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COVID-19

Six things the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us about Switzerland

A person’s — or nation’s — true character is often revealed in time of crisis. In many ways, the pandemic has shown how the Swiss tick when a disaster strikes.

Six things the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us about Switzerland
Only persuasion has been used in Switzerland's vaccination campaign. Valentin FLAURAUD / AFP

Though the Swiss have a reputation of being set in their ways, it turns out they can also be flexible, pragmatic, and adapt to new circumstances amazingly well.

Here are six things the pandemic has revealed about Switzerland and its people. Do you agree? There may be more. Share your own views in the comments section below.

Even in times of crisis, the Swiss go to the ballot box

You’d think that in the midst of a pandemic, the country’s legendary direct democracy would be temporarily put on a back burner.

But no.

In September 2020, when the number of infections in Switzerland was skyrocketing, the Federal Council implemented an emergency legislation, the  Covid-19 Act, which would allow the government to manage the pandemic more extensively than it could under the already existing law.

Among other “powers”, the Act gives authorities the ability to curtail public life (for instance, by imposing various bans and restrictions), to manufacture and distribute Covid vaccines, and to give financial aid to hard-hit businesses and employees.

However, the association called “Friends of the Constitution” filed a referendum against  the Covid-19 Act, saying the legislation gives the authorities too much political power that is not necessary to manage the pandemic.

Swiss people finally resolved the highly contentious issue the way they always do: in a referendum held on June 13th of this year, 60.2 percent of voters approved the emergency legislation. 

Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

In a crisis, the Swiss believe in solidarity

That’s why when the Federal Council ordered a six-week-long confinement in March 2020, along with the shutdown of all non-essential businesses, the Swiss complied with the drastic measures with hardly a squeak.

During this difficult time, they showed community spirit and social responsibility, putting the common good above their own interests.

As Health Minister Alain Berset summed it up, “Switzerland owes its stability to the constant search for a path acceptable to all. This approach proved its worth during the crisis.”

They assert their independence

Even though Switzerland followed many of the European Union’s coronavirus restrictions, such as closure of borders, in other areas it opted to chart its own path — literally and figuratively.

Last winter, while neighbour countries closed their ski areas to curtail the spread of the virus, Switzerland kept its mountain resorts open, stating defiantly that “the Federal Council, the authorities and the tourism industry are convinced that the Swiss way is right”.

By the same token, while nearby nations implemented strict rules which included curfews and restrictions on the distance people could travel from their homes, Switzerland  had none of these measures in place.

This relative laxity has prompted a German  tabloid, Bild, to call Switzerland  a “coronavirus paradise”.

“What is allowed in Switzerland and what is not fits on a beer mat” the tabloid wrote.

Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

The Swiss economy is resilient

Even though the health crisis had plunged Switzerland’s economic activity into a “historic” 8.2-percent slump in 2020, the country still managed to have the world’s most resilient economy, according to research by an insurance and reinsurance company Swiss Re. 

Because of this robustness, Switzerland has managed to rebound faster than many other countries.

Also regarding employment prospects, KOF Economic Institute is predicting “strong job growth in the coming months”, including in the manufacturing and hospitality sectors, which have been significantly impacted by the pandemic.

READ MORE: ANALYSIS: What has Switzerland done right and wrong in managing the Covid pandemic?

Covid deniers: ‘Röstigraben’ is a real thing

Even though last September Berset  said that the country’s coronavirus skeptic movement, which is highly critical of vaccines and masks, had been “imported from abroad”, he got his geography wrong.

Mostly Swiss activists are behind the movement in Switzerland, though it turned out that deniers are much more vociferous in the Swiss-German part than in the French or Italian speaking regions.

“I have little sympathy for the current tendency to deny the virus, which is causing much suffering worldwide, and even accuse the authorities of dictatorial behaviour. That is absurd. Switzerland is one of the more liberal countries when it comes to corona measures,” Berset declared.

Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

Swiss don’t like being told what to do

As The Local recently reported, when it comes vaccines, the government prefers the strategy of persuasion rather than obligation — even for those whose jobs bring them in close contact with vulnerable people.

From the cultural point of view, Swiss people value highly their civil liberties, which include the constitutional right to “self-determination” — the freedom to choose one’s own destiny, including vaccination.

As a Geneva daily, Le Temps, recently wrote in its editorial, “In Switzerland we will never see [president] Guy Parmelin haranguing the people and summoning them to be vaccinated. It is absolutely not in Swiss DNA. Here, we must take into account the different cantonal, cultural or societal sensitivities. The injunction does not work”.

To date, about 48 percent of Switzerland’s population is fully vaccinated — the rate that is lower than in most neighbour countries.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Why Switzerland rejects obligatory vaccinations for some professions

Can you think of other things Covid-19 has taught us about Switzerland? If so, contact us at [email protected]

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UNDERSTANDING THE SWISS

From ogres to hermits: 11 weird facts that show Switzerland is truly unique

With Swiss National Day upon us on August 1st, this is a good time to explore some unusual and fascinating - though perhaps not widely known - facts about Switzerland.

From ogres to hermits: 11 weird facts that show Switzerland is truly unique

The mere mention of August 1st likely conjures up images of the beautiful Rütli meadow, where Switzerland’s foundations were reportedly laid in 1291.

