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Grand old Swiss party: a past and future for liberalism

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 18:00
The centre-right Radical-Liberal Party is celebrating 125 years of existence at a national level. But the Swiss champions of political longevity haven’t always known how to value this rich past, says historian Olivier Meuwly.  The modern Radical-Liberal Party has its roots in the liberal movements which flourished in western Europe in the first half of the 19th century. In Switzerland, the story of political liberalism has been a particular success.  From 1830 several cantons adapted their constitution in a liberal sense. The pinnacle was reached in 1848, with the creation of the modern federal state, spurred on by the radical movement.  Defeated by a Protestant-led coalition in the Sonderbund War, the conservative Catholics – the basis of the current centre-right Christian Democratic Party – were for a long time relegated to the opposition. The Radicals, who formally existed only at a cantonal level, had pretty much a monopoly on running the new state. They have been ...
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Why some Swiss people still get measles

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 14:24
Measles, a potentially deadly virus, is still breaking out in Switzerland, despite the availability of vaccinations.  At the beginning of February, 60 children who had not been vaccinated were sent home after measles erupted in the Steiner School in the town of Biel. Families with an anthroposophical lifestyle, as advocated by Rudolf Steiner, are often restrictive with vaccinations because of the purported benefits of getting a disease naturally. Many others fear the side effects of vaccines more than the underlying diseases that they protect against. Daniel Koch, head of the infectious diseases department at the Swiss Federal Health Office (BAG) assures the public that bad reactions are rare and that the effects of measles are much worse.  Preventable disease Measles spreads easily through the coughs and sneezes of infected people and can lead to diarrhoea, ear infections, pneumonia, blindness, inflammation of the brain and even death. It can strike people of all ages.
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The bombers of Zurich: how two Russians shaped Swiss history

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 12:00
In 1889, a Russian student in Zurich accidentally blew himself up. In the aftermath of the incident, many foreigners were expelled from the country, while the manufacture or possession of explosives was made a criminal offence. On March 6, 1889, a Zurich policeman told his superiors there was a rumour on the streets that two Russian students had staged a duel with bombs just outside the city the previous day. Both had been seriously wounded, and friends had taken them to hospital, he said. Police Captain Fischer, who was familiar with the emigrant milieu, was skeptical. Yet he made his way to Petertobel, where the duel had supposedly taken place. At the scene he made a horrible discovery: great streaks of blood in the snow, traces of an explosion, a battered metal container full of a thick yellow fluid – and part of a human foot. Dynamite Fischer headed for the general hospital, where he started looking through the lists of newly-admitted patients. He soon identified ...
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Should detainees in Syria and Iraq lose their Swiss rights?

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 10:42
My son, an American who grew up in Switzerland and is now a bi-national, once asked me who he was. As I dismissed the question as being too complicated, he interrupted saying he was only asking about his citizenship. “Am I American or am I Swiss?” he wanted to know. The inquisitive adolescent wanted a clear definition of his public identity, something easily answered in legal terms but not easily answered in subjective terms about how one feels. For governments, the answer is also complicated. Aristotle said: “the nature of citizenship…is a question which is often disputed: certainly there is no general agreement on a single definition.” The current crisis about captured Islamic State (ISIS) fighters and followers shows how complicated and “disputed” citizenship can be. The Swiss government is now debating what to do with captured Swiss citizens and bi-nationals who joined Islamic State in Iraq or Syria. Should the government organize their return? Or should they be tried ...
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For young migrants, the right to education is a mirage

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 09:09
On the occasion of the publication of a UNESCO report, Swiss development cooperation specialists discuss the subject of education of displaced children. There have not been so many migrants in the world since the Second World War. And half of them are children. How to ensure their right to education? On the occasion of the Swiss launch of UNESCO's 2019 Global Monitoring Report on Education, Daniel Endres of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees considers the situation "catastrophic". Returning from a trip to southern Ethiopia, a region populated by three million people, including one million refugees, Ambassador Thomas Gass, Deputy Director of the SDC, the Swiss agency for development cooperation, said he was "shocked" by his visit to a school there. "Initially, the school was planned for a settlement of 5,000 inhabitants, but now there is a camp of 70,000 refugees nearby. The aid workers hastily built two additional sheet metal rooms, but that is obviously not enough.
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When parliament square becomes a market

