A few weeks ago, nineteen year old Sandra Marjanovic from Volketswil (ZH) was elected Miss Zürich 2012. Straight after the election, an article about the beauty queen appeared on the online version of Tages-Anzeiger. I expected to see reader comments about whether beauty pageants are something positive or negative, or debating whether the new Miss Zurich should be blonde, taller or have a more pronounced cleavage! I was obviously wrong. Sadly, it was comments about Sandra Marjanovic’s origin that prevailed. I was shocked and alarmed to see that a great proportion of the newspaper’s readership seems to believe that people with a different cultural background other are second-class citizens, not “true” Swiss – whatever that may be anyway. (This is especially true for the Balkan countries; in Switzerland the ending –ic sets many people into a state of alert.)
Such comments got me thinking: in our supposedly enlightened times, how is it that there are still people who do not understand and appreciate that Switzerland IS a multicultural society that does not only consist of Heidis, Peters and Renzo Blumenthals – and that it will continue to be, whether one likes it or not? Wouldn’t it be wiser to stop the scaremongering, and the scapegoating of particular cultural (and religious) groups – be it people from the Balkans, the Italians, the Muslims, or the Germans – and start focusing on Switzerland’s real issues?
For instance, there was recently a heated debate on the online version of Tages-Anzeiger about a Bosnian couple who committed social benefit fraud to the amount of 430’000 CHF. Once more, commenters on the article chose to focus on the couple’s origin. Towards the end of this article, the reporter mentions an SVP-politician who committed the same crime (36’000 CHF, in her case). Crucially, the journalist gave less space to the case of the politician, a Swiss national who belongs to the very party that most heavily denounces the abuse of social benefits.
I found it disturbing that so much emphasis was placed on the origins of the couple in question. Does it really matter where the culprits come from? Shouldn’t we be more concerned with asking how we might prevent such cases in the future, instead of continuously blaming the “evil other”? Rather than focusing on the couple’s Bosnian background, shouldn’t there be more of an outcry against the SVP-politician who has abused her position of trust and power?
Perhaps the best way to end this article is to mention one of the most successful Swiss movies of all time, Die Schweizermacher (“The Swissmakers”, 1978). The film is about two Swiss clerks who handle incoming foreigners wishing to become Swiss citizens, and the multiculturalism in Switzerland. Even though it first appeared more than 30 years ago, it has not lost any of its relevance for today. I would highly recommend its insights into the development of multicultural Switzerland and the question of what “makes a Swiss”!