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IMMIGRATION

Will the Swiss back simpler naturalization for 3rd gen immigrants?

The Swiss people will go to the polls this Sunday, February 12th, to have their say on whether third generation immigrants should have access to a simpler citizenship application process.

Will the Swiss back simpler naturalization for 3rd gen immigrants?
Photo: Martin Abegglen
Unlike in many other countries, a person does not automatically become a Swiss citizen if they are born in the country. If neither their parents nor grandparents were Swiss, that could mean they are the third generation of a family living in the country without citizenship.
 
The government is backing a change to the constitution that would give young third generation immigrants who were born and schooled in Switzerland access to the ‘facilitated naturalization’ process, an easier and less long-winded version of the usual citizenship procedure. 
 
To apply for facilitated naturalization they must have been born in Switzerland, have completed at least five years of schooling here and have a permanent residence permit.
 
Their grandparents and parents must also meet certain conditions related to residency and schooling.
 
Applicants cannot be over 25 years of age – a proviso added in parliament over fears people could shirk their military service obligations by only applying for citizenship after that age.
 
According to a recent study Switzerland has 24,650 third generation immigrants aged 9-25 who meet these criteria.
 
An estimated 60 percent of them are Italian, according to a government study.
 
But that hasn’t stopped a committee campaigning against the proposed change to the law from using a controversial poster showing a woman wearing a niqab or burqa above the tagline ‘Uncontrolled naturalization? No to facilitated naturalization”.
 
Critics of the campaign image distributed across the country ahead of Sunday's referendum say the poster is really just a brazen appeal to those worried about more Muslims becoming Swiss.
  
“That is exactly what they are trying to (do)”, said Pius Walker, who heads the Zurich-based advertising agency Walker AG.
 
“It is a very, very frightening thing that is going on here.”
 
The committee is backed by many members of Switzerland’s right-wing, anti-immigration Swiss People’s Party (SVP).
 
In campaigning against the measure, SVP has made clear that Italians were not its primary concern.
 
“In one or two generations, who will these third generation foreigners be?” SVP lawmaker Jean-Luc Addor wrote in an opinion piece on the party's website.
  
“They will be born of the Arab Spring, they will be from sub-Saharan Africa, the Horn of Africa, Syria or Afghanistan,” he warned.
 
SVP members are no strangers to campaigns denounced as discriminatory, notably a successful 2009 initiative to outlaw the construction of new mosque minarets.
   
Campaigns demonizing Muslims are expected from the SVP, but they are not “deemed acceptable” by the Swiss political mainstream, said Sophie Guignard of the Institute of Political Science at the University of Bern.
  
For most politicians and journalists, the burqa poster amounts to “a violent attack against Muslims,” Guignard told AFP.
   
But that does not mean it won't work.
  
The latest polls from the gfs.bern institute show 66 percent of people support easier citizenship for third-generation immigrants, with 31 percent against and three percent undecided.
   
Polls from the news company Tamedia have it closer, with 55 percent in favour and 44 percent against.
  
 The “No” side has however gained about 10 points since polling opened.
   
And an upset can't be ruled out, especially with the touchstone issue of Swiss identity and Islam at the centre of the debate.
 
Facilitated naturalization is already available to foreign spouses of Swiss citizens who meet certain conditions.
 
It is generally a much shorter and simpler process than regular naturalization, which is decided by the cantonal and communal authorities of the area in which the applicant lives.
 
The Swiss people are voting on two other issues on Sunday, a proposed tax reform for businesses and a project that would guarantee funding for roads and traffic infrastructure.

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SWITZERLAND EXPLAINED

OPINION: ‘Eidgenosse’ and what does it really mean to be Swiss?

Whoever is in the possession of a Swiss passport is considered to be Swiss. But as Serbian-born, Swiss national Sandra Sparrowhawk explains, things are not always quite so simple in reality.

OPINION: 'Eidgenosse' and what does it really mean to be Swiss?

It was a mild spring day in the quaint town of Reiden and I was sat in the garden of a fellow student’s lush family home surrounded by around one third of my class.

All born to Swiss parents. All, but me. At the time, we were in the last leg of our apprenticeship and everyone mutually decided to kick off our imminent graduation and the much anticipated start to our adult lives with a celebratory barbecue. Everything was going smoothly. The sun was out, the food was being prepped, the conversation was flowing, jokes were being made. But it is as they say, all good things must come to an end.

