How is the crisis being perceived in Switzerland?

4. Shifts in the National Identity

In the interviews we investigated something what we can say is an uncertainty about the position of Switzerland in the world and a partially loss of trust in the national institutions. So this part is about shifts in national identity.

Reactionary example of identity crisis

In a very reactionary discourse that we found in the interview with a member of the right-winged party SVP, there is a big anxiety about the future of Switzerland. He talks about dangerous riots, uprisings, Europe, globalisation and migration, mixing those up in a crude way. He says there are a lot of young unemployed people with migration background in Switzerland, too. These thoughts are contrasted with a very romanticist imagination of a traditional Switzerland.

He sees a lot of transformations, he is worried about and that give him an uncertain perspective for Switzerland. Because these changes are seen as coming from the outside, his reaction on this is nationalistic. So we can understand Swiss nationalism as an expression of a perception of crisis.

Statesman-like example of the crisis

An economic professor in Basel speaks about the positive impacts of the crisis at the moment but also about the anxiety that this can change. He sees a danger, that this economic basis would be more and more undermined. So he thinks, this is something Switzerland will have to deal with in the upcoming years and endanger the Swiss economy. He hopes for a clever Swiss international policy and a high level quality and effective inland production. We see here the crisis as an anxiety of change on the one hand, but on the other hand still the confidence, that there is a possible way, if Switzerland trusts its potencies / strengths. He thinks about crisis as something Switzerland can handle, but also requests some political changes.

Occupy View

The Occupy activist we interviewed is even more convinced that Switzerland can no longer be what it was. There is a big loss of trust in all the institutions and the politics of crisis in Switzerland. So for him it is a crisis in which Switzerland has to change its position in the world. But this isn’t happening, because there is just a “democracy” in quotation marks, that doesn’t work anymore. The government is controlled by the banks and so are the public media. And this lobby actually runs Switzerland in a stupid way. His analysis alternates between struggling for changes and a quite fatalistic perspective.

Sociologist analytical

In the interview with a sociologist we got an analytical view of the identity crisis and the shifts of Switzerland in the last decades. He stresses, that there are some difficulties to understand this kind of identity crisis as a serious crisis, but actually it is very interwoven with economical, social and political aspects of crisis. So first there is the end of the Cold War and with that the end of a particular position in the world. Crisis of the idea of neutrality and international pressure on Switzerland. Also the end of full-employment, the Swissair-grounding, or the troubles of the UBS. In the crisis of the UBS, Swiss democracy, that had been seen as a decentralized and federalist direct democracy for a long time, bares that there can be spontaneous, not authorised rescue actions, if a big financial player is in troubles. So everybody has seen that there actually happens a scandal, you can’t hide that anymore. He argues that the most visible expression of crisis is this identity crisis, in relation to some social, political and economical shifts.

Activist perspective

From a political perspective, crisis can also be a chance for struggles and change. Because there is this present idea of Switzerland as ‘steady and successful’ since its foundation in 1848 or in an even more mythological way even since 1291, it can be a very liberating feeling that this apparently permanent Switzerland starts to move and things can be thought in a new manner.

Crisis in a nationalistic way

Finally, we would like to note that our question “Has the Crisis arrived Switzerland?” implicitly suggests that a crisis is something a nation state is in or not. So the interviewees take this seriously. The behaving of the nation is an important frame, to discuss the crisis. The interviewee from Occupy says:

“Besides this [the saving of the UBS bank], we are doing [incomprehensible word] pretty good here. Most of us.”

We hear an affirmative use of an “us” in a national use. We, the Swiss people, are doing pretty good here. It becomes clear that there is a strong relation between crisis and the nation state even though it is known as an international crisis. But there is a critical sentence attached. “Most of us.” In this affirmative use of the „us“ as a nation people, he gives to understand, that not all of us are the same, but some are different. There are also people in Switzerland who aren’t doing good anymore. Probably here, beginning with the precarious people all over the world, we could start to discuss the crisis in a transnational manner. People in Switzerland are not so sure about the national identity anymore, but they do discuss it.

5. Racism and discourses of enclosure
We also inquired about a possible relation between nationalist and racist discourses and discourses of enclosure in the context of crisis.[viii] Racist tendencies often gain steam during economic crisis because, as one of our interviewee puts it, as soon as insecurities and anxieties are spreading, people feel an urge to find a scapegoat.

In the last years, there have been several examples of racist politics in Switzerland that became quite well known: There was the referendum to deport „criminal migrants“ (2010), the prohibition to build Minarets (2009), or, this summer, the new restrictions against asylum seekers to go to some public spaces like parks and swimming pools.

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