Top news from our partner swissinfo

  • Pursuing a degree after fleeing to Switzerland

    Sun, 25 Jun 2017 10:00:00 GMT

    We follow a refugee from Zimbabwe getting his first taste of Swiss university life through a new "discovery semester" offering. 

  • A photographic journey into the unknown

    Sat, 24 Jun 2017 09:00:00 GMT

    In April 2013, Swiss photographers Nico Krebs and Taiyo Onorato, who have worked together for more than 12 years, jumped into an old Land Cruiser and headed east. They had a rough route and stops in mind, with the final destination being Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia.  It was a real expedition, a departure into the mystical kingdom of the East: Eurasia, Central Asia, the foothills of the Himalayas, the forests of Siberia, the various “Stan” republics, the gigantic breadth of the former Soviet Union. They covered half a continent, a land mass of which only a few images have stuck in our heads.  The countries and regions they visited are undergoing a shift from the Silk Road, post-communism and religious, territorial and ethic turmoil to the pressing desire to become part of global capitalism. This search for identity is palpable and is reflected in the photo album Continental Drift.  The images also describe a journey along the border between documentation and fiction. The ...

  • The imam who guides Muslims in Swiss prisons

    Fri, 23 Jun 2017 09:00:00 GMT

    An imam has been counselling Muslim prisoners for nearly 25 years in several Swiss prisons, long before Islamic terror and radicalisation became widespread issues. Today, they are frequent topics of conversation in his sessions with inmates. One of the prisons where he works is located in the centre of the Swiss capital city Bern and can accommodate 126 inmates. It is currently at capacity. Most prisoners are awaiting trial, serving a sentence or in detention pending deportation. The women are on the first floor, the men are on the second through fifth floors. Those who stand accused of having committed terrorist offences are also regularly imprisoned here. Four out of five prisoners are foreigners, and almost a third are Muslim. For the most part, they are able to practice their faith in prison. “In general we respect the prayer times,” says Monika Kummer, the prison director, who greets visitors and inmates alike with a kind word or smile. “But in urgent situations, for ...

  • Politician targets old age pensioners abroad

    Fri, 23 Jun 2017 14:44:00 GMT

    A proposal to cut old age pensions for beneficiaries living outside Switzerland has caused a public uproar. The debate on a reform of the state pension scheme, ahead of a vote in September, promises to be heated. The Swiss old age pension system is under pressure - the number of beneficiaries keeps growing but there are fewer contributors, causing the risk of a serious deficit. The proposal to cut the pensions of people living abroad comes from the Petra Gössi, the head of centre-right Radical Party, one of the main political parties in Switzerland. It would not only target the around 360,000 workers from Italy, Spain and Portugal who have spent a good part of their active professional lives in Switzerland, often in lowly-paid jobs, and have gone back to their countries of origin for retirement, but also the Swiss abroad community. “Old age pensioners living abroad don’t create value. They neither pay any taxes nor do they spend money [in Switzerland],” she is quoted as saying ...

  • Swiss abroad keep yodelling tradition alive

    Fri, 23 Jun 2017 14:39:00 GMT

    Some people will go an awfully long way to yodel: the “Wildrose” yodel club, for example, has come all the way from Canada to take part in this weekend’s Federal Yodelling Festival in Brig-Glis, canton Valais. (Julie Hunt, swissinfo.ch) The Wildrose club was formed in Alberta 20 years ago by ten Swiss emigrants. Now there are 15 members of all ages and from all walks of life, some of them second generation Swiss.  Ahead of the festival, the group, together with the local Riederalp yodel club, gathered for a sing-song on the Eggishorn, overlooking the Aletsch glacier. swissinfo.ch talked to some of the Wildrose members about why they love Canada, what they miss about Switzerland, and whether it’s important to keep Swiss traditions alive when living abroad.  Yodelling almost died out in Switzerland when cheese production moved from the mountains to the valleys. Alpine herdsmen and dairymen used to yodel to keep each other posted with the latest news or to drive cattle home, at a ...

