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Updated: 11 hours 36 min ago

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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Why Swiss cows climb mountains

Tue, 09/11/2018 - 17:00
You would be udderly surprised to encounter a Simmental or Braunvieh running up the steps of New York’s One World Trade Center or Shanghai’s equally tall World Financial Center.  But that’s the kind of climb – albeit on dirt trails not concrete steps – a typical Swiss dairy cow makes every summer.  According to the Federal Office for Agriculture, around 270,000 cows are marched from their valley farms to mountain meadows at the start of every summer, just to come back down again in early autumn.  On average they climb about 590 metres (1,936 ft), covering 16.3 kilometres (10.1 miles) as the crow flies – but much more down on the ground on often steep, serpentine trails. The true alpinists among them make ascents of over 2,000 metres. That’s like getting to the top of the world’s highest building, Dubai’s 830-metre Burj Khalifa, and – not satisfied with that – going back down and doing it all over again, and then some.   So why do they do it?  Dairy farmers have incentives ...
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Does Switzerland produce half of all the food it needs?

Tue, 09/11/2018 - 11:00
So says the country’s home affairs minister, as the government tries to convince voters to reject a popular initiative calling for greater ethical standards in food production. Is he right? The Swiss will decide this month whether to approve changes to the country’s agricultural policy.  On the ballot are the Green Party’s Fair Food initiative calling for food that meets stricter ecological and social standards of production, and a second initiative by a farmer’s union, dubbed Sovereign Food, aimed at boosting the country’s production of foodstuffs. Why Berset’s claim matters In coming out against the Fair Food Initiative, the government says that Switzerland produces half of the food it needs and that these products must meet high standards of safety, quality and sustainability under existing regulations. It also argues that extending the same standards to food imports, as the initiative demands, would put Swiss policy at odds with the terms of its international trade ...
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Sovereign food initiative: a vision with costly consequences

Tue, 09/11/2018 - 11:00
The ‘sovereign food’ initiative proposes limiting cross-border trade in foodstuffs and severely regulating the domestic market. The negative consequences of this would be borne both by consumers and producers, writes Regine Sauter. Why not be sovereign over our own food? The proposal certainly sounds positive. Yet the effects of the initiative “for food sovereignty” would be very hard to digest. The initiative calls for a level of state intervention and control that would lead to an agriculture sector dominated by small farmers and cut off from the outside world. The federal government is being called upon to restrict imports of foodstuffs with duties and limits on quantities, and even to forbid some imports altogether. Genetic technology is also to be banned. Prices for agricultural products would be state-controlled, while new subsidies would also be introduced. Finally, the federal government would be bound to intervene in the labour market, to increase the numbers working ...
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Sovereign food initiative: support your local farmers

Tue, 09/11/2018 - 11:00
The initiative for food sovereignty strengthens direct trade between farmers and consumers as well as regional structures, ensuring jobs for rural areas, write Ulrike Minkner and Mathias Stalder of Uniterre, a western Switzerland farmers’ union. The federal agricultural policy and the framework for direct payments are constantly re-evaluated and determined over a hectic four-year rhythm. Agreements from the last agricultural policy, on which farmers have been relying, are repeatedly called into question. The proposed initiative for food sovereignty aims at a more stable constitutional amendment. It offers durable direction at the political level, as well as a reliable and sustainable regulatory framework for farmers and consumers. Free markets don’t free the farmers. At the start of November 2017, the federal government blind-sided farming organisations and voters with its “overview of further development of the agricultural policy in the mid-term”. This came just two ...
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How Switzerland wants to prevent 300 suicides a year

Mon, 09/10/2018 - 14:30
Switzerland has many resources for suicide prevention, but until now there has been little coordination between them. To mark World Suicide Prevention Day, the government has introduced an online tool to bring the information together.  With the new research platform – launched on Monday, World Suicide Prevention Day – the federal health office wants to make it easier for people to find advice, information and self-help groups related to suicide prevention. The online tool is accessible both to professionals and the general public, and it covers all regions of Switzerland.  Every day, two or three people in Switzerland commit suicide, with men over 75 accounting for the highest rate, according to the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH).  “Most suicidal people do not want to die. Crises are mostly temporary and can affect anyone,” the FOPH reports, noting that suicide is often attempted in a state of mental stress.  In 2016, the Swiss government launched a suicide ...
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The decade of ballot box upsets is over

Mon, 09/10/2018 - 11:00
Since the last parliamentary elections in Switzerland in 2015, the Swiss people have not adopted one single popular initiative. Considering the Swiss voted in favour of two, three, and even four popular votes in the previous three legislative terms, this is a big change. Is this a coincidence or a turning point? In the Swiss political system, popular votes are a great way for the opposition to have a say. Those who want to change the constitution need to collect at least 100,000 signatures and subsequently win a nationwide vote, usually with the majority of people and cantons defeating government and parliament. Since they were introduced 125 years ago, 330 people's initiatives have been launched, 210 of which were effectively voted on. Proponents were successful in 22 of these vote —  a success rate of 10.5%. For a long time, a ‘yes’ vote was deemed an incredible political success. This, however, changed in 2004, when the Swiss people voted in favour of 11 popular votes in a ...
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Swiss quarrel over prostitution ban

Mon, 09/10/2018 - 11:00
A small Zurich non-governmental organisation has whipped up a storm with its demand for a ban on prostitution along the lines of the Swedish model. In Switzerland, sex work counts as a “real job”. “Switzerland and Sweden are constantly confused with each other. Perhaps you Swiss don’t have a problem with this. But we do.” So say Swedish men and women in a campaign video by the Zurich Women’s Centre. In June, this small NGO launched its campaign for a ban on prostitution based on the Swedish model. In Sweden, the use of sex services is banned and customers can be charged. Switzerland, on the other hand, is among the most permissive countries in the world as far as the sex trade goes: Both the supply and the consumption of sexual services is legal, as are street-walking, sex saunas and brothels. In Switzerland prostitution is a career; prostitutes pay taxes and most are registered as self-employed. “How can this be legal?” ask an actor in the video. “Well obviously everything that ...
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The life of a Swiss children’s doctor in Cambodia

Mon, 09/10/2018 - 09:47
Beat Richner, a Swiss paediatric doctor who died at the age of 71, gave his all for sick children in Cambodia.  Zurich-born Richner, also well known in Switzerland by his nickname of Beatocello, moved to Phnom Penh in 1992, where he rebuilt the Kantha Bopha children’s hospital at the request of Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk after the civil war. He was honoured in Cambodia last year for his work treating sick children for free. Beat Richner regularly gave concerts in Switzerland to present his work in Cambodia and raise money for it.  His illness had however obliged him to hand over the management of the children’s hospitals to his deputy Peter Studer. His death was announced by his foundation on Sunday.
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