Now in my time being Swiss, I’ve been all too aware of this sobering reality. I had learned it the hard way through the years and this day was no different. As I looked down to devour the last of my Bratwurst, I heard it clearly – “Jugo”. A disparaging term widely used in Switzerland to describe citizens of former Yugoslavia. My classmates turned friends had – unbeknown to them – made a joke at my expense. Laughter soon erupted. I remember looking up with an awkward half-smirk only to be met with confusion as the last of the giggles died down. The host turned to me and asked: “What’s the matter with you”?

The matter with me, as it turns out, is not so easily explained. Not even 15 years following the event, nor 32 years into being Swiss. Back then, a veil had been lifted and behind it was me. Uncomfortable, deeply conflicted, Serbian me.

But my story isn’t unique to me. It is one that is shared by many Swiss citizens with a migration background.

‘Anyone can be Swiss’

It was the year 2010 when Aarberg-born wrestler Christian Stucki declared: “Anyone can become Swiss, but not anyone can become Eidgenosse”. The latter term is occasionally used to refer to native Swiss citizens, as opposed to those having obtained citizenship via the second-rate passport route. Stucki’s daring declaration rightfully earned him some heat back in 2010 and his manager was quick to retaliate. But the question remains, when is one truly considered Swiss, and is there some truth in Stucki’s statement?

What does it mean to be Swiss? Photo by Valeriano de Domenico/AFP

This debate enjoyed a brief stint on the political stage. In 2012, a parliamentarian from Switzerland’s largest political party, SVP Schweiz, demanded that the Zurich authorities divide Swiss citizens into two groups: naturalised and those Swiss since birth. The purpose behind this proposal was to enable Swiss authorities to highlight key differences, such as a higher crime rate or a disproportionate receipt of social assistance in naturalised citizens, and hence offer aid where needed. Or so was the claim.

Despite the change never seeing the light of day, the divisive terminology largely used to differentiate between native and non-native Swiss citizens persists and can, for many Swiss with a migration background, be a hard pill to swallow.

What’s in a word?

The term Eidgenosse means different things to different people and is by no means accompanied by a negative connotation at all times. To some Swiss, it simply serves as a reference for outstanding Swiss wrestlers. To others, it describes nothing more than a down-to-earth Swiss citizen – of any background. Still others associate the term with an old army bicycle, or even a local pub. Yet, perhaps unsurprisingly, the use of the term Eidgenosse is particularly favoured in extreme right-wing and nationalistic circles and hence runs the risk of reinforcing an already-existing distinction between the “true Swiss” and everyone else.

Today, the distinction is often used in certain circles and in rural Switzerland, where a few select people have taken it upon themselves to divide Swiss citizens even further.

More specifically, they have introduced an unofficial three-level division, which differentiates not only between native and non-native Swiss, but divides citizens into three categories: Secondos (naturalised Swiss), Swiss (naturalised for at least two generations and fluent in a Swiss dialect), and lastly, Eidgenossen (Swiss citizens on Swiss soil since the beginning of their family chronicle). The latter is nearly impossible to prove.

Meanwhile, linguistics suggest that a term such as Eidgenosse, meant to differentiate between people, is usually born whenever a need for such a differentiation arises, be it increased crime rates, concealment of mass immigration or wage dumping. However, it is commonly understood that these divisive terms should never become a fixed part of common usage.

A ‘typically Swiss’ dog breed: the Bernese mountain dog. (Photo by Alexandra Lau on Unsplash)

Whenever I hear the word Eidgenosse, I think of the year 1291, when, according to legend, the three confederates of Central Switzerland – Uri, Schwyz and Nidwalden – founded the Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft with the Rütli oath. Those three gentleman and their kinsmen and women born before 1798, when Napoleon destroyed the Old Confederation, are the sole claimants to the title Eidgenosse. Everyone else should be judged on a case by case basis – preferably with DNA papers to hand.

As for me, I consider myself as Swiss as they come. I was born in Switzerland, grew up here, my closest friends are Swiss, I speak German and French without so much as a hint of an accent, I am most at home speaking in Aargauerdüütsch, enjoyed my education here, work here, take part in Swiss traditions and celebrations, and fulfil all other civic duties expected of a Swiss citizen. I even adopted two Bernese Mountain Dogs for good measure. Yet, whenever my maiden name comes up in conversation – Micić – I am treated as an outsider. Non-Swiss. It is a reality I’ve come to live with, though I shouldn’t have to.

To return to my question from before, when is one considered truly Swiss? Well, to keep it simple: when one feels Swiss and that is entirely up to you.

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