The vice president of pro-immigrant organization Secondos Plus has infuriated far-right politicians and others in Switzerland with his “humorous” calls for a new Swiss flag, contributor Meritxell Mir reports.  

"/> The vice president of pro-immigrant organization Secondos Plus has infuriated far-right politicians and others in Switzerland with his “humorous” calls for a new Swiss flag, contributor Meritxell Mir reports.  

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SVP to immigrants: Don’t mess with the Swiss flag

The vice president of pro-immigrant organization Secondos Plus has infuriated far-right politicians and others in Switzerland with his “humorous” calls for a new Swiss flag, contributor Meritxell Mir reports.  

SVP to immigrants: Don’t mess with the Swiss flag

What started as a joke to provoke reflection on Swiss values has turned into a nightmare for Ivica Petrusic and Secondos Plus, an association for children of immigrants born in the country.

More than a month ago, Petrusic, the vice president of the lobby group, suggested the cross should be removed from the Swiss flag to bring it more in line with today’s “multicultural Switzerland.” In two recent interviews, Petrusic sought to defuse the issue. Instead, debate flared anew and now Petrusic faces threats from groups on the extreme-right.

During the presentation of the association’s candidates for the National Council on August 23rd, Petrusic made a remark about the city of Aarau, where he lives, and which once was the short-lived capital of the Helvetian Republic. There, for a short period in Switzerland’s history, foreigners had the right to vote. Afterwards, he brought up the former flag of the Confederation, a three-striped banner in green, red and yellow. The next day, his remarks made it into the news and were reported in the manner he insists they were intended: as a joke.

“All Petrusic was trying to do was get people’s attention through humour in order to make them reflect on the values of Switzerland, the past and the future,” Daniel Ordás, a Secondos Plus board member, told The Local. The association has more than 400 members, and the majority hold a Swiss passport.

But three weeks later the Aargauer Zeitung, a local newspaper, followed up and again asked Petrusic about the flag. Instead of explaining that it was a humorous way to bring up the issue of integration in Switzerland, the 34-year-old Christian Bosnian Croat made further remarks that added fuel to the fire.

He said that the old tricolour “represented a progressive Switzerland, open to the world,” as opposed to the current banner which “no longer corresponds with today’s multicultural Switzerland” because the country “has great religious and cultural diversity.” All hell broke loose. 

It did not matter that Secondos Plus issued a statement saying that it was all a misunderstanding, and that it was not the organization’s goal to change the national flag. The damage was done.

Despite the clarification, it did not take too long for the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) to launch a media campaign against Secondos Plus. Immigration is the cornerstone of its political platform and an ad taken out by the SVP and published on Monday in the Swiss media read: “Immigrants, more and more shameless every day!”

Yvette Estermann, an SVP lawmaker, said the statement made by Petrusic shows “disrespect” towards Switzerland. She wondered “if the next thing will be to abolish Christian churches” in the country.

“As a way of getting people’s attention, it is a good move, but the problem is that this group is involved in politics, so this is outrageous,” said Estermann, an immigrant from Slovakia herself.

“It is unacceptable that immigrants give orders to their host country on what it has to do,” she told The Local. Estermann also leads the conservative immigrants group Neu Heimat Schweiz (Switzerland New Homeland).

For Marianne Binder-Keller, spokeswoman for the Christian-Democratic People’s Party (CVP), Petrusic’s meaning was clear. “I don’t think it was a joke, they were for real,” she said. “But they were later shocked about the reaction it provoked.”

Ordás, however, says that the conservatives should not protest so much, since Petrusic’s gaffe will likely garner them a lot of votes. “The biggest problem here is that this is something that everyone in the SVP wanted to be true because they needed a new reason to bring immigration back into their campaign,” said the executive member of Secondos Plus. “It has been a gift to them.

But beyond politics, there are deeper worries for Secondos Plus since the story started circulating in religious and extreme-right forums on the internet across the globe.

“We have received hundreds of e-mails with insults, requests for us to leave the country, and threats, including a dozen death threats against our vice president,” said Ordás. “Petrusic is quite scared and wants to stay away from public focus because we are taking these threats very seriously.” Still, threats will not prevent Secondos Plus from staying in politics, he added.  

“They should not make too much of the death threats they are getting because every politician, including myself, gets them,” Binder-Keller said.

But what hurts Secondos Plus’s members most, said Ordás, is the correspondence from immigrants who call them “idiots” for having given votes in the upcoming general elections to the far-right SVP, which claimed 29 percent of the vote at the last parliamentary elections in 2007.  