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 09:00
The big square in front of parliament in Bern turns twice a week into a market. There you can find everything: Sauerkraut from Gurbetal, Vacherin cheese from Freibourg, bread from wood-fired ovens and local ham. Sometimes a government member even comes to buy an apple.  The Bundesplatz in the Swiss federal capital is an important meeting point at the edge of Bern Old Town, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is the site of epic celebrations, such as when the Bernese football club BSC Young Boys became Swiss champion, political demonstrations and state receptions with a guard of honour. For over 130 years, a large weekly market has been held here every Tuesday and Saturday morning, attracting hundreds of visitors depending on the weather and season. As well as the locals, regular customers also include many parliamentarians. From time to time even a Federal Councillor comes by in person to buy an apple for their break. And of course the backdrop attracts tourists ...
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Heidi News and other niche publishers take the plunge in Geneva

Sun, 02/24/2019 - 12:00
Heidi News, Micro, Global Geneva Insider: looks at very different new media ventures in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. “We have huge ambitions but we’re starting very small,” explained Serge Michel, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Heidi News, an online news site due to launch at the end of March.  Three years in the making, the Geneva-based start-up hopes to “explore and explain an ever-changing world from a Swiss point of view”.  “There is a Swiss focus, as we’re here in Geneva – it’s important to have roots,” says Michel who himself is Swiss and studied in the international city. “Our office will be in Geneva and that’s the strong connection to Switzerland.” He likens journalism to quality Swiss products that are strong exports like cheese and machines, saying good journalism can be ‘exported’ too.  Taking the plunge into the turbulent Swiss media world is certainly not for the faint-hearted. In recent years, public and private organisations ...
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‘Dragon tamer’ animator shows Swiss kids how it’s done

Sun, 02/24/2019 - 12:00
The chief animator of the hit film trilogy “How to train your Dragon” is Swiss. Simon Otto, who has lived in the United States for 21 years, comes from St Gallen in eastern Switzerland. He returned home recently and showed school children how he works his magic. Otto started his career in banking, but later went to study animation at the prestigious Les Gobelins animation school in Paris. He has been an important part of the DreamWorks character animation team since joining the studio in 1997. Drawing strength from his characters Otto worked on “The Prince of Egypt”,“Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron,” the Aardman co-production, "Flushed Away” and “Over The Hedge” before starting on the “How to Train Your Dragon” series. He won a VES Award in 2011 for “Outstanding Animation in an Animated Feature Motion Picture” for the first film in the trilogy.  Swiss Public Television, SRF, caught up with Otto in Zurich, and also interviewed Dean DeBlois, who directed the epic fantasy, in ...
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Tax, pensions, asylum seekers and fines big and small

Sat, 02/23/2019 - 18:00
Almost every article published by 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 2 Two ministers for a two-pronged package: Ministers for the interior and finance, Alain Berset and Ueli Maurer, launched a government campaign in favour of the upcoming national vote on a reform of the corporate tax and pension systems.  They warned that rejecting the package in May could harm the Swiss economy. Tuesday 42 million Swiss industrial giant ABB was selected by Indian Railways to provide converters for electric locomotives that it will manufacture in India. It is the company’s largest traction equipment order in India and is worth $42 million (CHF42 million). Wednesday 3.7 billion A French court found Swiss bank UBS guilty of illicit solicitation and laundering of the proceeds of tax fraud, imposing a hefty fine of €3.7 billion ...
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The real face of the quaint Swiss chalet

Sat, 02/23/2019 - 12:00
Behind every Swiss cliché - whether chocolate, cheese or banks - is a kernel of truth. German photographer Patrick Lambertz found one of them with his “Chalets of Switzerland”. Originally, the word ‘chalet’ means a hut, usually built from wood, and which stands on pastoral or agricultural land. Such detached rural houses are found right across the Alpine region. Through the course of the Romantic movement, however, when the European elite began to take an interest in Switzerland, the chalet came to symbolise a natural, simple, free, and democratic way of life. Such wooden models graced the homes, gardens, and parks of the then European aristocracy, and became a Swiss symbol par excellence. Minimalist As a German, the clichés surrounding Switzerland and its chalets particularly interest former filmmaker Patrick Lambertz. “It was probably a non-Swiss view that allowed me to see these houses as lived-in, down-to-earth objects,” he told I was able to contrast the ...
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Charlie Chaplin family photos shown for first time