  • Explore 150 years of global warming data in Switzerland

    Fri, 23 Jun 2017 12:14:00 GMT

    Global warming naturally comes to mind as a topic for reflection while Switzerland swelters in a Europe-wide heatwave. To help inform our thinking about this, swissinfo.ch compiled more than 150 years of Swiss temperature data in graphics. It illustrates both the changing climate and hotter temperatures in Switzerland in recent decades.  The Swiss meteorological office, MeteoSwiss, said it expected to record at least eight days of extraordinary temperatures in June 2017, compared to an average of two over recent past decades.  The animated graphic below shows how the monthly average temperatures in Switzerland evolved over the past century and a half. An interactive graphic afterward lets users explore the data year by year.  Since the 1980s, temperatures have risen markedly and since remained at a high level. Rising average temperature for all of Switzerland is clearly evident when looking at the deviation in yearly temperature against the 1981-2010 average.  ​​​​​​​

  • Highest bridge in Europe opens

    Fri, 23 Jun 2017 12:00:00 GMT

    June 22 marks the official opening of the Tamina Bridge, the highest in Europe, connecting the Swiss villages of Pfäfers and Valens in canton St Gallen. (SRF/swisisnfo.ch) The two-lane asymmetrical concrete arch towers 200 metres above the valley. The 417-metre-long bridge took five years to build and cost CHF56 million ($57.5 million). It provides a safer winter route from Valens to Bad Ragaz. The old road, the Valenserstrasse, is prone to rockslides.  The bridge also provides easy access to Valens for firefighters from Pfäfers. It used to take them 30 minutes to arrive – a church once almost burnt down because of the delay. It's a plus for schoolchildren as well, who no longer have a 40km bus journey to cross the valley; it takes ten minutes by bike across the bridge.  More than 1km of new cantonal road had to be built to serve the bridge. In order to reduce the environmental impact, a natural forest reserve is being created, streams are being revitalised and crossings ...

  • Building peace with rock bands, orchestras, and theatre

    Thu, 22 Jun 2017 09:00:00 GMT

    Could art and culture be the future tools of diplomats and peacebuilders? A Swiss woman’s initiative is helping to make it happen, step by step. People have long turned to stories, painting, music and theatre as a way of coping with hardship and fear. But when it comes to conflict mediation, art is often held at arm’s length, seen as a cultural asset not to be confused with the “real work” that goes on behind closed doors. Lea Suter founded the PeacePrints initiative to show that art can play more of a role in the areas of conflict resolution and peacebuilding. Suter, who comes from Switzerland, wants to show that cultural activities are not merely “decorations” for mediation processes but can be “active tools and agents of peace processes themselves”. Sitting outside the Palais des Nations where she is currently working on a mandate for the United Nations, Suter recalls a recent trip to Kosovo where she visited the School of Rock in the city of Mitrovica. There, young people ...

  • ‘I can’t afford to come back home for holidays’

    Thu, 22 Jun 2017 13:20:00 GMT

    Due to high prices and a strong franc, some Swiss abroad say they can no longer afford to come home to visit on holidays. A clear theme emerged from comments following a recent article by swissinfo.ch. The piece, which examined the reasons for Switzerland’s current difficulties in attracting tourists, provoked a barrage of commentary on Facebook. Sky-high prices were the main reason tourists gave for shunning the country: even Swiss expats complained of not being able to visit their homeland. Here we present a selection. Regretful expats J.H.: “As a Swiss woman living abroad, I could never come on holiday to my home country if my father wasn’t still living there. When he’s gone, I think that the other members of the family won’t be able to host us, financially. I find it a shame, because I am constantly losing ties with Switzerland, just like my children are, too.” H.U.: “Switzerland is simply too expensive. It makes me crazy to see the prices. I can no longer holiday in ...

  • Re-visiting a refugee centre

    Thu, 22 Jun 2017 15:00:00 GMT

    Tama Vakeesan was born in Switzerland – to Tamil parents from Sri Lanka. The family fled war-torn Colombo, and started life in Switzerland at the Roggwil refugee centre in Oberaargau, canton Bern. Tama and her older brother, Yathu, visit a similar centre for asylum-seekers, also in Oberaargau, and relive their own childhood. (SRF Kulturplatz/swissinfo.ch)

  • How long do foreigners stay in Switzerland?

    Wed, 21 Jun 2017 15:00:00 GMT

    Switzerland has one of the highest proportions of foreign residents in the world. Around 40% of them were born in Switzerland or have lived in the country for over 20 years.  One-third of Swiss residents are of foreign origin. This figure includes people who immigrated to Switzerland, or whose parents moved here.  A closer look at permanent residents’ nationalities shows that around one quarter of the population is non-Swiss. This is one of the highest proportions in the world. More than a third of these foreign residents were born in Switzerland or have lived here for more than two decades. The graphic below breaks down the length of residence in Switzerland by nationality. Over 60% of foreign residents from Italy, Turkey and the former Yugoslav states of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Macedonia and Kosovo were born in Switzerland or moved here over 20 years ago.   Meanwhile, Germans, French, English and Polish residents stay in Switzerland for much shorter ...

  • Is Swiss healthcare working?

    Wed, 21 Jun 2017 09:00:00 GMT

    The Swiss healthcare system is reputed to be one of the best in the world. But in an era where health care is a subject of debate in many countries, we ask if the Swiss system is working for those on moderate to low incomes, as well as for the rich. The Euro health consumer index 2016 ranks Switzerland second out of 35 countries after The Netherlands in terms of overall indicators. It describes the system as “excellent, although expensive”. But health insurance premiums, paid to private companies, are now the second most common cause of indebtedness in Switzerland after tax, and these premiums have been rising every year. “When I lost one of my part-time jobs, my health insurance premium suddenly accounted for 20% of my small salary and I was in financial trouble,” says François (not his real name), a 44-year-old single Swiss man with a university education, currently living in Lausanne.  “Our system built on solidarity has become perverted. It is no longer for the users but for ...

  • Making money from yodelling

    Wed, 21 Jun 2017 10:01:00 GMT

    While some people find yodelling a cacophony of clichés and others consider it a living art form, it is a welcome business opportunity for the people of canton Valais, where the National Yodelling Festival will be held this year. (SRF, swissinfo.ch) The National Yodelling Festival is organised by the Swiss Yodelling Association and takes place every three years in a different location in Switzerland. It is the climax of a series of local yodelling festivals. The Swiss Yodelling Association was founded in 1910 in Bern. Among its activities are training, courses, publications and organising national competitions for yodelling, alphorn playing and flag throwing – all Swiss customs that will feature at this year’s event. The first official National Yodelling Festival was held in Basel in 1924. This year will see the 30th edition held in Brig from June 22-25. Up to 15,000 yodellers, flag throwers and alphorn blowers will be cheered on by an enthusiastic crowd of an expected 150,000 ...

  • The nuts and bolts of integration

    Tue, 20 Jun 2017 09:00:00 GMT

    Ropes, lightbulbs and a power drill are the small tools that could catapult migrants into the Swiss workforce.  Peppering his explanations with useful adverbs and prepositions, a lively man in a yellow polo shirt demonstrates how to measure and sort different types of screws. His encouraging manner seems to have a magnetic effect on a group of asylum seekers eager to absorb what they can – knowing that these little pieces of metal could be the key to a brighter future. This is a special integration workshop at Förderschmiede, a private language and business school in Bern. For the past two years, the school has been collaborating with aid groups like Red Cross and Caritas as well as the migration authorities in the nearby city of Thun, for example. These partners send asylum seekers into the classroom to learn German – from Monday to Friday, for two-and-a-half hours a day. The tuition is covered by canton Bern.  But occasionally, a special integration workshop like this one ...

