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Switzerland, where failure is not an option

Tue, 11/28/2017 - 12:00
In an opinion piece blasting the unforgiving nature of Swiss society, journalist Grégoire Barbey accuses the country of using people who don’t succeed as examples that failure is not an option. First published on his blog – hosted by French daily newspaper Le Temps – the piece elicited numerous reactions in French-speaking Switzerland.  There are two faces to Switzerland, and the contrast is striking. There is the Switzerland of the picture postcards, the country that frequently leads international ratings for wealth, innovation, performance and happiness. Then there is the other Switzerland. The one that is swept under the carpet. The Switzerland of those who toil each month to make ends meet. The Switzerland that suppresses failure more than it favours reintegration. Those who find themselves in this growing category are the undesirables. They are undesirable because they are not sufficiently productive in a system of extreme competition. The gloss of successful ...
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Boris Collardi and the puzzle of Swiss private banking

Tue, 11/28/2017 - 11:07
Boris Collardi, the outgoing chief of Julius Baer, once told the Financial Times that he worked 14-hour days and was on the road for 300 days a year, before adding enigmatically: “Never believe what a banker tells you.” The 43-year-old’s decision to quit the top job at Julius Baer to become one of seven partners at Swiss rival Pictet is just as puzzling — and has ramifications far beyond the boardrooms of Switzerland’s middle-tier private banks. For Pictet, snagging Mr Collardi, looks like a great coup. In eight years at the helm of Julius Baer, he has driven a 50% increase in the bank’s share price with a strategy of relentless expansion. Pictet’s interest in him is evidence perhaps that the privately owned group is weighing a change of direction: away from so much asset management, into Asia and the Middle East more aggressively, or just generally into faster-growth mode. For Julius Baer, the CEO’s departure looks an obvious negative. The shares tumbled 6% and by appointing ...
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A 360-degree visit to Bern’s onion market

Mon, 11/27/2017 - 16:15
The fine winter weather drew large crowds to this year’s Zibelemärit, the picturesque onion market in the Swiss capital, Bern. Take a virtual visit to the heart of this traditional farmers’ festival.  Extra trains and more than 100 coaches from Switzerland and abroad brought thousands of visitors to the market, where the main attraction was artfully braided onion garlands in all shapes and sizes. According to the organisers, there were 648 stalls altogether, 171 of them selling onion products. This year, farmers from miles around offered just under 57 tonnes of onions - about the same as last year. The record was set in 2014 with almost 60 tonnes. Other marketers offered arts and crafts, mulled wine and the obligatory onion cake. Children threw confetti into the crowd and hit passersby on the head with plastic hammers, as is customary at the event.  Officially, the event starts at 6am - even though thousands of die-hard visitors already start the festive day at 4am. One of the ...
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A tale of two aid workers

Mon, 11/27/2017 - 16:00
Geneva correspondent Imogen Foulkes follows two field experts for Swiss-based medical charity Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) as they fight on disease's front lines, in this next instalment of swissinfo.ch's Inside Geneva series. When I call Iris Finci, she is packing. Although she describes it as a "normal day", in fact it is far from normal. Iris is about to set off on her first ever field mission for the medical charity Médecins sans Frontières. After she’s finished, she says, she’ll hand over her apartment, and go to Geneva for a final briefing. “And then tonight I have my flight.” Iris will fly from Geneva to Zurich, then to Johannesburg, and then on to Maputo. She is about to start a year long appointment in Mozambique, a country she has never been to before. “Do I know what to expect?” she asks. “Well, I know how the mission works, but it is one thing when you hear it in theory, and another thing to be there. Maybe I’m going to be a bit shocked.” ...
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Public slaughter pits Swiss tradition against modern thinking

Mon, 11/27/2017 - 12:00
A local butcher announces that he will slaughter two pigs in public. Animal rights activists cry out, threaten lawsuits and urge the government to ban the action. Does an old tradition still have a place in Swiss society? A shot rings out. After a few milliseconds, a bullet pierces the pig’s papaya-sized brain. It sends the last signals through the nerve tracts, the pig’s pink legs are twitching in the hay. Two men pick up the heavy corpse. One of them cuts the carotid artery, dark red blood splatters into a white kettle. Small drops stain the butchers' plastic aprons and the collars of their finely striped shirts. On this wet Saturday morning, the small village of Sissach in canton Basel Country in the north of Switzerland, sees two pigs publicly slaughtered. This old Swiss custom of public slaughtering usually takes place when the heavy fog has settled on the roofs and the leaves are falling from the trees. The tradition began in the 18th century, when Swiss rural families ...
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A peaceful place to say goodbye

