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Animated films, smart cities and Switzerland's first diplomat

Sun, 09/16/2018 - 12:00
Here are some of the stories we'll be following the week of September 17: Monday Animated films have experienced a surge in profile since the success of My Life as a Courgette, but Swiss filmmakers still face an uphill struggle to secure financing and distribution deals, as producers at the recent Fantoche animation film festival in Baden told swissinfo.ch. As part of our Eyes on the Multinationals series, we answer a reader's question about the consequences of Nestlé's takeover of Blue Bottle and examine whether the local roaster and coffee chain has "lost its soul" as critics feared. Tuesday Our science reporter travels to Geneva for a ride on the city's e-bus, part of "the first 100% electric large-capacity bus system", and talks to experts about what else Switzerland can do to create smart, highly efficient and sustainable cities. ​​​​​​​ Wednesday We go back 370 years in history, to the peace conference that followed the Thirty Years' ...
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‘Everything is a little bit more relaxed’

Sun, 09/16/2018 - 11:00
Florian Lüthi only became an expatriate this year after moving to the Netherlands, where he hopes to gain new experience working as a nurse. Aged 30, he is still getting used to Dutch directness.   swissinfo.ch: Why did you leave Switzerland?  Florian Lüthi: I left Switzerland at the beginning of April 2018. I wanted to gain new experience in my job as a nurse, and do my master’s degree abroad. I decided to take this step for those reasons and because my mother has relatives in the Netherlands. The points of view stated in this article, especially about the host country and its politics, are the interviewee’s points of view and are not necessarily in line with swissinfo.ch’s position. swissinfo.ch: Was it a one-way journey, or do you intend to return to Switzerland one day?  F.L.: So far it is a one-way journey. It was first and foremost a question of gaining experience. But I didn’t know if what I was hoping for would work, or if I would perhaps find something else.
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Marching cows to Lehman losses

Sat, 09/15/2018 - 17:00
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 the most interesting statistics to appear in the past week’s stories. Monday 300 Switzerland has launched a new platform to help reduce the number of non-assisted suicides. It is part of a long-running government strategy to bring down the number of suicides by 25% by 2030 – in other words, to prevent about 300 suicides per year.   Tuesday 270,000 Every year, more than a quarter of a million cows march up to the top of mountains in Switzerland and then march down again. The migration starts in early summer as they are taken to alpine pastures and ends in early autumn when they return to the valleys. Tuesday  115 Between 2014-2017, Switzerland began 115 anti-corruption investigations against corporations and individuals conducting trade abroad, according to Transparency International. The NGO says that makes Switzerland an active ...
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The Art Basel for classic car fans

Sat, 09/15/2018 - 11:00
The Swiss city of Basel recently hosted a four-day classic car show featuring over 100 exclusive automobiles from “past, present and future”. swissinfo.ch’s Thomas Kern visited the first inaugural luxury and classic car trade show, Grand Basel.  I wonder whether they managed to meet their 12,000-visitor target and budget? In any case, the organisers seem happy. Before the show, the press material was a masterclass in understatement: “a building full of expectations!”, “masterpieces, significant cars, that’s what it’s all about”, or simply “cars are art.”  However, on the day I visited, Hall 1 was slow to fill up. Collectors and VIPs had gone the previous two days. Today was the first one for the public and I was in good company. Most people had come to ogle and take snaps with their smartphones. There were only a few women, mostly accompanied by men.  When admiring so many beautiful luxurious cars, you often feel like you are in church – you can just hear the hushed ...
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Opponents of e-voting suffer setback in parliament

Sat, 09/15/2018 - 08:00
Parliament has thrown out attempts to stall the permanent introduction of electronic voting – a decision welcomed by the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA). Two proposals by representatives of right and leftwing parties cited data security concerns, including cyberattacks, and were aimed at effectively blocking plans by the government to conclude more than 15 years of trials and enshrine e-voting in law as a third option - besides going to the polls and the postal vote. The House of Representatives earlier this week rejected the proposals by parliamentarians of the Swiss People’s Party and the Greens, thereby refusing to draft a bill for discussion. However, plans are afoot to launch a people’s initiative in the near future, further threatening the hopes of the OSA, which represents the interests of the more than 750,000 Swiss living around the world. The government is due to present details of a draft bill in the next few months and parliament could discuss the plans by 2020.
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The Swiss apprentice: biggest event of its kind shows off "Swiss Skills"

Fri, 09/14/2018 - 15:00
Visitors to the Swiss capital, Bern, have been finding out for themselves what it’s like to work as an apprentice.  The different jobs at "Swiss Skills" – with 135 categories represented - are shown in authentic work environments, giving people an insight into these different professions and career opportunities.  A main attraction: the championships, in which around 900 apprentices across 75 categories compete against each other to be the best in their field. It's only the second time that the championships, which are normally held separately by profession, are being carried out in one place. The last time was in 2014. Swiss Skills, which ends on Saturday, is expecting 50,000 visitors, the majority of which will be school children. Organisers say this year’s event is the biggest of its kind worldwide in terms of the number of professions represented. WorldSkills 2017, in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates – where the Swiss had a record gold medal haul in the international ...
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Lehman Brothers: the bankruptcy of a bank and that of a system

Fri, 09/14/2018 - 11:54
On September 15 2008, Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. It was the start of a lengthy and complex process encompassing about $1.2 trillion worth of creditor claims.  When flight LB2008 crashed, after suddenly disappearing from the radar assigned to so-called systemic banks, it was apparently a case of thunder on a sunny day, an unpredictable catastrophe.  However, some elements of the black box, despite their complexity, allow us to better comprehend the reasons for this disaster and to highlight the untruths that had allowed this bank’s catastrophic situation to be camouflaged well before its disappearance. In this respect, Lehman Brothers’ last annual report offers an abundance of indications. It is complacent with frequent self-praise. Terms such as "record performance", "terrific results", "talent management efforts", “excellence” and “focus on risk management” follow one after another. In 2007, the bank boasted about being “number one” in ...
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Even the world’s best democracy isn’t perfect

Fri, 09/14/2018 - 11:00
Switzerland’s system of direct democracy is admired by many, and it is often held up as a model for others. But even a country which to a certain extent invented citizen’s rights doesn’t get it right the whole time.  Switzerland has been called a gold standard for direct democracy. But did you know, for example, that…  …the government and parliament sometimes blatantly disregard the wishes of the people?  One example is the current discussion about Daylight Saving Time, that is putting the clocks forward an hour for summer and back for winter. European Commission president Jean-Claude Junker wants the practice to end, which could call time on the issue in Switzerland as well. Parliament approved the law on Daylight Saving Time in 1977. A group of farmers successfully challenged it and won a subsequent nationwide vote in 1978.  But the people’s vote was never implemented because the government and parliament introduced a new bill on the issue in 1980 – and this time nobody ...
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Understatement as statement in photography

Fri, 09/14/2018 - 08:10
A group exhibition in the Photobastei in Zurich is dedicated to young photographers. Thematically, it deals with the limits of human perception; Nigerian refugees, Dominican men, Swiss legends, and Tuscan quarries. Simon von Gunten won the vfg prize for young photographers with his work "Cutis". His series of portraits seem to be made for Instagram: People immersed in blue-violet fluorescent light - imperceptible to the human eye - but recorded by digital cameras. It's less about showmanship than about making life stories visible.  Connecting the different photographic impressions is a certain understatement. This young generation of photographers has something to say, and therefore something to show. But they are not showing off.  The exhibition runs until October 7, before moving to the Galerie l'Elac in Lausanne in the first half of November, and then Basel at Oslo 8 in late November through early December and Stuttgart, Germany next March. 
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The financial crisis of 2008 and the Swiss ‘miracle’

Fri, 09/14/2018 - 08:00
The collapse of Lehman Brothers ten years ago triggered one of the biggest financial and economic crisis in a century. Switzerland did not escape unscathed but fared better than other countries, without amassing huge debt. On September 15, 2008, the fourth largest US investment bank filed for bankrupcy over the crisis in the subprime mortgage market. The government refused to bail out the insolvent institution, creating a collapse in confidence that froze credit markets and decimated the banking sector. From the United States, the financial crisis spread to other countries, soon turning into a global economic crisis that raised the spectre of another Great Depression. Switzerland was also affected but not as badly as initially feared.  Several reasons rendered Switzerland particularly vulnerable over the course of the crisis. Its top two banks, UBS and Credit Suisse, were among the most exposed foreign institutions in the subprime bubble. Switzerland was more dependent than ...
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Not every tall person plays basketball

Thu, 09/13/2018 - 17:00
"True Talk" puts people in front of the camera who are fighting prejudice or discrimination. They answer questions that nobody would normally dare to ask directly.  David is 217cm tall, and is officially the tallest man in Switzerland. In "True Talk" he explains the difficulties he faces - and why people sometimes treat him as if he were not even there, despite - or precisely because of - his size. The 39 year old explains what life is like as the tallest person in the country and the preconceptions he hears a lot about from others.  (SRF, swissinfo.ch)
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Bands and biscuits spark debate over racism and culture

Thu, 09/13/2018 - 11:00
The name of two carnival bands and a sweet treat have stirred a debate in Switzerland about the use of terms that many people consider racist. Should they be changed, or are they a part of history that should be preserved? In Basel, two long-existing carnival bands have been accused of having racist names and symbols from the colonial era. “Negro-Rhygass” and “Mohrechopf” (“blackamoor”) have taken their websites down and are now discussing their logos and names. The logo of both bands was a clichéd image of a black man with thick lips and bones in his hair. There is also a chocolate sweet treat called “Mohrenkopf” (meaning the same as Swiss-German “Mohrechopf”) – soft white interior covered in chocolate. The sweet became the subject of controversy in German-speaking Switzerland last summer, when an Internet petition urged a popular producer in Aargau to give it another name. The company’s persistent refusal to do so led to a rapid rise in sales. Customers ate more of the ...
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When young people want a Swiss passport

Thu, 09/13/2018 - 08:00
Being born on Swiss soil does not mean you are automatically Swiss. Naturalisation is therefore an option for foreigners who have been born in Switzerland and want Swiss nationality.  The process includes one or more interviews, which children from 12 years of age may also be required to complete. Swiss nationality is acquired through one blood relationship – that is, through the father or mother – or through naturalisation. In general, when a foreign family starts the process, this also includes their children. If the children are older than 16, they must put down in writing why they want to become Swiss. From age 14, they can submit their request for naturalisation individually, with the agreement of a parent.  Journalists from the Swiss Public Television RTS programme "Temps Présent" were allowed to sit in during the interviews of three young naturalisation candidates in the canton of Fribourg.  Requirements to become Swiss To make a naturalisation request, one must ...
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EU parliament approves contentious online copyright reform

Wed, 09/12/2018 - 18:09
The decision in Strasbourg to clamp down on big Internet platforms was heavily lobbied both by publishers and free speech advocates. Switzerland is not yet directly implicated. The first post-summer sitting of the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday was marked largely by the unprecedented decision of MEPs to sanction Hungary for its recent democratic backsliding. Less headline-grabbing, but perhaps almost as consequential, was the large approval of an ambitious reform of EU copyright rules, a reform that could have big implications for online media across the continent, including in Switzerland. The changes – the first time Brussels is updating copyright laws since 2001 – aim to adapt to the digital age by tipping the scales back from big online platforms like Google and Facebook to the ‘content creators’ that feed them: musicians, photographers, journalists, etc. To do this, the directive relies on two main weapons: obliging aggregators to recompense original ...
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Swiss arms exports still at odds with humanitarian tradition

Wed, 09/12/2018 - 17:00
The government’s plan to ease arms export rules has sparked controversy with critics warning it could endanger the neutral country’s reputation and humanitarian tradition. A Swiss historian and author explains how this paradox has been a recurrent theme since the First World War.   Exports of Swiss-produced war materials has been a hot issue in Switzerland in recent months. In June, the government proposed allowing weapons to be exported to countries in the throes of internal conflict, provided it could be established that they would not be used by warring parties. This relaxation has been criticised by activists; on Monday a group announced it was spearheading an initiative campaign in the hope of getting the Swiss authorities to change course. The historian Cédric Cotter is very familiar with this theme. His PhD thesis looked at Swiss humanitarian action and neutrality during the First World War, including a section on Swiss weapons exports to the warring parties. A book ...
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Preventing suicides on the Swiss rail network

Wed, 09/12/2018 - 14:50
The Swiss Federal Railways is responding to the problem of suicides by erecting barriers on certain “black spot” bridges and sections of track. (RTS/swissinfo.ch) On August 22, thousands of commuters were heavily delayed for hours on a popular stretch of track along Lake Geneva following “passenger action” at Rolle station. Passenger action is, as everyone knows, a euphemism for a suicide or attempted suicide.  According to the Federal Office of Transport, cited in a Le Temps article on Wednesday, last year there were “140 desperate acts” on the Swiss rail network in which a person died and 14 in which someone was seriously injured.  The Federal Railways published a study last month called Suicide on Railways in which they said on average 115 people killed themselves a year between 2003 and 2017.  “In addition to relatives, railway suicides place railway employees and sometimes passengers in situations which are very difficult to deal with,” the authors wrote, explaining why ...
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Listening to deaf children’s needs

Wed, 09/12/2018 - 11:00
In Switzerland many deaf pupils go to mainstream schools. But the Swiss Federation of the Deaf says that many pupils struggle with this approach. It wants a more bilingual concept, with equal weight given to both sign and the spoken language. It is an overcast late summer day at the Hans Asper school house in Wollishofen, a suburb of Zurich. But it is not stopping the game of football. It is a scene that could be replayed a thousand times over across Switzerland – except there is one difference. Some of the pupils are deaf or hard of hearing. They attend SEK 3, a special needs secondary school that is embedded into a mainstream institute. “The pupils have the opportunity, whether they are hard of hearing or deaf, whether they need sign language or not, to come into contact with the hearing community and the whole youth culture, simply everything that is commonplace in a regular state school,” Peter Bachmann, SEK3’s co-head tells swissinfo.ch. Sign language Depending on ...
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Supplementary benefits – what are they and who receives them?

Wed, 09/12/2018 - 08:00
Reducing financial support for the country’s poorest citizens is triggering heated debates in parliament, with no final decision expected this session. State expenditure has more than doubled since 2000 on so-called supplementary benefits for people who can’t get by on their pension alone.  What’s at stake?  The almost CHF5 billion ($5.1 billion) in supplementary benefits that the state pays to more than 320,000 pensioners a year.  What’s the purpose of supplementary benefits?  According to the federal constitution, the old-age and disability pension schemes should guarantee a living wage, the minimum income necessary for someone to meet their basic needs. Because this is no longer the case with many pensions (minimum CHF1,175, maximum CHF2,350 - or $1,200 to $2,400 - per month), supplementary benefits were created.  Who receives supplementary benefits?  Last year, 322,800 people. To receive supplementary benefits, one has to meet certain conditions such as drawing a pension ...
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Cost concerns eat away at support for food initiatives

Wed, 09/12/2018 - 06:00
Two proposals to promote sustainable agriculture in Switzerland and ethical food have seen a massive drop in support ahead of nationwide votes later this month. An opinion poll carried out at the beginning of September shows the Food Security initiative by a leftwing farmers group and the Fair Food initiative by the Green Party both losing about a third of their backing compared with a first survey published in mid-August. Another proposal to boost the cycling infrastructure in Switzerland appears to be heading for a clear victory at ballot box on September 23, according to the leading GfS Bern research institute, which conducted the poll on behalf of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, swissinfo.ch’s parent company.  See details below and in infobox: The heavy decline in support for the two food and farming initiatives is dramatic but was to be expected, says the GfS Bern director, Lukas Golder. “Opponents successfully pointed out the weaknesses of the initiatives during ...
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Why Americans are 'adopting' Swiss alpine farmers

Tue, 09/11/2018 - 17:00
From New York to California, upscale American grocers and speciality food store owners are “adopting” Swiss dairy farmers to bring hard-to-find alpine cheeses to the United States, while supporting a unique way of life in the Alps.  The concept comes thanks to a private business called Adopt-an-Alp that’s run by a Swiss expat in Florida. It hinges on personalised business-to-business matchmaking. The company helps American retailers and restauranteurs find Swiss farming families making Alp Cheese (Alpkäse in German), a variety of full-fat, raw-milk cheese that’s nearly impossible to find on this side of the Atlantic. When the cheese is ready in the autumn, the Americans promise to buy at least ten wheels of cheese from a farmer of their choosing. The farmers set the price. There is no contract.  Alp Cheese has a story that might resonate with American consumers willing to spend more on higher quality food. To make the cheese, farmers spend summers in Switzerland’s high alpine ...
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