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IMMIGRATION

EXPLAINED: What are the main obstacles to finding a job when moving to an EU country?

Moving to another country is never easy, as it requires going through cultural changes and administrative formalities. It can be even more complicated when looking for a job.

EXPLAINED: What are the main obstacles to finding a job when moving to an EU country?

According to new data released by the EU statistical office, Eurostat, the knowledge of the national language and the recognition of professional qualifications are the two most common obstacles experienced by foreign-born people in finding a ‘suitable’ job in countries of the European Union.

Overall, about a quarter of people born outside the EU who had experience in working or looking for work in the bloc reported some difficulties getting a ‘suitable’ job for level of education (without considering the field of expertise or previous experience).

The Eurostat analysis shows that the situation is better for EU citizens moving within the bloc. But there are major differences depending on countries and gender.

Life can be more difficult for women

In 2021, 13.2 percent of men and 20.3 percent of women born in another European Union country reported obstacles in getting a suitable job in the EU place of residence.

These proportions however increase to 20.9 percent for men and 27.3 percent for women born in a non-EU country with a high level of development (based on the United Nations’ Human Development Index) and 31.1 percent for men and 35.7 percent for women from non-EU countries with a low or medium level of development.

Finland (42.9 percent), Sweden (41.7 percent), Luxembourg (34.6 percent) and France (32.1 percent) are the countries with the highest shares of people born outside the EU reporting problems. Norway, which is not part of the bloc, has an even higher percentage, 45.2, and Switzerland 34.3 percent.

In contrast, Cyprus (11.2 percent), Malta (10.9 percent), Slovenia (10.2 percent), Latvia (10 percent) and Lithuania (6.7 percent) have the lowest proportion of people born outside the EU reporting difficulties.

Lack of language skills

The lack of skills in the national language is most commonly cited as a hurdle, and it is even more problematic for women.

This issue was reported by 4.2 percent of men born in another EU country, 5.3 percent of those born in a developed country outside the EU and 9.7 percent of those from a non-EU country with a middle or low level of development. The corresponding shares for women, however, were 5.6, 6.7 and 10.5 percent respectively.

The countries where language skills were more likely to be reported by non-EU citizens as an obstacle in getting a relevant job were Finland (22.8 percent), Luxembourg (14.7 percent) and Sweden (13.1 percent).

As regards other countries covered by The Local, the percentage of non-EU citizens citing the language as a problem was 12.4 percent in Austria, 10.2 percent in Denmark, 7.8 percent in France, 5.1 percent in Italy, 2.7 percent in Spain, 11.1 percent on Norway and 10.1 percent in Switzerland. Data is not available for Germany.

Portugal (77.4 percent), Croatia (68.8 percent), Hungary (58.8 percent) and Spain (58.4 percent) have the highest share of people from outside the EU already speaking the language as a mother tongue before arriving, while more than 70 percent of non-EU citizens residing in Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg and Norway said they had participated in language courses after arrival.

Lisbon Portugal

Portugal has the highest share of people from outside the EU already speaking the language as a mother tongue before arriving. (Photo by Aayush Gupta on Unsplash)

Recognition of qualifications

Another hurdle on the way to a relevant job in EU countries is the lack of recognition of a formal qualification obtained abroad. This issue was reported by 2 percent of men and 3.8 percent of women born in another EU country. It was also mentioned by 3.3 percent of men and 5.9 percent of women born in a developed country outside the EU, and 4.8 percent of men and 4.6 percent of women born in a less developed non-EU country.

Eurostat says this reflects an “unofficial distrust” among employers of qualification obtained abroad and the “low official validation of foreign education”.

The lack of availability of a suitable job was another factor mentioned in the survey. In Croatia, Portugal and Hungary, this was the main obstacle to getting an adequate position.

This issue concerned 3.3 percent of men and 4.5 percent of women born in another EU country, 4.2 percent of men and 5 percent of women born in a developed non-EU country It also worried 3.9 percent of men and 5.1 percent of women born in a less developed non-EU country.

Restricted right to work due to citizenship or residence permits, as well as plain discrimination on the grounds of origin were also cited as problems.

Discrimination was mostly reported by people born in a less developed non-EU country (3.1 percent for men and 3.3 percent for women) compared to people born in highly developed non-EU countries (1.9 percent for men and 2.2 percent for women).

Citizenship and residence permits issues are unusual for people from within the EU. For people from outside the EU, this is the only area where women seem to have fewer problems than men: 1.6 percent of women from developed non-EU countries reported this issue, against 2.1 percent of men, with the share increasing to 2.8 and 3.3 percent respectively for women and men from less developed non-EU states.

The article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.

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