  • The ‘slightly different’ Alpine festival

    Tue, 20 Jun 2017 14:51:00 GMT

    Aymann, a Syrian refugee, deftly flips his opponent into the sawdust. But the opponent just manages to turn and land on his stomach rather than his back, which would have meant losing. Urged on by the audience, Aymann tries to turn him over but can’t. Both begin to laugh. They stand up and try again.  Swiss wrestling, known as Schwingen, is one of the many customs that the church charity HEKS wants to introduce to refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea or Sri Lanka who live in Switzerland.  Swiss traditions are explained and passed by professionals and well-known figures, for example champion wrestlers, alphorn players and yodellers.  The highlight of this campaign took place on June 17, National Refugee Day in Switzerland: an old-school Alpine festival outside Bern train station. People yodelled, threw flags, played traditional card game Jass and blew alphorns.  The 700 or so visitors celebrated not only old Swiss traditions, but also intercultural dialogue and solidarity. 

  • Why the vote in the Swiss town of Moutier was historic

    Tue, 20 Jun 2017 12:22:00 GMT

    It may have been just a local ballot, but it marked a decisive stage in a long-term Swiss territorial conflict. Here’s why the town of Moutier’s June 18 vote to join canton Jura will go down in history. In brief, democracy, citizens’ consultation and participation were able to solve a drawn-out conflict through mainly peaceful means. Sunday’s decision by local voters means that the municipality of Moutier, a town of 7,000 residents in the Jura region, will be able to secede from canton Bern and join neighbouring canton Jura – more than 200 years after European powers redrew the map of Switzerland at the 1815 Vienna Congress. Over the years, the creation of new borders and new cantons has had far-reaching consequences for many residents in this remote region of northwestern Switzerland. The minority group of Catholic French-speakers long felt they were treated unfairly by the powerful Protestant and German-speaking majority in canton Bern. Escalation The simmering conflict ...

  • Why Swiss watch repairs are becoming a pain

    Mon, 19 Jun 2017 09:00:00 GMT

    Even a Swiss-brand watch will not run forever. Nowadays, minor repairs can be very expensive or take months because many specialist watchmakers no longer receive spare parts from Swiss manufacturers.  If your Mercedes breaks down anywhere in the world, you don’t need to send it to the factory in Stuttgart. You can confidently take it to an authorised dealer in your area.  But what is common practice in the car industry no longer works for some Swiss-brand watches: the specialist shop in Shanghai, Brussels or Zurich where you bought your Breitling, Omega or Cartier can no longer repair your luxury chronometer themselves. It's due to a breakdown in a once-cooperative relationship between manufacturers and retailers.  “The retail trade is being excluded from repairs,” complains the owner of an established Bernese watch retailer, who wants to remain anonymous. “Certain brand manufacturers no longer supply spare parts but require that the watches be sent to the brand workshop, even ...

  • For sale: a decommissioned military nuclear bunker

    Mon, 19 Jun 2017 15:15:00 GMT

    For sale: desirable mid-20th century mountain residence, central Switzerland (underground). All mod cons, including electromagnetic pulse protection, dark fibre network connection and air filtration system. Sleeps 1,500.  The London surveyors Griffiths Eccles recently got in touch about their latest big-ticket instruction: a decommissioned military nuclear bunker in the Swiss mountains, suited for "hyper-secure" storage, a data centre, disaster recovery, research or a "personal bunker" - subject, of course, to planning permission.  The range of potential uses speaks to the paranoia of the moment and indeed, Griffiths Eccles says it is currently sifting through a large stack of expressions of interest. Your casual nuclear bunker enthusiast need not apply: potential purchasers must demonstrate the capacity to spend £25m (CHF31 million) before they can receive any further information, including any details of the bunker's location.  The 15,000 square metre (161,000 square foot) ...