Fri, 02/22/2019 - 14:30
An exhibition at the Chaplin's World Museum in Corsier-sur-Vevey, western Switzerland, shows previously unpublished photographs from the life of the comedian, actor and director. In 1952, Charlie Chaplin met the young photographer Yves Debraine, still unknown at that time, on the stairs of a hotel in Lausanne by Lake Geneva. As a result of this chance encounter between two very different men, Chaplin made Debraine his official photographer and granted him unique insights into his family life for twenty years. The results can now be seen comprehensively for the first time. The photos are included in a special exhibition at the Manoir de Ban, the country estate that was for 25 years the centre of life for Chaplin and his large family. The creator of the "Tramp" married four times and had a total of eleven children.
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When political education begins with the army

Fri, 02/22/2019 - 12:00
It may come as a surprise to learn that political education is a challenge even in Switzerland with its highly developed system of direct democracy. Nevertheless, the subject has a long history starting in 1875 with the young recruits of the early Swiss army. In the Swiss Social Archives office in Zurich: Stefanie Marolf sifts through old newspapers. The historian wants information on the changes in political education in Switzerland. What she notices is that political education, formerly called “patriotism” and with a martial bias, was once very important, before sinking in relevance. This hinged on the political climate both at home and abroad.  For example, the emergence of anti-democratic ideology abroad in the lead up to the Second World War aroused a strong desire for political education in Switzerland. But first the political masters needed to know what young men knew about their fatherland. And what they did not know.  The broadest cross-section to test were recruits ...
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Ties with EU become key issue for Swiss voters

Thu, 02/21/2019 - 18:00
Relations between Switzerland and the European Union are currently the most relevant issue for voters ahead of October’s parliamentary elections according to the latest opinion poll. The Green Party as well as the Liberal Greens look set to make the biggest gains compared to the 2015 elections. Of the eight main political parties represented in the Swiss parliament, the rightwing Swiss People’s Party remains top with 27%, nearly ten percentage points ahead of the leftwing Social Democrats and the centre-right Radicals. Over 12,000 citizens took part in the online survey carried out by the Sotomo research institute based primarily on polls posted on the German, French and Italian online sites of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation,’s parent company. The expatriate Swiss community could not be included in the analysis as the number of respondents was insufficient, according to Sotomo. Both the People’s Party and the Social Democrats have emerged as the most ...
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Has UBS’s CHF5 billion legal gamble backfired?

Thu, 02/21/2019 - 17:52
UBS is refusing to sit back and lick its wounds after being hit with financial penalties totaling €4.5 billion (CHF5.1 billion) in France. By appealing the decision, has it bitten off more than it can chew? Or can it claw back lost ground in the high stakes duel with the French authorities? Round one of the tax evasion legal battle has clearly been won by French prosecutors. A Paris court on Wednesday found UBS guilty of systematically helping French citizens avoid paying taxes. It imposed a €3.7 billion fine plus €800,000 in compensation costs. UBS, however, insists that no clear-cut evidence was presented in court that proved the prosecution’s case. Swiss corporate legal expert Peter V. Kunz, a professor of law at the University of Bern, tends to agree. “It was a risky gamble. What UBS did not take into account was France,” he told “I am quite convinced that had the same evidence been produced in a German court, the result would have been different.” Kunz ...
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Can Greta’s generation make a mark on Swiss politics?

Thu, 02/21/2019 - 16:00
Protests over climate change have recently energised Swiss youth, who have taken to the streets numerous times over the past several months. But increased youth involvement in Swiss politics has been underway for a while. The young climate activists rallied behind Greta Thunberg, the Swedish climate activist who staged protests outside Swedish parliament for more than six months and has become a global phenomenon. Such political participation by the young generation is most welcome. The liberal think-tank Avenir Suisse sounded alarm bells some time ago with a report entitled, “Are we about to become a gerontocracy?” Currently, the average voter in Switzerland is 57 years old, the think-tank reports; he or she will be 60 on average in 2030. An ageing society with ageing voters inevitably has an impact on political decisions. While political participation is primarily defined by education and gender in other parts of the world, it is a unique and inglorious Swiss characteristic ...
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Swiss school ski trips show signs of a comeback

