingly continued working for less pay than before they became mothers, according to several current and former UBS employees. One woman had her bonus reduced and re-based four times after having had four children. Another was informed that being a working mother was a “lifestyle choice” by means of explanation for her lower bonus, while someone else was told to “focus on her baby” when she challenged the policy. “Basically once pregnant, one will never catch-up again with male colleagues in the career one has built up prior to going on maternity,” said one of the women, who still works for the bank. Despite multiple complaints, “the practice ...
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Political (in)correctness lights up Basel carnival

Mon, 03/11/2019 - 11:07
“To the end” is the motto of this year’s Basel carnival, which began on Monday at 4am. As the lights went out in the city centre, colourful satirical lanterns illuminated the 10,000 revellers and musicians. (Keystone SDA, swissinfo.ch) “Morgestraich, vorwärts marsch!” (morning parade, forward march!). The cry rang out and the groups started shuffling along the streets of Basel’s Old Town behind their massive lanterns. The sky was clear, the wind was calm, and drummers and pipers ensured everyone was wide awake.  The range of targets for the lanterns was as wide as in previous years. In addition to racism, environmental pollution and assisted suicide, the satirists took aim at global news events (US President Donald Trump as a pedlar of fake news) as well as more local ones (a blaze in a Basel timber yard).  As expected, gender roles, sexism and political (in)correctness played a significant role.  ​​​​​​​ The motto, “Bis zletscht” (to the end), alludes to the end of the ...
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A day in the life of an avalanche dog

Sun, 03/10/2019 - 15:00
Vali Meier, responsible for rescue and safety in the Davos-Klosters mountain region, skis off down the slope with canine colleague Woopy on his shoulders. Today, Woopy is looking for a buried dummy.  It’s impossible to say when dogs started being used to rescue avalanche victims. The Swiss Alpine Rescue service says it is not certain that the renowned St Bernard, Barry, was the first. Barry is thought to have kept watch over the St Bernard pass in the 1800s and saved around 40 people.  In 1937 a group of 18 schoolboys was hit by an avalanche in the Bernese Oberland. While rescuers managed to find 17 of them, one was still missing. The search was on the point of being called off when a local mixed-breed dog known as Moritzli drew the rescuers' attention to a particular location in the snow. After prodding the ground with sticks, they found the 18th member of the group who was resuscitated.  A dog specialist, Ferdinand Smutz, heard the story and in 1940 presented the idea of ...
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Swiss workplace inequality, by the numbers

Sun, 03/10/2019 - 12:00
Work, politics, wages: the differences between women and men in Switzerland are significant. We look at five areas in which women are still underrepresented, and how the Swiss compare internationally. Equality between women and men has long been enshrined in the Swiss constitution - since 1981. But differences remain when it comes to working life. 1. Employment What percentage of the population over the age of 15 has paid jobs? In most countries, the proportion is higher among men, even in Switzerland. According to World Bank data, the difference between women and men is greatest in Turkey. In Switzerland, around 60% of women aged 15 and over are employed, while the figure for men is 70%, which is the average among member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The differences between women and men are smallest in Scandinavia. 2. Working time There is a significant gender gap when it comes to full- and part-time work. In all OECD- ...
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Big money, big vehicles

Sat, 03/09/2019 - 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. 1/3 The share of Switzerland’s landscapes that are undeveloped. Most of 2,400 “near-natural” areas identified by Swiss scientists are in the mountains while very few undeveloped areas exist at lower altitudes. 1,000 On Tuesday, the Swiss bank unveiled a new 1,000-franc note with a purple hue and motif celebrating the country’s multilingualism. The new note goes into circulation starting in Bern and Zurich on March 13. 3 The number of elements discovered by Swiss scientists in the periodic table that celebrates its 150th anniversary. Can you guess which ones? 49 The percentage of four-wheel drive vehicles sold in Switzerland last year – a Swiss record and double the share of a decade ago. Switzerland’s growing love affair with big vehicles will likely make ...
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Corruption: Is Trudeau like Blair?

Sat, 03/09/2019 - 12:18
The political scandal currently gripping Canada and the British Aerospace case under Tony Blair both show money’s corrupting influence, writes Swiss anti-bribery expert Mark Pieth. On February 27, the former Canadian Minister of Justice, Jody Wilson-Raybould, took the courageous step of explaining to the media how she had been pushed out of office. Even though she is independent according to the Canadian Constitution, she had for months been cajoled by high-ranking officials close to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to strike a deal with the Canadian engineering company SNC-Lavalin, rather than go to court over whether the company paid bribes to the family of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The reasons for the political pressure are obvious. SNC-Lavalin has its head office in Québec, Trudeau’s main power base. His fear was – as he admits – a dramatic loss of jobs, as a corruption conviction would possibly lead to the barring of SNC-Lavalin from future business. The case ...
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The golden age of winter tourism in Grindelwald

Sat, 03/09/2019 - 12:00
Grindelwald was the first thermal spa town in the Bernese Oberland region to open up to winter tourism at the end of the 19th century. Photos from private collections provide a glimpse into this bygone era. It must have been an exciting time for the small village near Interlaken: with the construction of a road and, a few years later, a cogwheel railway, a connection to the wider world was suddenly established. In 1888, the village experienced a tourist boom thanks to the development of winter sports. Visitors from all over the world came to enjoy sleigh rides, curling, skating and, increasingly, skiing. This boom also encouraged investment - hotels installed central heating and electric lighting. Optimism at the turn of the century was boundless: there were plans to build a casino and make all the mountains accessible by train. However, the outbreak of the war in 1914 led to a collapse of foreign tourism and these ambitious plans had to be buried. Blast from the past The ...
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Oldest Swiss Abroad dies at age 110

Fri, 03/08/2019 - 13:13
Rodolphe Buxcel, who was born in 1908, passed away last month in Michigan, United States. He was born in a Swiss settlement in tsarist Russia and lived a frugal life in the US in his last years. With roots in the town of Romainmôtier in the French-speaking Swiss canton of Vaud, Buxcel was born in the Swiss settlement of Chabag, under the regime of Russia’s last Tsar, Nicolas II. One of his ancestors, Jacques-François Buxcel, had emigrated there with his six children and wife. The Swiss enclave was created in 1822 by Swiss botanist Louis-Vincent Tardent. Like all Chabag families, the Buxcels kept a Swiss passport during the 120 years of the colony's existence. The youngest of ten children, Buxcel lived a comfortable life in what is now Ukraine. His father owned 50 hectares of vineyards and 130 hectares of arable land. The family prospered until June 28, 1940, when the Soviets arrived. They lost their land and all their belongings. The family then spent five years in camps in ...
Categories: News EN

Mothers face double-edged sword in Swiss workplace culture

Fri, 03/08/2019 - 10:25
Switzerland’s part-time work options can be both a blessing and a curse for working mothers. More women are now calling for an end to a stigma on mothers in the workplace that is holding their careers and the country back. Ingrid Bringas’ career was on the upswing at a big multinational company in Switzerland until she told her employer she was pregnant. “I was managing a global project for Ceva Logistics with 13 to 14 smaller projects running in parallel. I told them I was pregnant, and another manager was put on the project and I was shoved aside.” The real kicker came when she was told not to return the day after her maternity leave ended and given three months’ salary as severance. In a response to swissinfo.ch, Ceva Logistics said they don’t comment on individual cases but that it is a priority to treat all employees equally. A Zurich-area woman, who prefers to remain anonymous, had a similar experience at a big tech multinational in Zurich where she says she was left out ...
Categories: News EN

Taxing airline tickets is an ‘absurd’ idea

Thu, 03/07/2019 - 15:38
Switzerland, like many other nations, is wrestling with how to curb greenhouse gas emissions caused by air traffic. A Swiss aviation expert outlines how the sector is combatting emissions.  The Swiss love to fly, much more than other Europeans. On average, each Swiss citizen flies 9,000 kilometres a year, according to 2015 figures.  Recently, there have been growing calls for stricter rules to curb CO2 emissions in the aviation sector, particularly from young people and environmental groups. Such emissions represent 2.5% of global CO2 emissions, or 10% in Switzerland (2016 figure).  In Bern, leftwing parliamentarians have suggested imposing a climate tax on plane tickets, like those adopted in Italy, France, Germany and Britain. Parliamentarians in the lower House of Representatives rejected such a proposal last December, but it is currently being examined in the Senate as part of the revision of the Swiss CO2 law.  swissinfo.ch talked to Hansjörg Bürgi, editor-in-chief of the ...
Categories: News EN

The dark Swiss fertility tradition with hunters and ‘victims’

Thu, 03/07/2019 - 12:09
Masked men pin down young women and force them to wear blackface. The “Pschuuri” Ash Wednesday festival in eastern Switzerland is possibly the least politically correct custom in the world.  That said, as with other Swiss traditions that might raise eyebrows abroad – for example the cattle show where six-year-olds are allowed to smoke – everyone has a good time and there’s a happy ending involving a big meal.  “Pschuure” means “to blacken” in the local dialect and is an important part of carnival in Splügen, a village near the Italian border in canton Graubünden where all these images were taken on Wednesday. The day begins with young children getting dressed up and harmlessly going from house with a basket around their neck begging for sweets.  In the afternoon, however, things get darker. Literally. Unmarried young men, “Pschuurirolli”, put on furs, masks and bells. Armed with a sackful of a greasy coal mixture, they hit the streets looking for children and, in particular, ...
Categories: News EN

Robotic hand teaches kids the power of tech and empathy

Thu, 03/07/2019 - 12:00
On Saturday mornings, a Basel arts centre becomes a playground for kids on a humanitarian mission. They're making 3D-printed hands for their peers in need, learning both technical skills and understanding for others.  They are focused on one part: a prosthetic finger that can be used for the performance of vital daily tasks or simply add an element of fun. “Imagine you have no hand and you can’t eat or drink, you can’t enjoy food,” says Aditi who is working on what she calls a SPRIFE, an index finger replacement that combines the functionality of a fork, spoon and knife. High-tech, low cost helping hand The 13-year-old is taking part in a private class provided by  TechLabs in Switzerland. The programme is certified by Enabling the Future, an international online community of 8,000 people which is using 3D printing technology to create printed hands and arms for those in need of such devices. One in 2,000 children born each day could benefit from such a device, according to ...
Categories: News EN

App to help Swiss army recruits get fit

Thu, 03/07/2019 - 11:52
Having fit soldiers is important for the Swiss army – it means fewer injuries and fewer people dropping out. That’s why it has launched an app to get young people ready for military service. The target group of the sports app “ready #teamarmee” is men and women aged 14-18 who want to prepare themselves both physically and mentally for their first basic military training. Military service is compulsory for Swiss men, optional for Swiss women. It generally lasts from age 18 to 30. The app was developed by the army and the Federal Office for Sport. Users can choose which army function they want to prepare for, for example tank sapper, and the app will produce specially designed sports programmes, the sports ministry said on Monday. Like other fitness apps, ready #teamarmee also offers advice on nutrition and a healthy lifestyle. The Swiss army app can also be used by civilians, who don’t need to put in a military function but just the type of training they want to do. Three ...
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When Swiss chemists were in their element

Wed, 03/06/2019 - 14:38
Gadolinium, holmium and ytterbium. What are they and, for a bonus point, what have they got in common? On the 150th anniversary of the publication of the periodic table, we look at the properties and uses of the table’s three elements that were discovered by Swiss scientists.  On March 6, 1869, Dmitri Mendeleev presented his system of classifying the 63 known chemical elements to the Russian Chemical Society. As you will remember from your school days, the 118 elements today are arranged by atomic number, electron configuration and recurring chemical properties.  However, for around 50 years certain elements were left off the table because they either were not pure enough or couldn’t be identified. Many of these were rare-earth elements (lanthanides), including the three “Swiss” elements.  Jean-Charles Galissard de Marignac, who taught chemistry at the Geneva Academy (since 1873 the University of Geneva), will be remembered for discovering ytterbium (Yb) in 1878 and gadolinium ...
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Making way for women at the dangerous Cresta Run

Wed, 03/06/2019 - 12:00
This winter season, women have been given free access to the iconic Cresta Run toboggan track in Switzerland for the first time in 90 years. The historic ice track in the ritzy resort of St Moritz in the upper Engadine valley is billed as the most famous and feared toboggan run in the world. It was a male sporting bastion until 2018, when the club decided to let women properly join their ranks. However, Gary Lowe, the current club secretary, says the decision will be reviewed again in two years.  Ladies had been allowed to race on equal terms with men until the 1920s, when it was deemed medically dangerous. In more recent decades, women could compete only on a token end-of-season ladies' day on the lower track.  Deadly The Cresta Run was first built at the end of the 19th century from natural ice. Runners hurtle headfirst down the ice track on a small toboggan called a skeleton, reaching speeds of up to 130 kmph (80 mph). Skeleton racing on the Cresta Run remains one of the ...
Categories: News EN

The growing Swiss love affair with 4x4s

Wed, 03/06/2019 - 12:00
The Swiss seem to be falling more and more in love with big powerful cars with four-wheel-drive performance. Fans claim they are safer and useful for big families and when in the mountains. But what about their environmental impact?  2018 was a bumpy year for the Swiss auto industry. Overall sales of new vehicles were down again for the third year in a row, but one segment stood out. According to auto-suisse, the umbrella organisation for car importers, almost one in every two cars (49%) sold in Switzerland last year was a four-wheel drive – a Swiss record and double the share of ten years ago. “Switzerland is a rich country, the cars come from abroad and the Swiss franc is strong, so the Swiss tend to buy bigger, wider and longer cars than our European neighbours,” Pierre-Emmanuel Dessemontet, an expert in urban and suburban geography at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), told Swiss public television, RTS, last year.  For auto-suisse President François ...
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How to set aside CHF1,000

Tue, 03/05/2019 - 10:33
The latest version of the world’s most valuable banknote has been unveiled. How much effort does it take to earn or save enough for one? There’s something regal about Switzerland’s purple 1,000-franc note. Part of the cachet of this seldom-seen slip of paper and polymer is the fact that most people hardly ever handle one. Worth $999 or €882, the CHF1,000 note also has a dark side, with many questioning the legitimate need for a denomination so large that most vendors refuse to accept it. To mark the banknote’s release by the Swiss National Bank on Tuesday, we’ve done the math to calculate two things: how many hours you’d have to work in Switzerland to earn one, and how many ordinary goods and services you’d have to give up to save CHF1,000. The new note goes into circulation starting in Bern and Zurich on March 13.   New Swiss banknote series The inspiration behind the new banknote series is ‘The many facets of Switzerland’. Each denomination depicts a typically ...
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Public media striving to give taxpayers their money’s worth

Mon, 03/04/2019 - 22:28
In an era of Spotify and Netflix, where does public media fit in – and how can it stay relevant and true to society’s needs? To try to answer these and many other questions, nearly 200 globally active media professionals and analysts gathered in the Swiss capital for the first International Public Media Conference on Monday – exactly a year after Swiss voters rejected a proposal to drop the mandatory licence fee for public broadcasters. “The people of Switzerland know how important publicly funded media is for the media landscape,” said Swiss Communications Minister Simonetta Sommaruga in her opening remarks. Over the course of the day’s conference, many speakers – including BBC Director-General Tony Hall via video message – highlighted the importance of creativity, which was fitting considering the venue: Zentrum Paul Klee, a cultural centre dedicated to the versatile Swiss artist. “Surprising and delighting audiences so they feel they get their money’s worth out of their ...
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Swiss take aim at excessive debt

Mon, 03/04/2019 - 20:58
Switzerland is one of the only countries in Europe that does not offer debt relief to those in severe financial difficulty. Parliament is calling for the law to be changed. It’s difficult to get out of debt if you owe a lot of money in Switzerland. There are provisions in the law to help, but these don’t really apply if you have little resources.  “Many of those affected have very little realistic prospective of living debt-free,” said a recent government report into debt relief procedures for private individuals. A first step was taken on Monday: both the House of Representatives and the Senate supported a parliamentary motion by the Social Democratic  senator, Claude Hêche, aimed at changing the law on debt collection and bankruptcy to allow the short-term economic integration of those in heavily in debt. It would also foresee the introduction of a mechanism to wipe out debts under certain circumstances. Excessive debt According to the definition of the the Swiss conference ...
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