The Swiss Identity Crisis

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Swiss voters passed a referendum this past weekend that limits the access and rights of foreigners in Switzerland. The “Stop Mass Immigration” initiative will have lasting impacts on Swiss citizens and foreigners who want to live or work in Switzerland for at least three years. The final vote was narrow, with about half of voters approving the stricter control on mass immigration. It comes as no surprise that the news upset Switzerland’s neighbors, all EU countries. Surrounded by France, Germany, Italy and Austria, Switzerland is not a EU member. However, the EU is the multilingual, multicultural country’s biggest trade partner.

In an attempt to urge Swiss citizens and voters to reconsider their stance on immigration, the right-wing, anti-immigration Swiss People’s Party collected 100,000 signatures to initiate the referendum and battle increasing job competition and skyrocketing rent prices. The Swiss government has often struggled with the idea of immigration and limits on its borders, independence and national identity. It might be smaller than its neighbors, but is proud of its high standard of living, strong economy, and independence from the EU.

But Switzerland has never been and will never be a lonely island. Switzerland’s beauty and richness lies in its differences from the EU, but will always depend on it, whether it’s for trade, transportation, or infrastructure projects. This is why many voters and politicians are extremely worried about what this means for the thus steady relationship between Switzerland and all of the EU members.

The country itself is divided. Not only did the initiative pass by an extremely narrow vote (50.3% voted for it), but it reflects deep cleavages between different Swiss regions. While voters from cosmopolitan cities such as Geneva and Zurich strongly opposed the initiatives, those from the German-speaking or Italian-speaking countryside rallied for it. The vote lacks national cohesiveness and displays the fundamentally different perspectives that inevitably clash in a small but diverse country.

Protecting the Swiss identity and imposing limits is key for any Swiss policies. Ultimately, Switzerland is the epitome of the modern-day melting pot. The initiative is therefore not only damaging because of the restrictions that it places on foreigners or the damages it will most likely inflict on the Swiss economy. It’s more harmful because of the limitations it will undoubtedly place on Switzerland, a country made great not despite of, but because of its amalgam of cultures.


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