This was when representatives from Uri, Schwyz and Nidwalden signed the Federal Charter promising to “assist each other by every means possible against one and all who may inflict on them violence or injustice within their valleys and without”.

And the rest, as the saying goes, is history.

However, beyond this story that defines the beginnings of Switzerland, there are other, though lesser known, historical and cultural aspects of this country’s past and present that are worth looking at as the country celebrates its 731st birthday.

Here’s a compilation of some curious, unusual and interesting facts, as well as typically Swiss quirks and oddities.

Switzerland has a pyramid

Everyone knows that Alps occur naturally in Switzerland, but you don’t expect to find a pyramid here.

While it is not at all like its namesakes in Egypt — for one, it is a wonder of nature rather than man-made — the Swiss pyramid, called the Niesen, forms a perfectly geometric peak.

Unattached to other mountains in the Bernese Alps where it lives, it stands alone, scenically overlooking the Thun Lake. You can see it here.

Satanic chicken

According to a book titled “A Pilgrim’s Almanac”, in 1471 a chicken in Basel laid a colourful egg.

The townsfolk immediately accused the poor bird of being possessed by the devil and burned it at the stake (that was before barbecues were invented).

Is this how the term ‘devilled eggs’ originate? We are not sure.

Fish with rights

Fast-forward to the 21st century and various animal welfare laws.

In fact, a Zurich lawyer, Antoine Goetschel, dedicated his career to defending animal rights in court.

He made headlines in 2010, when he represented a 22-pound pike that he claimed suffered when a local fisherman roughly yanked it for 10 minutes before pulling it from icy waters of Lake Zurich.

Fishing for trouble? Photo: Pexels

Lobsters with rights

By the same token, in 2018 Switzerland passed a law making it illegal to boil a live lobster, deeming this practice cruel, as lobsters apparently feel pain.

Instead, this legislation, the first of its kind in the world, calls for a more humane death by “rendering lobsters unconscious” before tossing them into scalding water.

Monkeys with rights

Alright, so it might appear a trend is emerging here, but in 2022 the Swiss canton of Basel City went to the polls to vote on a referendum topic to give primates rights

Voters however were not monkeying around, dismissing the idea by a 75 percent majority. 

Bern ogre

As The Local reported, Switzerland’s capital city has a scary Kindlifresserbrunnen,  which translates literally as the Fountain of the Eater of Little Children.

“Perhaps even more concerning is that nobody knows much about the statue, least of all why it’s eating a naked baby – and presumably planning on eating a few more out of the bulging sack”. 

There are several theories which attempt to explain what the statue is actually supposed to represent. Some are kooky, while others are incredibly problematic. 

A major theory is that the statue is a representation of the Krampus, a mythical creature across much of German-speaking Europe who comes out at Christmas time to punish the kids that have been misbehaving – although we’re not exactly sure how a kid is supposed to learn his or her lesson by being eaten. 

There’s trouble in Bern. Photo: Mike Lehmann – Wikicommons, CC BY-SA 3.0

READ MORE : The Swiss capital Bern has a statue of an ogre eating babies and nobody knows why

A woman town crier

After over 600 years of night watchmen, a woman’s voice now resounds loud and clear over Lausanne. 

Since she was hired for the job in August 2021, the watchwoman has been announcing the hours every night between 10 pm and 2 am from the bell tower of the city’s imposing Gothic cathedral, a landmark overlooking the roofs of the picturesque Old Town.

READ MORE: After 600 years of night watchmen, Lausanne gets first watchwoman

‘Bünzli’

The term Bünzli is a Swiss-German insult to describe a particular type of person who is set in their ways, is narrow-minded and tries desperately hard to hang onto tradition.

They are fussy, fastidious, stodgy, and invariably dull rule- sticklers.

Curiously enough, there are no equivalent characters in the French or Italian part of Switzerland — make of it what you will. 

This article describes in more detail what a Bünzli is:

Reader question: What is Switzerland’s ‘Bünzli’ and how do I spot one?

Not a Bünzli, but a hermit

In 2016, the town of Solothurn advertised a job vacancy for a hermit to live a solitary existence in a secluded cave-like cabin near a gorge.

His job description : take care of nearby chapel and dispense wisdom to tourists.

Former policeman Michael Daum snagged the position that has existed since the 15th century. By all accounts, he is not a Bünzli.

Love of cow bells church clocks

The Swiss have a special fondness for hearing the sound of cow bells and chiming of church clocks in the tower — no matter how loud, how frequent, and how late at night.

People — who often just happen to be foreigners — complaining about the lack of sleep due to incessant noise are ostracised and denied Swiss citizenship.

These silence-seeking individuals can always apply for jobs as hermits.

The chiming of a church clock makes the Swiss happy. Image by Alexa from Pixabay 

READ MORE: ‘Annoying’ anti-cowbell campaigner denied Swiss passport

Cows rule

The Swiss love their cows, with or without bells around their necks.

They combine this love of cattle with their penchant for keeping statistics. This way they know how many cows there are in Switzerland: approximately 1.5 million.

Not only that, but they also know what names are most popular among bovines : the top five are Fiona, Diana, Bella, Bianca and Nina.

No, that is not weird at all.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Why are cows so important in Switzerland?

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