  • Swiss must raise human rights issues in Astana

    Mon, 19 Jun 2017 09:16:00 GMT

    Human rights activists are concerned about the mixed messages that may come when Swiss political leaders appear at the Expo 2017 in Kazakhstan. This summer Kazakhstan is the first Central Asian country to host a world fair, Expo 2017 Astana, dedicated to the energy of the future. The expo, which opened on June 10, has so far not been subject to much mention or debate in Swiss or other European media. Nevertheless, a public debate would be warranted seeing as Switzerland’s president, along with the foreign and finance ministers, will travel to the expo on official visits this summer, and thus risk lending legitimacy to an authoritarian regime that regularly violates human rights. Whereas European media largely have remained silent about the expo, the event is given considerable coverage by state-controlled media in Kazakhstan, where readers and viewers can marvel at the dazzling architectonic feats (and costs) of the expo site. The showcased grandiose nature of the expo ...

  • Juggling motherhood, German lessons and political activism

    Sun, 18 Jun 2017 09:00:00 GMT

    American lawyer Alexandra Dufresne taught public policy and worked to protect the rights of refugees and children. A year after moving to Switzerland she’s part of a multinational group taking action to protect American and Swiss values. She tells her story to Jeannie Wurz, in the second of a series of profiles of US expats. Our family moved to Switzerland in 2016 for my husband’s job. We came to Zurich from New Haven, Connecticut, where my husband and I both taught at Yale. We met there as undergrads. I actually grew up in Atlanta, and my husband and I have lived in many American cities. We’ve lived in Chicago, Washington, DC, Nashville, Boston. The main reason we came was so that my husband could have an excellent career and yet still have time for the family. We have three children, 10, 8, and 6 years old. Back in the US he was always under a tremendous amount of pressure and stress. Here we have so much more time together as a family. The culture of work and family balance ...

  • Healthcare costs, watch repairs and a new kind of peacebuilding

    Sun, 18 Jun 2017 10:00:00 GMT

    Here are some of the stories we will feature in the week beginning June 19. Monday If your Swiss watch breaks, it is becoming less likely that you’ll be able to get it fixed in the shop where you bought it. We look at the reasons why. Tuesday We visit an integration workshop in Bern where asylum seekers learn German and get advice about the job market. Wednesday Does the Swiss healthcare system – often ranked among the best in the world – really work for everyone? We take an in-depth look at the winners and losers of this system, where high premiums are leaving more and more people in debt. Thursday We catch up with Swiss artist Lea Suter in the middle of her yearlong odyssey around the world where she is visiting areas affected by violence and gathering stories from local artists. ​Her initiative is a new type of grassroots conflict resolution based on cultural exchange rather than high-level diplomacy. Friday We profile an imam who has long provided ...

  • From refugee to lawyer

    Sat, 17 Jun 2017 09:00:00 GMT

    Seth Médiateur Tuyisabe arrived in Switzerland as a refugee at the age of nine. Now he is taking exams to become a lawyer. This is his story. Civil war started in Burundi in 1993, and an attempt was made on the life of Seth’s father, a bank employee, who was forced to flee. He went to Switzerland, where fellow members of a Catholic community provided shelter. Back in Burundi, a close friend was blown up and killed by a road mine while using the family car. Seth, his mother and siblings managed to get the last flight out of the country. They fled to Cameroon, where they stayed for two years, before joining Seth’s father in Switzerland. After arriving here, they lived in various asylum centres before finally settling down in Lausanne. Coming from Burundi, they were amazed to see snow, a vast public transport network, people running for buses, public play parks, and the way in which some dogs are dressed up in clothes.  Seth had already learnt French in Cameroon, which was a ...

  • Prestigious art show with political edge

    Sat, 17 Jun 2017 13:00:00 GMT

    The international art world is meeting once again in the Swiss city of Basel, bringing together leading galleries and collectors of contemporary art. The three-day show focuses on the role of the artist in a world of political chaos. The prestigious event is primarily a highlight for wealthy collectors of contemporary art and the world's leading galleries, but it also attracts a broad public who come to admire the latest paintings, sculptures and installations. This year's show has a distinctly political edge and showcases works of art by Barbara Kruger, an American conceptual artist best known for laying aggressively direct slogans over black-and-white photographs. Sue Williamson denounces in her work slavery and xenophobia. She is part of a pioneering generation of South African artists in the 1970s who addressed social change under the apartheid regime. The 48th Art Basel, which opened its doors on Thursday, is expected to attract around 100,000 visitors over three days.

