'Annoying' anti-cowbell campaigner denied Swiss passport
A Dutch woman has seen her request for Swiss citizenship refused for the second time by local residents who object to her media campaigning against cowbells and other Swiss traditions.
Nancy Holten, 42, was born in the Netherlands but grew up in Switzerland from the age of eight, speaks fluent Swiss German and has children with Swiss citizenship.
A vegan and supporter of animal rights, she gained a reputation in her community of Gipf-Oberfrick, in the canton of Aargau, after campaigning against cowbells, claiming they were damaging to cows’ health.
She has also objected to hunting and piglet racing, and complained about the noise of church bells in the village, campaigns that have seen her regularly interviewed in the Swiss press over the past few years.
Last November, Holten had her citizenship application turned down for the second time by the residents’ committee.
That’s despite her meeting all legal requirements and the municipal and cantonal authorities having no formal objection.
In Switzerland local residents often have a say in citizenship applications, which are decided primarily by the cantons and communes where the applicant lives, rather than federal authorities.
In Holten's case it seems her campaigning has not won her many friends in the village, with the president of the local branch of the Swiss People’s Party, Tanja Suter, telling the media that Holten has a “big mouth”.
The commune did not want to give Holten the “present” of Swiss citizenship “if she annoys us and doesn’t respect our traditions”, said Suter.
Speaking to The Local on Monday, Holten said: “I think I was too strident and spoke my mind too often.
“Many people think that I am attacking their traditions. But that was not what it was about, it was never about that. What primarily motivated me about the cowbells was the animals' welfare.”
She added she would be sad not to get a Swiss passport “because this really is my home. I grew up here and feel very attached to Switzerland.
“I have friends and relatives here. I have worked here and take part in social life here. I was even on the parent committee here at the school a few years ago.”
Contacted by The Local, Urs Treier, a spokesman for the Gipf-Oberfrick administration, said the community hadn’t rejected Holten’s application because of her objections to cowbells and other Swiss traditions but because she had campaigned so publicly.
“The voters of Gipf-Oberfrick know that the legal requirements for naturalization are met and they know that even people who want to be naturalized in Switzerland may have different ideological opinions.
“The reason why they have yet again clearly rejected the naturalization is that Nancy Holten very often expresses her personal opinion in the media, and also gathers media coverage for rebelling against traditional [Swiss] things within the village.”
Her actions have caused many in the village to wonder why Holten would want to be Swiss, he said.
“If someone is so much in the spotlight and rebels against things that are accepted in the local community, it can cause the community to not want such a person in their midst,” Treier added.
Photo: Nancy Holten
But Holten -- who describes herself as a freelance journalist, author, model and drama student -- says she won’t give up her campaigning in order to smooth things over with her neighbours.
“The law states that freedom of expression must not have any negative consequences,” she told The Local.
“I am still committed to what is important to me. Especially for the animals in particular. Their well-being is important to me. If I stop doing it any more, I am not being genuine and honest. So I will not stop just for the sake of the Swiss passport.”
Her application is now in the hands of Aargau’s cantonal government, which could still decide to grant her citizenship despite residents’ objections.
Under Swiss law citizenship applicants are usually required to speak a national language, respect Swiss law and order and be well integrated in the community, a requirement that appears to be a matter of opinion in some cases.
In May 2016 a Kosovan family who were long-term residents in the canton of Basel-Country had their application for citizenship opposed by the residents’ committee, in part because they wore jogging bottoms around town.
And in 2014 an American expat who had lived in Switzerland for 43 years had his citizenship application turned down as it was judged he wasn’t sufficiently integrated – he could not name lakes in his canton or the largest employer in his town.