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:
July 25, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
As the Election Turns: Trump the Anti-Neocon, Hillary the New Darling of the Neocons
William K. Black
Doubling Down on Wall Street: Hillary and Tim Kaine
Quincy Saul
Resurgent Mexico
Ted Rall
Hillary’s Strategy: Snub Liberal Democrats, Move Right to Nab Anti-Trump Republicans
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan is Strengthened by the Failed Coup, But Turkey is the Loser
Robert Fisk
The Hypocrisies of Terror Talk
Lee Hall
Purloined Platitudes and Bipartisan Bunk: An Adjunct’s View
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of Collective Punishment: Russia, Doping and WADA
Nozomi Hayase
Cryptography as Democratic Weapon Against Demagoguery
Cesar Chelala
The Real Donald Trump
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Propaganda Machinery and State Surveillance of Muslim Children
Denis Conroy
Australia: Election Time Blues for Clones
Marjorie Cohn
Killing With Robots Increases Militarization of Police
David Swanson
RNC War Party, DNC War Makers
Eugene Schulman
The US Role in the Israeli-Palestine Conflict
Nauman Sadiq
Imran Khan’s Faustian Bargain
Peter Breschard
Kaine the Weepy Executioner
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
Conn Hallinan
The Big Boom: Nukes And NATO
Ron Jacobs
Exacerbate the Split in the Ruling Class
Jill Stein
After US Airstrikes Kill 73 in Syria, It’s Time to End Military Assaults that Breed Terrorism
Jack Rasmus
Trump, Trade and Working Class Discontent
John Feffer
Could a Military Coup Happen Here?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Late Night, Wine-Soaked Thoughts on Trump’s Jeremiad
Andrew Levine
Vice Presidents: What Are They Good For?
Michael Lukas
Law, Order, and the Disciplining of Black Bodies at the Republican National Convention
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Why It’s Just Fine for U.S. to Blow Up Children
Victor Grossman
Horror News, This Time From Munich
Margaret Kimberley
Gavin Long’s Last Words
Mark Weisbrot
Confidence and the Degradation of Brazil
Brian Cloughley
Boris Johnson: Britain’s Lying Buffoon
Lawrence Reichard
A Global Crossroad
Kevin Schwartz
Beyond 28 Pages: Saudi Arabia and the West
Charles Pierson
The Courage of Kalyn Chapman James
Michael Brenner
Terrorism Redux
Bruce Lerro
Being Inconvenienced While Minding My Own Business: Liberals and the Social Contract Theory of Violence
Mark Dunbar
The Politics of Jeremy Corbyn
Binoy Kampmark
Laura Ingraham and Trumpism
Uri Avnery
The Great Rift
Nicholas Buccola
What’s the Matter with What Ted Said?
Aidan O'Brien
Thank Allah for Western Democracy, Despondency and Defeat
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail