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Aid for victims, school for all, and voting rights

Sun, 02/11/2018 - 13:00
Here are the stories we'll be following the week of February 12, 2018. Monday Switzerland has generous aid available for victims of crimes, but some groups – namely the Swiss living abroad – get left out. An in-depth look at the issue, and who can benefit from assistance. Tuesday Switzerland’s Federation of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises is one of the groups that has come out in favour of the initiative to do away with public media license fees. Yet its members don’t always agree. Two of them debate the issue and whether the fee should be mandatory. Then, a look at how the Geneva-based United Nations has stepped up its game in the world of corporate social responsibility. Wednesday How are disabled children integrated in Swiss schools? We tell the story of one student experiencing the process first-hand. Thursday We speak to the man who started a debate over whether Swiss citizens living abroad should lose the right to vote in the country’s elections and ...
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It’s boom time for the ‘Davos sledge’

Sun, 02/11/2018 - 12:00
The small wooden sledges were originally intended for transporting goods until a carpenter launched the “Davos sports sledge”. The museum-piece mode of transport has since been a fundamental part of Swiss wintertime and carpenters like Paul Burri are keeping the tradition alive. It gets quite cramped in Paul Burri’s small carpentry workshop in Lohnstorf, canton Bern, at the start of winter. Everything is geared towards one thing – sledges. Sawn wooden parts lie ready in one corner. In another, finished sledges are stacked almost up to the ceiling. Outside, the little street where Burri works and lives is covered in snow. It is the same little street that Burri raced down on a sledge with his brothers during his childhood. The local authority’s road patrol used to spray gravel on the hardened snow to make the surface safe. But the Burri boys made themselves a plough to get rid of the speed-curbing grit and carried on sledging. Now, over 50 years later, Burri is the local sledge-maker.
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An alpine ski shelter

Sun, 02/11/2018 - 10:00
The Alps are full of huts and shelters for farmers and their cows to use in the summer, but in the winter, they can provide welcome respite for skiers as well. Photographer Dan Patitucci captured this shot of a rest stop at a hut while out for a day of skiing. "We'd just spent hours skiing around the Lobhorn Hut in the sun, but had dropped back into the fog during our descent back to Isenfluh," he writes. "Once back in the grey murk, we checked our watches and realized we had plenty of time to head back up for some last sun, and more skiing. These little farmer's sheds make for logical turn-around points because a dry place to sit, even if only for a moment, is always appreciated."
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By the numbers: carnival and erectile stimulants

Sat, 02/10/2018 - 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 the most interesting statistics to appear in the past week’s stories. Monday 5 The number of F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets belonging to the Swiss Air Force that had to be grounded after cracks were discovered. Tuesday 40 The distance from Earth in lightyears of the star TRAPPIST-1. One of the star’s seven exoplanets is more similar to our planet than any other that has yet been found.  Wednesday 800,000 Swiss telecom company Swisscom revealed that 800,000 of its clients had been victims of a data breach in autumn 2017. “Unknown parties” had got their hands on “non-sensitive” information like names, addresses, phone numbers and dates of birth, it said.  Thursday 5,300,000 Don’t ask who worked this out, but this is the number of bits of confetti which will need to be picked up off the pavements of Lucerne following the start of the ...
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The bird whisperer

Sat, 02/10/2018 - 12:00
Falconer Ulrich Lüthi spends part of his time with his birds of prey hunting rooks in Swiss towns. swissinfo.ch spent a day watching them in action.   Lüthi’s birds sit on the back seat of his car, letting out the occasional high-pitched screech. In the front, a falcon’s hood decorated with feathers swings from the rear-view mirror. On the car’s dashboard, his key ring - a miniature falconer’s glove - gives away his passion and profession. Lüthi, who lives in canton Bern, hasn’t had a holiday for at least 15 years. But he’s not unhappy about this. “I have found my path in life,” he declares. Several years ago, scientists welcomed the increase in the number of rooks in Switzerland. But since then, the black birds are viewed more negatively, and their crowing and droppings disturb residents. Rooks are not always scared of humans but they fear birds of prey. City authorities have therefore turned to Lüthi to help hunt the birds. With his birds of prey tucked under his arm, the ...
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Cricket on ice keeps Switzerland on Indian tourist radar

Fri, 02/09/2018 - 12:22
The gentleman’s sport of cricket, an obsession on the Indian subcontinent, has been strategically used to drum up interest in Switzerland by promoters and tourist attractions.  Get the world’s fastest ever bowler (Shoaib Akhtar of Pakistan) to send a cricket ball whizzing at one of the most aggressive batsmen of all time (Virender Sehwag of India) and choose Swiss luxury ski resort St Moritz as the scene of the combat between sporting rivals.  This is the premise of the Ice Cricket tournament held on February 8 and 9. The match is featuring retired legends of the game from India, Pakistan, England, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Sri Lanka.  Ice Cricket 2018 teams  Royals  Shoaib Akhtar, Shahid Afridi, Abdul Razzaq, Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith, Daniel Vettori, Nathan McCullum, Grant Elliott, Monty Panesar, Owais Shah, Matt Prior and Aidan Conor Andrews.  Badrutt’s Palace Diamonds  Virender Sehwag, Mohammad Kaif, Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar, Joginder Sharma, ...
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Athletes get boost to their job prospects

Fri, 02/09/2018 - 12:00
A record 171 athletes will be representing Switzerland at the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, which start on Friday. But only a few can make a living from their sport. They need a job and a company willing to be flexible over training and competition needs. Enter the new “athlete-friendly companies” label. Curler Benoît Schwarz, a bronze medallist at the World Men’s Curling Championship last year, is among those going to South Korea. He trains 25 hours a week and feels top fit, but he is lagging behind on the career front, despite having a Bachelors degree. “When I compare myself to my peers, we have the same education but I needed longer because of the sport and now I am getting older. My peers can get a better hold on the work market,” 26-year-old Schwarz told Swiss public television SRF ahead of his trip to PyeongChang. Flexible Flexible employers are key. This is why the Swiss Olympic Association (Swiss Olympic) has founded, along with the employment firm Adecco Group, a ...
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The Swiss flag is square – except when it isn’t

Fri, 02/09/2018 - 09:00
When the Swiss athletes march into the Olympic stadium in PyeongChang, South Korea, for the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Games, they will wave a rectangular flag – proportions of 2:3 – in keeping with the other nations. This is one of the exceptions when the Swiss flag is not square. This was decreed by the Lausanne-based International Olympic Committee (IOC), which manufactures all nations’ flags. “The IOC decided, beginning with the Athens Games in 2004, that all flags would have the same rectangular format,” writes a spokesperson. The goal was that “no flag should stand out because of its format; this would go against the Olympic spirit, which seeks equality and respect among all nations”. Nevertheless, there is one exception: Nepal, whose flag’s double pennant shape is unique to say the least. When it comes to square national flags, Switzerland is joined only by the Vatican. The two states also share another link: the Swiss Guards, the armed unit engaged to ...
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Switzerland attracts fewer Eritreans

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 16:23
The number of Eritreans applying for asylum at the Swiss border has fallen dramatically in recent years. In 2015 there were 8,523 new requests, whereas in 2017 there were just over 400. (RTS/swissinfo.ch)  This is explained by the changing asylum situation in the Mediterranean and Italy, but also by a more restrictive Swiss reception policy.  In 2012, Switzerland was the most popular country among Eritreans. It accounted for 37% of all asylum applications made by Eritreans on the European continent.  Five years later, the situation looks quite different. Last year, Switzerland received only 12% of these requests. There were fewer applications than in Germany (36% of requests) and in Italy (23%). According to the Aargauer Zeitung newspaper, the Swiss Foreign Affairs Minister Ignazio Cassis is planning to visit Eritrea to assess the situation and discuss it with the local authorities.
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Can the Olympic Committee broker Korean peace?

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 12:00
The Swiss-based International Olympic Committee (IOC) says the Korean peninsula has a brighter future due to the North’s participation in the Winter Games. But analysts argue any such rapprochement between the North and South will be short-lived.  “The Olympic Games show us what the world could look like, if we were all guided by the Olympic spirit of respect and understanding," said IOC President Thomas Bach after a meeting in January with delegates from both Koreas at the IOC headquarters in Lausanne.  At the historic gathering, representatives from the two sides agreed that athletes from the North would not only compete in the Winter Games taking place in PyeongChang in the South, but even march together as one during the opening ceremony and play on the same women’s ice hockey team.  All of that is in line with the Olympic Charter, which states that the Games should bring athletes together from around the globe to “contribute to building a peaceful and better world”. But ...
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Could the Gotthard tunnel project help revive a Swiss village?

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 11:30
Around 170 workers are being drafted in to the central Swiss village of Göschenen to build the new Gotthard road tunnel, but there's controversy over where they should stay. (SRF/swissinfo.ch)  The Swiss Federal Roads Office (FEDRO) wants to build a container village to house them, but many locals would prefer to see old hotels renovated, thus breathing new life into the village in canton Uri that has seen better days. Just under 450 people live here, compared to 1,300, 50 years ago. In 2016, voters backed the plan to build the second road tunnel through the central Swiss Alps, one of Europe’s main north-south links for cars, buses and trucks. The tunnel will end in Airolo in the southern Swiss canton of Ticino. Construction will begin in 2020. The 2.8-billion-franc ($2.9 billion) project foresees the building of a second tube to allow the renovation of the existing tunnel, built in 1980. After the second tube is completed in around 2030, the parallel tubes are projected to each ...
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Move to denounce undocumented students causes outcry

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 16:55
A group of right-leaning politicians in Switzerland is calling for schools to inform the authorities if they have illegal immigrants among their pupils. The move is causing consternation, not only among teaching staff. The House of Representatives’ Social Security and Health Committee submitted a motion at the end of January calling for “facilitating the exchange of information between state bodies for people whose residency status is not settled (for example, for education…)”. Committee member Raymond Clottu told public service radio RTS on Monday that it should be possible “in any given region, to be at least informed of how many undocumented pupils are in the compulsory school. It’s not about getting personal data as such, but having data to gain transparency, especially on the costs.” This is despite the fact that in a brochure aimed at migrants, Switzerland’s largest union Unia and the Swiss Refugee Council make it clear that schools and teachers are not allowed to pass ...
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‘Would you still vote no if you had to pay?’

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 12:00
Parliamentarian Claudio Zanetti represents the People’s Party on the board of the Organisation of Swiss Abroad (OSA). But while the OSA has come out against the ‘No Billag’ initiative, Zanetti supports it. Those who don’t pay the licence fee should keep quiet about it, he writes. Swiss citizens living abroad are happy to watch programmes made by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC). They thus show their attachment to their homeland, which is rather nice, and a cause for celebration. But things get problematic when this “Fifth Switzerland” [term for Swiss living abroad] push for the introduction of taxes that they themselves don’t have to pay. In the long term, it is not in the interest of the Swiss abroad to see the principle of ‘no taxation without representation’ suddenly replaced by the principle of ‘taxation without representation.’ swissinfo.ch is an institution of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) and is financed by the Billag licence fee. Contrary to how ...
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‘No Billag is an attack against Switzerland’

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 12:00
Independent media is of utmost importance for Swiss democracy, writes Tim Guldimann. For the social democrat parliamentarian and former Swiss ambassador to Germany, the initiative to do away with the radio and TV licence fee threatens access to objective and impartial information. I have always been critical towards my country. But the more time I spend outside its borders, the more I appreciate Switzerland. Abroad, especially during the 13 years I spent in Germany, I saw that many things don’t work as well as in Switzerland. The qualities of our country should not be taken for granted. Here are three examples: First, we tend to think that our system of direct democracy is extraordinary. It guarantees a great degree of confidence in the population towards the state, the government, towards politics. In other countries, such confidence has dissipated. But our democracy also depends on an ability to discuss political questions openly and objectively. For this, we need independent ...
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How the world’s countries provide public media

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 12:00
​​​​​​​On March 4, Switzerland will decide on the future of its public service radio and TV. If voters turn out in favour of abolishing the licence fees that finance public broadcasters, the Swiss media scene will change drastically. What’s the situation for public media around the world? SWI swissinfo.ch tapped its international network to find out what kinds of media systems exist elsewhere and how they are maintained. Switzerland’s federal government should stay out of the media altogether. So say those promoting the "No Billag" initiative. The initiative text reads, "(The federal government) funds no radio or TV stations… The federal government (or third parties acting on its behalf) may not charge licence fees… The federal government does not run any radio or TV stations of its own in peacetime." There is no alternative. That is the official view of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, of which SWI swissinfo.ch is a part, if the "No Billag" initiative is accepted by the people.
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‘I’m someone to rely on’

Tue, 02/06/2018 - 21:38
Peter Aeschlimann is the mayor of Trub, a small town in the Emmental region between Bern and Lucerne. In his auto repair shop he fixes everything from lawnmowers to trucks.  The 19th century Swiss novelist Jeremias Gotthelf would have loved this sunny afternoon in quiet and quaint Trub. The village is surrounded by green hills, and smoke is rising in the distance. "Because of the storm," explains Peter Aeschlimann. "They're busy burning the branches of the trees that fell over." The 54-year-old mayor of Trub points to the Löwen (Lion) guesthouse, which has featured in Swiss films like Late Bloomers and The Foster Boy. "They don't need to change much; Trub works as a perfect film setting“, says Aeschlimann.  And many nostalgic pilgrims make their way to the town with its population of 1,350. "Many persecuted Anabaptists left the Emmental region. It happens regularly that their descendants from around the world come here and want to meet me as mayor." In this video, Peter ...
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Switzerland: a hub for innovative social financing

Tue, 02/06/2018 - 12:00
Money to help lift the most-disadvantaged out of misery is drying up, while at the same time private investors are looking for new opportunities in a zero-interest environment. Switzerland is well poised to assume a leadership role in linking the two.  It is nearing 9am in Zurich and a conference hall located 100 metres from the square, Paradeplatz, the very heart of the city’s financial district, is packed. Over a hundred representatives from development agencies, academia, as well as a smattering of private investors are present. They are waiting for two heavyweights - Sergio Ermotti, CEO of Switzerland’s biggest bank UBS and Marie-Gabrielle Ineichen-Fleisch, director of the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) - to open the first-ever conference on Social and Development Impact Bonds (SIBs and DIBs). Impact Bonds are a financial instrument where an investor provides money upfront to a service provider (usually an NGO or government agency) to achieve a measurable ...
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How IKEA changed Swiss living rooms

Tue, 02/06/2018 - 11:50
Following the death of Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of Swedish furniture retailer IKEA, a closer look at how his products influenced the way in which people live today in Switzerland. (SRF/swissinfo.ch)  For decades the Swedish businessman lived in Switzerland, where he benefited from lump-sum taxation. He was one of the richest people in the world, and his family remains the wealthiest in Switzerland – as reported by Swiss business magazine Bilanz in November. After Ingvar Kamprad returned to Sweden, his sons Peter, Jonas and Mathias continued to run the business from Switzerland.  At IKEA, Kamprad remained steadfast in his goal of bringing quality products to people of limited means. "A beautiful house and lovely life. A better place for children to grow up," he wrote in an internal training brochure for IKEA workers. This remained the core of his credo. In order to make stylish furniture affordable, customers have to pick up the goods themselves and put them together at home.
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Jean-Claude Biver: shrewd timing helped face down crisis

Tue, 02/06/2018 - 09:44
​​​​​​​ In a boardroom on a boat moored off Geneva’s Quai du Mont-Blanc, Jean-Claude Biver is explaining his first success in business, furiously thumping the table to punctuate his words. In the early 1980s, the luxury Swiss watch industry faced a near-existential crisis: Japanese manufacturers had threatened to render mechanical watches obsolete by introducing cheap, more accurate quartz models, and sales told accordingly. Swatch’s founder, Nicolas Hayek, played the Japanese at their own game, launching Swiss-made $50 plastic quartz watches in every colour. But Biver played the contrarian. In 1981, he had just bought the rights to Blancpain, a defunct Swiss mechanical brand. He took out an advertising campaign with a provocative tagline, which he delivers with gusto: “Since 1735 there has never been a Blancpain quartz watch” – thump! – “and there will never” – thump! – “be one!” Everybody wondered, he says, if he was crazy, but his strategy resuscitated Blancpain and he ...
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Swiss hospitals join forces in battle against cancer

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 15:00
In Fribourg, the cantonal hospital is joining forces with a private clinic to tackle prostate and breast cancers. This kind of partnership is a first in Switzerland and has earned international recognition. (RTS/swissinfo.ch) Tumour Boards have been established in two centres for prostate and breast cancer, grouping urologists, oncologists, radio-oncologists, pathologists and other healthcare specialists from the private Daler clinic and the hospital.  Prostate cancer is the most common tumour among men, with 5,000 new cases detected per year in Switzerland, 150 of them in Fribourg. Similarly, breast cancer is the most common tumour among women, also with 5,000 new cases per year. One in eight women develops breast cancer in this country. Before the Tumour Board was set up, gynaecologists were alone in treating breast cancer at Fribourg cantonal hospital. The Board says it aims to ensure a high and uniform standard of care and increased effectiveness. Patients are allocated a ...
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