FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Paranoia and the Swiss Immigration Vote

by BINOY KAMPMARK

It is the great dilemma about democracy.  Left in certain hands, it can become a beastly thing.  America’s founders, notably James Adams, were suspicious of its vulgar appeal, its tendency to succumb to tyranny.  But is that the point of it?  Like free will, its existence is bound to put us on the path to doom and depravity at certain points in time.  Such independence comes with it the power of self harm.

Enter, then, the canton system in Switzerland, a country that has managed to combine a democratic system with a good deal of paranoia and knee-jerk populism.  What matters in that context is that it is democratic and seen as democratic.  This idea is fed by the Swiss themselves, who have been convinced that equality exists, that the voices of everyday citizens will be heard, and no elite interests exist.

Such a narrative on vibrant sovereign will is a convenient fiction.  The Swiss peoples did not come together to plot a singular state to the rhythm of democracy. They came together out of disliking everything else.  As a piece in Der Spiegel (Feb 10) by David Nauer observes, “The German-language areas don’t want to belong to Germany, the Suisse romande don’t want to be part of France and the Ticinesi don’t want to become part of Italy. Instead, they are Swiss.”  It was an identity built on rejection.

That the “yes” vote in a referendum favouring the reintroduction of immigration quotas on those coming from the European Union should have just scraped in should not be a shock.  What was surprising was the smaller margin – 50.3 percent.  “Faced with the negative effects of the pressures caused by immigration,” suggested the Tribune de Geneve, “voters wanted to send out a strong signal”.

The vote split the nation.  The French-speaking West generally favoured an open immigration policy – they had more reason than any to be concerned by any supposed “negative” effects, given their greatest exposure.  The Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, estranged from the Swiss centre of power and policy, had no reason to reward the cosmopolitans with what they wanted.  Symbolically, at least, they feel left out (Worldcrunch, Feb 10).

The SVP or Swiss People’s Party, who initiated the referendum, was thrilled at the result.  Their campaign was one of lacing old fears with the sweetness of reason.  The trains, for example, were getting too full.  Congestion and crowding were becoming problems.  All of this have produced what the Swiss have called Dichtestress – “crowding stress”.  As with so much that comes from irrational impulse, those who voted for the initiative had no reason to be affected at all – distinctly free of crowding stress.  But perception is everything.

The business minded in Switzerland will be worried, bearing witness to a patient keen in suiciding.  Energy, research and agriculture are set for a squeeze.  While the Swiss have been stringently opposed to being in the EU, they have partaken of its offerings via movement of goods and people. The trading area offers them a huge market.  Most Swiss goods find a home across the border. It also offers them a pool of qualified labour which underpins numerous company agreements.

Even financial Zurich has lost some of its dullness even if the restaurant and bar scene proves a strain on the wallet.  It comes down, in large part, to a credo embraced by the EU and the Swiss business and political powers: that of freedom of movement.

Little wonder, then, that those in Brussels have been shaking their heads at those in Bern, with whom they have been long negotiations with.  As the European Commission explained, “This goes against the principle of free movement of persons between the EU and Switzerland.  The EU will examine the implications of the initiative on EU-Swiss relations as a whole” (BBC, Feb 9).  Reproaches are bound to follow.

For all of Switzerland’s success, there was that old incoherent feeling that something was just not quite right.  Immigration brings with it changes, some of them “negative”, which in the Swiss context is simply the fear of any change.  The “yes” vote was one aimed squarely, as the Corriere del Ticino explained, at “the government, parliament, the business community, trade unions and the overwhelming majority of the political parties”.

Some of the blame, as far as it can be found, must rest with those groups who fell asleep at the wheel of the European issue.  The SVP cunningly and destructively pounced on the issue – bagging and mocking Europe tends to get parties votes these days, and they proved no different. For some time, economic liberals were sharing the same bed as the SVP, a dangerous arrangement, if ever there was one.

The grand paradox of having wealth doesn’t lie in its grant of greater security.   It creates, rather, an acute fear of losing it. It is not money itself that is the root of any evil per se – it is its possession that complicates the picture.  Those who fear losing economic primacy are bound to impose measures achieving that very fact.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

 

 

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

February 21, 2017
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Finance as Warfare: the IMF Lent to Greece Knowing It Could Never Pay Back Debt
CJ Hopkins
Goose-stepping Our Way Toward Pink Revolution
John Wight
Firestarter: the Unwelcome Return of Tony Blair
Roger Harris
Lenin Wins: Pink Tide Surges in Ecuador…For Now
Shepherd Bliss
Japanese American Internment Remembered, as Trump Rounds Up Immigrants
Boris Kagarlitsky
Trump and the Contradictions of Capitalism
Robert Fisk
The Perils of Trump Addiction
Deepak Tripathi
Theresa May: Walking the Kingdom Down a Dark Alley
Sarah Anderson
To Save Main Street, Tax Wall Street
Howard Lisnoff
Those Who Plan and Enjoy Murder
Franklin Lamb
The Life and Death Struggle of the Children of Syria
Binoy Kampmark
A Tale of Two Realities: Trump and Israel
Kim C. Domenico
Body and Soul: Becoming Men & Women in a Post-Gender Age
Mel Gurtov
Trump, Europe, and Chaos
Stephen Cooper
Steinbeck’s Road Map For Resisting Donald Trump
February 20, 2017
Bruce E. Levine
Humiliation Porn: Trump’s Gift to His Faithful…and Now the Blowback
Melvin Goodman
“Wag the Dog,” Revisited
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima: a Lurking Global Catastrophe?
David Smith-Ferri
Resistance and Resolve in Russia: Memorial HRC
Kenneth Surin
Global India?
Norman Pollack
Fascistization Crashing Down: Driving the Cleaver into Social Welfare
Patrick Cockburn
Trump v. the Media: a Fight to the Death
Susan Babbitt
Shooting Arrows at Heaven: Why is There Debate About Battle Imagery in Health?
Matt Peppe
New York Times Openly Promotes Formal Apartheid Regime By Israel
David Swanson
Understanding Robert E. Lee Supporters
Michael Brenner
The Narcissism of Donald Trump
Martin Billheimer
Capital of Pain
Thomas Knapp
Florida’s Shenanigans Make a Great Case for (Re-)Separation of Ballot and State
Jordan Flaherty
Best Films of 2016: Black Excellence Versus White Mediocrity
Weekend Edition
February 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
David Price
Rogue Elephant Rising: The CIA as Kingslayer
Matthew Stevenson
Is Trump the Worst President Ever?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Flynn?
John Wight
Brexit and Trump: Why Right is Not the New Left
Diana Johnstone
France: Another Ghastly Presidential Election Campaign; the Deep State Rises to the Surface
Neve Gordon
Trump’s One-State Option
Roger Harris
Emperor Trump Has No Clothes: Time to Organize!
Joan Roelofs
What Else is Wrong with Globalization
Andrew Levine
Why Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban?
Mike Whitney
Blood in the Water: the Trump Revolution Ends in a Whimper
Vijay Prashad
Trump, Turmoil and Resistance
Ron Jacobs
U.S. Imperial War Personified
David Swanson
Can the Climate Survive Adherence to War and Partisanship?
Andre Vltchek
Governor of Jakarta: Get Re-elected or Die!
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Destruction of Mosul
Norman Pollack
Self-Devouring Reaction: Governmental Impasse
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail