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What asylum seekers learn about life, work and love in Switzerland

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 11:00
Integrating into Swiss society and understanding its unique culture, codes and rules can be complex, especially for people who have just arrived from countries like Syria, Afghanistan or Eritrea. A number of Swiss organisations are helping asylum seekers to familiarise themselves with their new life in Switzerland and deal with issues ranging from flat-hunting to sexuality. Canton Valais recently decided to make a sex education course compulsory for migrants. This is part of an introduction to Swiss basic rights. Among these is the right to sexual health.  According to Damian Mottier, general secretary of the Valais Office for Health, Society and Culture, under Swiss law each canton is obliged to set up a centre for sexual health offering advice on sex education and disease prevention. And by making sex education compulsory for asylum seekers, each region guarantees thus equal access to information for all. The sex education course has become “an essential part of their ...
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'Show us more love'

Thu, 06/28/2018 - 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.  This week, Mrs Hof-Meier, born in Basel in 1924, talks about common prejudices against the elderly, and she doesn't mince her words. "Old people don't stink", she says. On sex she comments, "I don't have any desire for sex. Otherwise I'd be quite demanding." She reflects on why younger people are not interested in the elderly, "It means work for them. They can't do what they want or go out. That's why so many old people are lonely." Finally, Mrs Hof-Meier makes a heartfelt appeal for "more love" between the different generations.  After this interview was run by Swiss Public Television, SRF, people in the streets of Basel congratulated her. The famous Basel Läckerli-Huus, which makes chocolates and speciality biscuits, sent her a sack of goodies. The story of her interview appeared in the local paper and the video ...
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London fears it will be EU’s next capital markets target

Thu, 06/28/2018 - 11:24
A diplomatic stand-off between Switzerland and the European Union that may leave Swiss capital markets as potential collateral damage has fanned concerns in London that a similar fate awaits Britain. Switzerland’s Six Exchange recently decamped to a new modern-but-modest office in Zurich but behind the scenes its mood is anything but settled. Switzerland’s stock exchange faces the threat that the EU might be about to pull the plug on a large chunk of its business. Six has been caught in a clash between Brussels and Bern over the affluent Alpine state’s future relationship with the EU. The stand-off could result in the Swiss exchange losing the EU’s “equivalence” status, which allows cross-border financial markets trading. That has not escaped the attention of many in the City of London. Alasdair Haynes, chief executive of Aquis Exchange, a London share trading venue affected by the uncertainty, said: “Everyone is looking to see how much flexibility there is with equivalence.
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When the US adopted a Swiss war plane's twin

Thu, 06/28/2018 - 11:00
The US Air Force is currently considering introducing a version of the Swiss-designed Pilatus PC-9 to its combat fleet. Modified for ground attacks, the aircraft could be used in countries like Afghanistan. ​​​​​​​ Designed in canton Nidwalden, the Pilatus PC-9 could soon be on its way to Afghanistan. The Beechcraft AT-6 Wolverine, the American version of the Swiss aircraft, is indeed among the two aircraft currently being tested by the US Air Force for future combat missions. If selected, about 300 versions of this cousin of the PC-9 could join the US air fleet. Although the Pilatus aircraft is already used for training purposes in a dozen foreign air forces, the adoption being considered by the US would constitute a significant evolution: the AT-6 Wolverine is a variation designed specifically for ground attack missions. It would be used for counter-insurgency operations such as those conducted by America in Iraq or Afghanistan. Echoing old debates A potential second ...
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Why a village made it easy for foreigners to become Swiss

Wed, 06/27/2018 - 17:00
There’s something special about the small village of Schelten: only 36 people live there, but it is the 'Heimat' or place of origin for almost 3000 people, scattered across the globe.   This is because Schelten, a German speaking municipality in the majority French-speaking Bernese Jura, naturalised many foreign nationals before the First World War, to raise money in those difficult times. Proof is in the minutes of a village meeting from 1913, which state that many foreign families who had worked in Switzerland for a long time bought their Swiss passports in Schelten at a cost of CHF300 per family. The community used the money to support its poorer inhabitants.  Josef Stolz, the village chronicler, says the procedure was fast and "relatively cheap". According to historian Hervé de Weck, it meant the naturalised men did not have to risk their lives fighting in the French or German trenches. The villages of Beurnevésin, Bonfol, Roche-d'Or and Epiquerez, then in canton Bern, also ...
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Military grade Swiss bunker opens vaults to crypto investors

Wed, 06/27/2018 - 16:08
A ‘military-grade’ bunker in the Swiss Alps has opened its vaults to wealthy cryptoasset investors, corporations and institutions in search of a secure place to store their digital currencies. Swiss Crypto Vault is positioning itself as a quasi-private bank for bitcoin and other tokens at a time when traditional banks refuse to go anywhere near cryptocurrencies. Because the vault does not mix client assets with the company’s own balance sheet, it does not need a banking license to operate. The vault services a growing need from high net worth individuals (HNWI), hedge funds and family offices to more securely store large amounts of cryptoassets, frequently targeted by hackers. There have even been instances of criminals attacking bitcoin millionaires in their own homes demanding the digital private keys that open the doors to their crypto accounts. The innovation comes as a growing number of rich people and institutions are investing in blockchain start-ups via initial coin ...
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How 1968 changed Swiss schooling

Wed, 06/27/2018 - 11:00
In the years around 1968, young Swiss felt a desire for new models of society and designs for living. That went for education too. Authority was in a deep crisis, and this was a time when experimental private schools sprang up. In Switzerland it was primary teachers in training who started the student revolt. In March 1968 about 250 of them who were enrolled in the teacher training college in Locarno occupied a classroom there. They demanded a new direction for teaching and input from students to be allowed. After only three days the occupation was crowned with success. The education minister of canton Ticino met a delegation of the revolutionary students. The teacher training college in Locarno became the first institution in Switzerland to provide for input from students. In the summer of 1968 Marx, Engels, Freud, existentialist and anarchist thinkers were made part of the curriculum for the student teachers – but also Nietzsche and Tolstoy. The relationship between the ...
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Teaching a universal language to the very young

Wed, 06/27/2018 - 11:00
ETH Zurich computer scientist Bernd Gärtner explains why even youngsters should get to grips with computer science. Computer science is a part of general education. If we are to take this seriously, there are far-reaching implications – it means, for instance, we should teach it to our children in the same way as the other basic school subjects. One of which is, of course, mathematics – for who wouldn't want their child to be able to add two and two? I consider it just as important that our children don’t grow up illiterate in computer science. Much more than a computer and a screen Some people may be disconcerted: of course computer science is important, but why teach it to the very young? I believe one of the misconceptions is that many think immediately of computers and monitors. But for me, computer science is something else – it’s a school of thought that helps me to take problems apart and solve them step by step. If I have a solution in mind, I have to think it through ...
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Swiss football scandals through the years

Tue, 06/26/2018 - 13:52
Three Swiss footballers have been fined by FIFA for “unsporting behaviour contrary to the principles of fair-play”. Perhaps surprisingly, it’s not the first time the Swiss have had their wrists slapped by the authorities.  It could have been worse, Swiss fans told themselves on Monday. FIFA, world football’s Zurich-based governing body, could have banned Xherdan Shaqiri, Granit Xhaka and captain Stephan Lichtsteiner for making provocative hand gestures of an Albanian national symbol to celebrate World Cup goals against Serbia. As it turned out, they were fined up to CHF10,000 ($10,130) each and given a warning.  Alex Frei, however, was banned for three games for spitting at an opponent during Euro 2004. Frei, who went on to become Switzerland’s record goal scorer, took exception to England midfielder Steven Gerrard and spat on his neck.   Not only Frei but also the Swiss Football Association (SFA) came out of the sordid “Spuckaffäre” (spitting affair) badly. It was accused of ...
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Why urbanites in Switzerland give generously to mountain farmers

Tue, 06/26/2018 - 11:00
The Swiss Mountain Aid fund originated in wartime, when farmers’ families struggled to make a living from the land. Today, 75 years on, the foundation is still going strong. Why do the Swiss still feel so much solidarity with the Alpine farming community? Life in the Alps can be tough. The weather and the terrain don’t make farming easy. The people of the Alps lived for centuries in dire poverty. In the early 20th century many mountain farmers even sent their children out as seasonal workers on farms in Germany. In 1943, when most farmers were on active war service, and their wives, children and grandparents had to keep the farms going, a committee using the name "Mountain Aid" started collecting donations for the Alpine community. The idea was that those living in cities should help out their fellow citizens in the Alps. Then the committee became a non-profit society, which eventually turned into a foundation with the aim of improving the economic circumstances and living ...
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Swiss blockchain voting platform begins trial

Tue, 06/26/2018 - 08:00
The town of Zug, situated at the heart of Switzerland’s self-styled Crypto Valley, has launched a trial blockchain voting system that could be rolled out to cover public votes in future years. The trial period, which will last between June 25 and July 1, takes the form of a non-binding questionnaire soliciting opinion on whether people like to see fireworks at the annual town festival and similar low-key issues. The purpose of the exercise is to see if the system works and to iron out any bugs it may throw up. But Zug mayor Dolfi Müller made it clear that the town could in future make more use of the blockchain technology that stores and distributes data in a decentralised manner. “Who knows, in five or ten years’ time blockchain may be used for votes,” he told swissinfo.ch. “Not everyone has faith in blockchain, or even e-voting, but I personally believe in its potential.” But before the Zug authorities can seriously consider widening blockchain voting, it first has to pass ...
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Eagle gesture puts spotlight on Swiss Kosovar community

Mon, 06/25/2018 - 19:01
“Albanian eagle” goal celebrations by Swiss footballers with ethnic Albanian heritage linked to Kosovo have sparked controversy following Friday’s World Cup victory over Serbia. They have drawn attention to Albanian speakers in Switzerland, the country’s fourth-largest foreign community.  What happened? Swiss players Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri, who have ethnic Albanian heritage linked to Kosovo, sparked controversy in their goal celebrations during their last-gasp 2-1 victory over Serbia in the 2018 World Cup Group E clash on Friday. The pair put their open hands together to mimic the double-headed black eagle on the Albanian flag. Captain Stephan Lichtsteiner also made the gesture during the match. Serbs were unimpressed. Asked about the eagle gesture after the game, Shaqiri said: “In football you have emotions. You can see what I did. It was just emotion.” FIFA, world football's governing body, opened an inquiry and on Monday fined Shaqiri and Xhaka CHF10,000 ($10,130) ...
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Who’s in charge in today’s wars?

Mon, 06/25/2018 - 17:00
In Monty Python’s famous film, The Life of Brian, there’s a scene in which the players argue amongst themselves about various revolutionary groups: the Judean People’s Front, the People’s Front of Judea, the Judean Popular People’s Front, all of them fighting the Romans, but each of them apparently angrier with each other than with the Romans themselves. It’s a funny scene, and one anyone who has spent any time in student politics will recognize. I’m afraid I recalled it again last week when the latest United Nations report on war crimes in Syria was published. I do not wish to undermine in any way the horrific nature of Syria’s long conflict. But the report’s analysis of the different groups present in one town (Douma) - Jaysh al-Islam, Ahrar al-Sham, Faylaq ar-Rahman, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham -, did remind me of that Judean People’s Front moment. These groups are sometimes allied with each other, sometimes not. They are all fighting the Syrian government, whose forces, UN ...
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Shaqiri and Xhaka as Quantum Phenomenon

Mon, 06/25/2018 - 12:07
Watching Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka score for Switzerland and celebrate with an Albanian symbol has Daniel Warner asking whether it's possible to celebrate for more than one country in a competition limited to national teams. Xerdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka scored Switzerland’s only goals in Friday’s 2-1 victory over Serbia. The precious victory placed the Swiss in an ideal position to advance to the next round of the prestigious tournament. But more than just football stars, the two demonstrated that what has been called “spooky action at a distance” can exist on the football pitch. They actualised one of the most counterintuitive aspects of quantum physics. Both players are leaders of the Swiss side, but both have similar origins outside the Alpine country. Xhaka was born in Switzerland of Kosovar parents; Shaqiri was born in Kosovo before his parents moved to Switzerland. Although both are well integrated into Switzerland and are leaders of the Swiss side, both ...
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Swiss media frown upon result of Turkey’s election

Mon, 06/25/2018 - 11:22
The victory of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey’s controversial presidential elections giving him sweeping powers has prompted mainly sceptical reaction in the Swiss press. With most votes counted, Erdoğan has won an absolute majority, overcoming the biggest electoral challenge to his rule in 15 years. His AK Party and its alliance partner have a majority in parliament as well, according to unofficial results. “Welcome to the next Erdoğan era,” says the editorialist of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung daily. He says millions of Turks voted with conviction for Erdoğan, despite all efforts by the opposition and the wishful thinking of the western media about the end of an authoritarian regime. Swiss-Turkish voters  Only 37.2% of Turkish voters in Switzerland backed Erdogan, according to the state news agency, Anadolu. This was lower than the 53% in Turkey. Erdogan's main presidential rival, Muharrem Ince of the CHP, received 31.9% of the vote and pro-Kurdish HDP candidate Selahattin ...
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Could new immigrants threaten jobs of older construction workers?

Mon, 06/25/2018 - 11:00
The Swiss construction industry is one of the few sectors that employs large numbers of foreigners in low-skilled jobs and has high unemployment levels. It remains unclear if a new system of hiring preferences for Swiss workers will help resolve this situation.  After the European Union’s free movement of people clause came into effect in 2002, large numbers of foreigners found construction jobs in Switzerland, despite an above-average unemployment rate for the sector. According to the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM), around 3,200 construction workers, or 18% of the sector’s labour force, were unemployed in 2016, while the same year over 6,000 foreigners found construction jobs.  Thomas Foery, head of human resources at the largest Swiss construction firm Implenia, which employs workers from over 60 countries, doubts new immigrants force older workers out of their jobs - at least not in the main construction sector.  “Foreign applicants are not necessarily cheaper. They ...
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Swiss government guilty of repeated miscalculation

Sun, 06/24/2018 - 17:00
For the first time in the history of Swiss direct democracy, voters may have go back to the polls at the national level, to decide for a second time on the same people’s initiative. This text is part of #DearDemocracy, a platform on direct democracy issues, by swissinfo.ch. Contributors, including outside authors frequently share their views. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of swissinfo.ch. This is due to the fact that the government published erroneous figures in its official booklet for the 2016 initiative for proposed tax breaks for married couples. The initiative, promoted by the centrist Christian Democratic Party, appeared to spark no major controversies in the run-up to the vote in March 2016, and voters threw it out with a wafer-thin majority of 50.8%. But with the recent revelation about misleading information, things could take a spectacular turn. The party which traditionally campaigns on family issues has submitted legal complaints in ...
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Mountain aid, Swiss jets and sex-ed for asylum seekers

Sun, 06/24/2018 - 12:00
Here are some of the stories we'll be following the week of June 25, 2018. Monday Could the arrival of new immigrants threaten the jobs of older, experienced construction workers in Switzerland? This is the question we’ll be looking at ahead of the introduction of a new system of hiring preferences on July 1 that gives favoured treatment to Swiss workers in specific sectors. The construction industry is one such field, as it suffers from high unemployment levels and employs many workers from abroad.  Tuesday Life in the Alps can be tough for farmers and other professions struggling to earn a living. But there is growing awareness of the problems and solidarity from people living in Swiss towns and cities. Last year the Swiss Mountain Aid charity raised CHF31.2 million ($31.3 million). We’ll bring you more on the story. Wednesday The revolutionary fervour of 1968 led to a thirst for new ideas and social concepts, especially in the education sector. We look at ...
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How the Alps inform polar research

Sun, 06/24/2018 - 11:00
At first glance, Switzerland might seem like an odd location for a summit on polar studies. But as a nation with high mountains, it is part of what researchers refer to as the “third pole” after North and South.  The elongated mountain resort of Davos – better known for hosting the annual World Economic Forum – is vulnerable to avalanches, especially in the wake of climate change. Home to the Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research, Davos is the kind of place with a main street featuring ski shops, traditional hotels, and an engineering firm touting its avalanche protection solutions.  This week the town welcomed 2,200 international scientists and decision makers for the POLAR2018 conference. It was the first time that mountain researchers were invited to join their polar colleagues for such a summit.  “Climate change is a global problem. The poles and the mountains need to come together, and we as scientists need to join forces,” Michael Zemp, a glaciologist at the ...
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‘We have a pope’ – and record food prices

Sat, 06/23/2018 - 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. Sunday 1 The number of goals scored/conceded by both Switzerland and Brazil in their first match at the football World Cup in Russia. The draw meant the qualifying group, which also includes Serbia and Costa Rica, was wide open.  Monday 454,000 Two years ago, Swiss voters narrowly rejected tax breaks for heterosexual married couples. The Christian Democratic Party, which organised the initiative, is demanding a re-run, saying government figures were wrong. Indeed, the cabinet has admitted that instead of the 80,000 married and registered couples in line to receive the tax break, it was in fact 454,000 couples.  Tuesday 5,800,000 Although 5.8 million people own a driving licence in Switzerland, applications are dropping – especially among the young.  Wednesday 68 ...
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