Thu, 02/21/2019 - 12:00
How many children in Switzerland will be attending school ski camps this year? Although a court ruling raised fears of the tradition dying out, schools are managing to find workarounds and more students are taking part again. “Ski camps are saved” was the title of a recent report in the Aargauer Zeitung that looked at the situation across German-speaking Switzerland. The Swiss Federal Court ruled in late 2017 that schools may only ask parents for up to CHF16 ($16) a day during obligatory excursions and camps, the amount parents would spend on feeding their children at home. Before that parents were paying CHF150-CHF300, and sometimes more, for a snow sports trip. Many had feared that the decision would spell the end of the traditional school ski camp that typically takes place in the term after Christmas. + Read more about the concerns here Workarounds But so far, most schools have found ways to continue to send students on the traditional ski excursions. Every canton – ...
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Has Alpine rail transport come far enough?

Wed, 02/20/2019 - 12:00
Exactly 25 years ago Swiss voters approved the Alpine Initiative, which aimed to shift the transport of goods through the Alps from road to rail, in a landmark decision. Although the targets have yet to be met, the president of the initiative remains optimistic.  The result on February 20, 1994 was a surprise. Just over half of voters (51.9%) and 19 of Switzerland’s 26 cantons came out in favour of the road-to-rail plan and against extending the road network.  The decision marked a turning point in Switzerland’s transport policy. It had implications for a vote in 1998, when voters ratified a tax on heavy vehicles and a project for funding public transport, and then in 2004, when a parliamentary proposal aimed at doubling the capacity of the Gotthard road tunnel was defeated at the polls.  But implementing the Alpine Initiative has turned out to be complicated, notably because it calls into question Switzerland’s relationship with the surrounding European Union.  The compromise ...
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Crans-Montana avalanche claims a life

Wed, 02/20/2019 - 11:11
One of the people rescued from an avalanche at the Swiss ski resort of Crans-Montana died in hospital overnight. Three other people were injured by the huge avalanche that struck on Tuesday. Rescuers suspended a coordinated search on Wednesday morning. The man who died was a 34-year-old French national who worked at a ski resort in France, police said. Rescuers worked all night above the resort in canton Valais to try to find skiers who might have been trapped in the avalanche. Witnesses had told police that there could be more people under the snow. On Tuesday, a huge avalanche swept down the mountain at an altitude of 2,500 metres, just below the Plaine-Morte Glacier, and hit the popular Kandahar ski slope at 2.20pm at a spot known as “Passage du Major”. This video by Swiss public radio, RTS, shows the extent of the avalanche. The police said it measured over 840 metres long and 100 metres wide and spread over the slope for about 400 metres. Rescue services were ...
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High pharma margins squeeze health systems

Tue, 02/19/2019 - 15:15
Cancer drug prices are rising rapidly, and profit margins for pharmaceutical companies reach upwards of 80% for some medications according to a Swiss public television RTS investigation. Curing cancer for the masses could be challenging if healthcare systems are crippled by such expensive treatments. A recent investigation by Swiss public television RTS found that some cancer treatments are billed at more than 80 times their manufacturing costs. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies are in a race to develop the next big life-saving cancer drugs. Vas Narasimhan, CEO of Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis, explained in a commentary on CNBC that cell and gene therapies are bringing about a new era of cancer medicines “that are not just improving lives, they are saving them.” But at what cost to people and health systems? A recent World Health Organization report revealed that spending on cancer medicines is outpacing the growth rate of new cancer patients and healthcare ...
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A fracture exposes cracks in Switzerland’s hospital system

Tue, 02/19/2019 - 13:58
A Swiss senior shares how she was bounced from hospital to hospital for a straightforward problem, experiencing issues plaguing the country’s healthcare system along the way.  With a slow but even gait, she makes her way up the gentle incline of a country lane. Her classy silk scarf and elegant loafers are a contrast to the faint smell of manure.  “I love this view,” she says, pointing out the snowy Alps in one direction, and the smoky Jura mountains in the other. It’s likely thanks to her longtime habit of walking that Margrit Suter* has recovered so well from the fracture she suffered last summer.  But before she could start to recover properly, she spent 12 nights in three different Bern area hospitals. The mismanagement of her case reflects some of the issues facing the Swiss hospital system, such as chronic understaffing and pressure to reduce costs. ‘Not much time to listen’ Suter had fallen and sustained a femoral neck break, requiring surgery on her upper thigh at ...
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