Trying to be Conscious: Swiss politics explained to an ignorant French woman
Cécile climbs out of the expat bubble and into political consciousness... sort of.
What? You have a Swiss passport and you have never voted in Switzerland? Shame on you!” exclaimed my Swiss friend Beat over coffee.
“I know, you are right, but it is too complicated, I receive heavy voting documentation at home almost every month; it is all in German, and I don’t know any of the political parties.”
“But you have to read the newspapers, it is your citizen’s duty to get the information and to vote! I can’t believe you don’t even read the newspapers.” He was now looking utterly disappointed.
“Mein Gott!” I said, mortified, “you have to help me fix my ignorance!”.
See, Beat is a journalist and a good citizen, so he knows everything about Swiss politics.
“All right”, he began, “do you know Christoph Blocher?”
“Whaaat?! It’s like the most famous Swiss politician, everybody knows him! Wait, I’ll show you a photo, I’m sure you’ll recognise him.”
Well, he may be famous in Switzerland, among the Swiss, but I don’t have a TV at home and rarely read the news, because they are mainly in German - a barbarous language - and I find the ones written in French boring. Beat insisted on showing me 5 different pictures of him on his phone, always the same face, and I still didn’t know who he was. At that point, Beat was shaking his head in disbelief, probably assessing the value of our friendship.
“Ok, I will explain the differences between the Swiss parties to you, but now you have to vote, starting on Sunday.”
Willing to save my friendship with one of the very few Swiss friends I have, I decided to pay attention, and I promised to vote on Sunday. Fortunately, Beat is smart and entertaining.
We started with the SVP. Officially, it is supposed to be the National Conservatism party; I would rather call it the Right-Wing Xenophobic Populism Party. Their propaganda against foreigners is embarrassing and disgraceful to most Swiss people I know:
For a good parody of the above, read SVP Poster Campaigns Through the Ages.
According to Beat, the members of the SVP are evil, and so is Christoph Blocher, their leader. He is so famous because he turned the SVP into Switzerland’s strongest party in the late 1990′s, with euroscepticism and the hate for immigration as the main focus, along with a conservative view of family– women should stay at home to raise their children, and a systematic opposition to environmental protection.
Learning that the SVP was one of the major parties in Switzerland made me regret my wish to know everything about Swiss politics. In France, the “Front National” can be considered as an equivalent of the SVP, but it is a minority party– at least for now; they are dangerously growing though.
We then moved on to the FDP (Free Democratic Party); hearing the name, I started to relax, it sounded more reasonable. However, Beat explained that it was the radical liberal party of the bankers. It supports a good economy, a minimum intervention of the government, and Swiss businesses in general. Not my cup of tea.
At the center stands the CVP (Christian Democratic Party) along with the EVP (Evangelical People’s Party). Hearing religious references into politics made me wince. According to Wikipedia, these parties “foster a social market economy”. Beat pictured them as pro family with a more modern vision of the family than the SVP. They support equal wages and job opportunities for both men and women, and call for flexible working times, childcare, and affordable housing. Still annoyed at the religious connotation, I began to feel better upon hearing something that made sense to me.
“Is there a communist party in Switzerland?” I asked. My question wasn’t intended to be funny, but it made Beat laugh quite a while.
“Communism is for France, it is taboo here! On the left wing, you’ll find the green parties, the labor party and the social democrats (SP)”.
“You mean that there is not even a socialist party in Switzerland?”
“Well, yes there is one: the SP. But no-one would vote for them if it was called ‘the socialist party’” he explained, smiling at my astonishment. “You should vote for them on Sunday”, he went on, “because they lost their strength recently and it is not good for the balance in Swiss politics. Balance in Swiss politics is what makes the Swiss system one of the best in the world”.
It was my turn to laugh now: “I thought the Swiss were modest!” I teased him.
“No, no, I mean, it is the best system for a small country like Switzerland. And we the Swiss are actually very proud of it, you shouldn’t make fun of Swiss politics, we take it very seriously”.
“I am going to write something sarcastic about it on my blog though.”
Cécile is a French girl who decided to settle for a while in Zürich after trying New York for a year. When she is not teaching French to the Swiss, she sits in cafés for long hours and writes. You can find her writings on her blog Trying to be Conscious and now on Expatica. Enjoy!
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