Sun, 11/26/2017 - 18:00
(To view video subtitles in English, click on the gear icon and turn captions "on"). One of the findings of a national research programme called 'End of Life', was that in Switzerland, most people die in hospitals and nursing homes, places which do not necessarily cater for individual needs or wishes. According to the authors of the study, the 'Hospiz im Park' in Arlesheim near Basel is a very good example of how to respond to the needs of the terminally ill. (SRF/swissinfo.ch)
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Parliamentarians back in the chamber – and at rubbish sites

Sun, 11/26/2017 - 13:00
Here's a selection of the stories we will be bringing you the week of November 27. Monday The winter session of parliament gets underway. We’ll be keeping a close eye on debates on topics such as the budget and Switzerland’s participation in the international exchange of tax data information. Should pig slaughter be a public spectacle? A controversial event in a village in northern Switzerland has led to public outrage and questions about the relationship between food and tradition. Tuesday How do you get acquainted with a new country? On trips to Africa, Swiss parliamentarian Isabelle Chevalley heads straight for the largest rubbish dump. She shares her ideas for waste management solutions in developing countries. Wednesday Switzerland took the threat of an atomic attack during the Cold War quite seriously. Is the country prepared for a nuclear disaster in the 21st century? Thursday In part three of our series looking at health care in ...
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How Inuit artists express climate change

Sun, 11/26/2017 - 12:00
How has climate change influenced the artwork of people living in the arctic, and what lessons can we learn from Inuit artists? The Cerny Inuit Collection in Bern is the only museum on the European continent to focus on contemporary circumpolar art. Curator Martha Cerny, a Canadian and Swiss dual citizen, has been immersed in Inuit art since the early 1990s – when she and her Swiss husband, Peter, bought a collection he’d seen advertised in a local newspaper.  Today, the Cerny Inuit Collection is housed in a former mechanic’s garage overlooking Bern’s railway tracks. Thanks to the museum’s huge windows, white walls and concrete floors, it’s easy to imagine the tundra climate zone where much of the artwork came from.  In this podcast, Martha Cerny introduces some of the highlights of the collection, in particular, works that express the challenges posed by climate change. This gallery shows some of the works that she speaks about, and the video below shows a mobile meant to ...
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Are low-sugar treats an option in the land of chocolate?

Sat, 11/25/2017 - 18:00
The Swiss consume more than twice as much sugar as the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends. Fourteen companies in Switzerland have started voluntarily reducing sugar in their products by 2-5%, but it’s proving quite a challenge for the industry. Christmas time is sugar time. For generations of Swiss people the festive season would not be the same without their many different traditional biscuits. But people are eating more sugar than they used to. Although the WHO recommends a limit of 50 grams of sugar a day, the Swiss eat 120g a day: the equivalent of 30 sugar cubes. Along with eating too much fat and salt, and not getting enough exercise, sugar can contribute to obesity, cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. The resulting costs for Switzerland are estimated at CHF52 billion ($53 billion) per year. In 2015, the government and several companies agreed on a voluntary approach to tackle the problem. In 2016, government research found that on average, a ...
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A better life on two wheels

Sat, 11/25/2017 - 12:00
More than 22,000 worn-out bicycles travel from Switzerland to the African continent each year. A Swiss company collects and repairs old bikes and ships them south.  Already as a teenager, Paolo Richter was interested in bike mechanics. In 1993 he founded the organization Drahtesel, to which Velafrica belongs. During a development mission in Ghana, he saw people straining for hours to transport heavy loads by foot. This gave him the idea to export used bikes to Africa.  The secondhand bikes from Switzerland are popular in Tanzania. They are more robust and often cheaper than the Chinese ones sold at the local market. But every bike needs repairs and maintenance, which is why Velafrica builds workshops, trains local mechanics, and ensures the supply of spare parts and tools. It creates jobs, training and income opportunities in the region, and the locals get access to affordable and robust bicycles.  In Nshamba, Tanzania, Velafrica’s partner is the Vijana Bicycle Center (VBC).
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Annemarie Schwarzenbach: on desolate roads heading east

Fri, 11/24/2017 - 20:13
Shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, the Swiss author and photographer Annemarie Schwarzenbach travelled to the Middle East.  The plans for an Asian adventure took shape in Sils, southeast Switzerland. Schwarzenbach, weakened by various withdrawal treatments for her morphine addiction, was recovering in her Swiss residence.  With the Geneva travel writer Ella Maillart, she planned to jump into a Ford and head towards Afghanistan. The trip began in the summer of 1939, taking them from Bulgaria across Turkey and Iran into mountainous Afghanistan. After that, Schwarzenbach and Maillart made it to India, at the time still occupied by Britain.  Relations between the two were strained by Schwarzenbach’s drug problems, resulting in them going their separate ways in October 1939. Maillart stayed in India and waited for the end of the war, while Schwarzenbach joined some French archaeologists and went to Eritrea, then part of Italian East Africa.  At the Eritrean port of ...
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Village floods after voters sink protection measures

Fri, 11/24/2017 - 12:00
Uerkheim, a village outside the Swiss city of Zurich, suffers from frequent flooding. Twice, the citizens agreed on flood protection measures. And twice they later reversed their decision. Then came the worst flood in the village’s history.  A thin red line marks the extent of the damage. Painted on the rough exterior wall of the small village shop, it shows how high the waters of the nearby River Uerke rose in the summer of 2017: 1.87 metres over the normal level.  In July, the river rose so high that the village suffered the biggest flood in its history.  Silence In the village shop, a machine to dry out the freshly poured concrete floor is humming away. There are no groceries here anymore, but a few steps further they are on offer in a white construction container. It’s an interim solution.  The woman who runs the shop with her husband shakes her head. She doesn’t want to talk to journalists anymore. She has had too many enquiries in the past few months – from newspapers, ...
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Regulation on ICOs inconsistent as crypto bubble fears grow

Fri, 11/24/2017 - 09:53
When celebrities known more for reality shows than financial prowess start endorsing a particular investment strategy, it is fair to assume a bubble exists. And so it is with initial coin offerings, a virtual way to raise cryptocurrency funds. Stars including socialite Paris Hilton, actor Jamie Foxx and boxer Floyd Mayweather have all taken to social media to claim they are backing cryptocurrency fundraising. ICOs work by a company issuing tokens, typically in exchange for a cryptocurrency such as Ethereum. Tokens can be used to buy future services from the issuer or can be sold on. There have been 211 ICOs through October this year, raising a total of $3.5 billion (CHF3.4 billion), according to data from Coinschedule, an ICO information provider. This is closely correlated to the soaring value of cryptocurrencies: bitcoin’s value has leapt from $997 to $8,150 so far this year: an increase of more than 700 per cent. With the siren-call of high returns, punters – and ...
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YouTubers come in all shapes and sizes

Thu, 11/23/2017 - 18:00
Tama Vakeesan was born in Switzerland to Tamil parents from Sri Lanka. This week, she attends the Zug film festival, "Zuger Filmtage", to accept an award for her Vlog. The festival provides a competition platform for YouTubers of all ages who have something fresh to offer. Tama meets some of the competitors. (SRF Kulturplatz/swissinfo.ch)
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From farm to table – preparing Thanksgiving turkeys in Switzerland

Thu, 11/23/2017 - 14:00
More and more turkeys are ending up on festive dinner tables in Switzerland. swissinfo.ch visits Bühlhof farm in central Switzerland, where the animals are free-range and slaughtered by hand.  Overlooking Lake Lucerne, at the foot of Mount Rigi, is the municipality of Greppen. Bühlhof is home to Christian and Luzia Muheim, as well as their three children, 12 milk cows, three Stiefelgeiss goats, a cat and around 200 turkeys. And no partridges or pear trees in sight.  The animals come to the family farm at six weeks old. Almost 400 turkeys are fattened and slaughtered every year – the females at 100 days, the males at 130 days. One large buyer is the catering section of the Lake Lucerne Navigation Company, but most of the family’s income is from direct sales. Turkeys weighing up to ten kilograms (22lb) can be ordered from October to December – and demand is increasing.  Meat industry umbrella group Proviande says per capita consumption of poultry has risen over the past decade ...
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A successful model of neutrality

Thu, 11/23/2017 - 12:00
​​​​​​​ Switzerland doesn’t take sides in a war. Thanks to its neutrality, it has been able to stay out of conflicts for a long time. Today Switzerland practises a more active neutrality, which sometimes raises questions.  One point should be made clear at the start – Switzerland did not invent neutrality. Examples of neutrality can be found as far back as the Old Testament and antiquity. In addition to Switzerland, Malta, Costa Rica and Cambodia are permanently neutral; Ireland, Sweden, Finland and Austria are unaligned states. But Switzerland has practised neutrality longer than anyone else in the world, and it adheres to its neutrality staunchly.  This is not surprising because Swiss neutrality has proven a successful model. As a small state whose population is linguistically, religiously and culturally mixed, the country has succeeded in safeguarding its existence despite being surrounded by conflicting great powers, and has kept out of many wars and clashes.  For that ...
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Carla del Ponte discusses the arrest of Ratko Mladic

Wed, 11/22/2017 - 21:01
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has convicted former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic of genocide and crimes against humanity and sentenced him to life in prison for atrocities perpetrated during Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war.  In this interview from May 2011 – held a few days after Mladic’s arrest – Carla del Ponte, a Swiss lawyer who was prosecutor of the ICTY from 1999 to 2007, told swissinfo.ch what Mladic’s arrest meant and discussed the challenges still facing international justice. On Wednesday, del Ponte welcomed the “very positive” sentence handed down to Mladic. “It’s a relief for all the victims, who have finally succeeded in getting justice,” she told Swiss public radio, RTS.  The trial of Mladic is the last one at the ICTY, which will close at the end of the year. Del Ponte said the tribunal had “fully carried out” the mandate given to it by the UN Security Council. “All the responsible politicians and soldiers stood trial. We ...
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Juncker visit expected to help normalise Swiss-EU relations

Wed, 11/22/2017 - 18:00
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is due in Switzerland on Thursday for a visit expected to help get bilateral ties back on track. These were strained following a Swiss vote in 2014 to re-introduce immigration quotas for European Union citizens.  Observers see the meeting as an important step towards consolidating bilateral ties between Switzerland and the 28 state bloc - its most important trading partner.  Preferring to stay outside the EU, the Swiss government has concluded more than 120 bilateral agreements with Brussels and remains keen to pursue this policy, updating existing accords or forging new deals.  Since 2008, Switzerland has contributed to the bloc’s “Cohesion Fund” aimed at reducing economic and social disparities within the EU. The ten-year programme, worth CHF1.3 billion ($1.3 billion), is up for renewal.  Meanwhile, over the past few weeks, Brussels has indicated a willingness to renew a stalled accord on the mutual recognition of agreements, ...
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When Mugabe came to Switzerland

Wed, 11/22/2017 - 13:19
Zimbabwe is turning a page in its history after Robert Mugabe resigned as president of the southeastern African nation on Tuesday. He was under strong pressure from the army and his former political allies after last week’s coup. His resignation ends nearly 40 years of rule by a man who turned from independence hero to archetypal African strongman. The 93-year old Mugabe visited the Swiss city of Geneva at least three times in his long career – first to represent the Patriotic Front during the Geneva Conference on Rhodesia in 1976, and then to attend conferences at the United Nations European seat. His last official visit to the shores of Lake Geneva dates back to 2003 when he was granted a visa by the Swiss government despite an international travel ban. swissinfo.ch/urs
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Progress toward a ‘digital Switzerland’ is advancing, but slowly

Wed, 11/22/2017 - 12:51
​​​​​​​ With the first Swiss Digital Day campaign this week, Switzerland’s digital elite has launched an offensive. But even though the country has acknowledged it’s time to improve digital services and education, we still have a long way to go compared to some other European countries.   On November 21, the organisation digitalswitzerland showcased to people across the country what digitalisation has to offer with its first Swiss Digital Day event. The previous day, representatives from politics, economics and science had gathered at the first national conference on a strategy for a “digital Switzerland.”   In her welcome speech at the conference, Swiss President Doris Leuthard prepared the guests for the day. It’s about weighing up the pros and cons of digitalisation, she said: who would benefit? If implemented correctly, digitalisation is an opportunity, the president affirmed…but she stopped short of revealing how this would work. Political scientist Stefan Klauser is the ...
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