  • Wolves: welcome or worrying?

    Fri, 16 Jun 2017 09:00:00 GMT

    Every year, 4,000-6,000 Swiss sheep die after falling down mountains, becoming ill or being struck by lightning. In comparison, the number of sheep killed by wolves is small. Still, many are calling for canton Valais in south-western Switzerland to be a predator-free zone. Raised for meat, milk and wool, Swiss sheep numbered about 340,000 in 2016. Of these, 389 were killed by wolves. The Swiss wolf population is estimated at 30-35 individuals. Now a local initiative wants to eliminate species like wolf, bear and lynx – animals that are protected under the Bern Convention. We ask locals whether there’s room for the wolf in their backyards. (SRF/swissinfo.ch)

  • Didier Burkhalter: more success on global stage than at home

    Fri, 16 Jun 2017 13:09:00 GMT

    As the foreign minister and a former Swiss president, Didier Burkhalter has been an important bridge-builder between Russia, Iran and the West. As a Swiss cabinet member, the long-serving politician more often was an isolated figure. His surprise decision to retire in autumn after some 30 years in politics says more about the Swiss political landscape than might appear from the outside. Burkhalter, from the centre-right Radical Party that is one of the biggest in parliament and traditionally aligned with business, became a somewhat lonely cheerleader for Swiss integration within Europe. In his roles as president in 2014 and foreign minister since 2012, Burkhalter was a key player in easing the standoff over Tehran’s nuclear programme between Iran and five world powers. He also introduced some stability to the Ukraine crisis involving pro-Russian separatists. He held multiple mediation roles towards Moscow, trying to end war in Syria and resolve conflict in Georgia. The Ukraine ...

  • Hiking asylum seekers finish trek across Switzerland

    Fri, 16 Jun 2017 15:00:00 GMT

    Two asylum seekers from Afghanistan finished their “integration hike” around Switzerland, having covered more than 1000 km. (SRF, swissinfo.ch) Hamid and Mohammed are both 26 years-old and ethnic Hazaras. They fled war in their country in 2015. Hamid is a trained builder and Mohammed is a maths teacher. They are based at asylum centres in canton Aargau, and met playing football. The two set out on their odyssey on May 1 with a mission to get to know Switzerland and its people. They stayed at Swiss people’s homes and received gifts from them, such as hiking gear. They now want to encourage other asylum seekers to try and integrate, and learn about the country where they are seeking asylum.  At the end of the trek, Hamid Jafari said his favourite stop along the way was Valais, as the people there were so friendly. The trip ended at parliament, giving the two men the chance to find out how asylum decisions are made in Switzerland. 

  • Art Basel’s domination has some artists worried

    Wed, 14 Jun 2017 17:00:00 GMT

    With Art Basel now underway in Switzerland and also a fixture in Miami and Hong Kong, some feel the art fair’s massive global presence is endangering local markets. (SRF, swissinfo.ch) The three main Art Basel venues and their many fringe events are known for defining trends in the global art market.  "Art Basel today is a constant presence in the art world," says its director Marc Spiegler.  It's especially growing in Asia, where 70,000 people visited the Hong Kong event this year, a new record. But not all artists can afford to be part of the ever-more-influential Art Basel scene.

  • What’s the big deal about big data?

    Thu, 15 Jun 2017 09:00:00 GMT

    It’s a ubiquitous buzzword, but “big data” is about to bring a wealth of opportunities to Switzerland thanks to investments in research. Efforts are also underway to control the risks. A common definition of big data is based on “the four Vs”: volume, velocity, variety and value. In short, big data deals with extremely large amounts of digital information that are processed very rapidly, using many different sources and formats. This definition, used by Switzerland’s Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner (FDPIC), helps us to understand why a project trying to figure out how to update 3D models of cities in real time – a key requirement for self-driving cars – is all about big data. An effort to develop algorithms that can compress huge amounts of digital information, while still allowing it to be analysed accurately, is a little more obvious. Both of the projects above are among the 36 research ventures announced as part of a CHF25 million ($24.9 million) Swiss ...

  • Switzerland an island for roaming costs

    Wed, 21 Jun 2017 13:56:00 GMT

    Travelling Europeans planning to use their mobile phones in Switzerland might want to reconsider – and start using a hashtag like #DontCallMeInSwitzerland – starting on Thursday. That is because roaming charges for mobile phone users in the European Union, and soon afterwards for Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, the three other countries in the European Economic Area (EEA), will be able to “roam like at home” under new EU rules for data services, voice calls and SMS. Left out of the deal is non-EU, non-EEA Switzerland, resulting in roaming charges for Swiss mobile phone users and Europeans travellers alike. Here’s a quick glance at what the community of those with Swiss interests need to know: How we got here Many Europeans used to switch off their mobile phones while travelling. More than a decade ago, the European Commission began working to reduce the consumer price of roaming. In 2013, it proposed the legislation to end roaming charges which takes effect on Thursday.  ...

  • Me and my mum

    Thu, 15 Jun 2017 14:00:00 GMT

    Tama Vakeesan was born in Switzerland – to Tamil parents from Sri Lanka. Tama’s mum, who was a structural draughtswoman back home in Colombo, found a job as a cleaner in Switzerland. She has given up on attempts to arrange a marriage for her daughter. (SRF Kulturplatz/swissinfo.ch)

  • ‘Shy statesman’ Burkhalter receives mixed rating

    Thu, 15 Jun 2017 07:16:00 GMT

    The decision of Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter to step down at the end of October has surprised many in Switzerland – including the Swiss press. Assessments of his performance are divided.  “Didier Burkhalter, the lonely diplomat,” declared the Neue Zürcher Zeitung on Thursday, the day after the cabinet minister announced his resignation. “It’s as if this keen football fan played in two leagues simultaneously. In the Premier League, he was the diplomatic star, who was celebrated for his presidency of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in 2014 and whom the press imagined as possible successor to Ban Ki-moon at the United Nations.”  Then there was the second division player, who “suffered the war of the trenches in the cabinet, the repeated shots from the press and opposition from his own party”, the paper added.  Burkhalter, 57, announced on Wednesday that he would leave his cabinet post at the end of October as it was time to “write a new page in ...

  • Not a rose but a rhododendron

    Thu, 15 Jun 2017 15:00:00 GMT

    Immortalized by Swiss singer Polo Hofer, this flowering plant thrives just above the treeline in the Alps and in the Jura region.  The evergreen shrub – not actually a rose but a rhododendron – can grow up to a metre high, and it flowers from June through August. Its leaves have rusty spots on their undersides, hence the Latin name “Rhododendron ferrugineum”.  The rarer hairy alpenrose, “Rhododendron hirsutum”, is fuzzy and grows at higher elevations, often among limestone rocks and in and around forests. Its more elongated blossoms appear from May through July.  While it’s forbidden to pluck edelweiss or gentian, alpenrose flowers are plentiful and robust enough for picking. However, the blossoms as well as the leaves and seed pods are quite poisonous.  Pop culture  Swiss singer Polo Hofer released his song “Alperose” in 1985. Sung in Bernese dialect, it’s about a romantic summer night up on Blüemlisalp in the Bernese Oberland. It’s a regular feature on compilation albums, ...

  • Juggling motherhood, German lessons and political activism

    Sun, 18 Jun 2017 09:00:00 GMT

    American lawyer Alexandra Dufresne taught public policy and worked to protect the rights of refugees and children. A year after moving to Switzerland she’s part of a multinational group taking action to protect American and Swiss values. She tells her story to Jeannie Wurz, in the second of a series of profiles of US expats. Our family moved to Switzerland in 2016 for my husband’s job. We came to Zurich from New Haven, Connecticut, where my husband and I both taught at Yale. We met there as undergrads. I actually grew up in Atlanta, and my husband and I have lived in many American cities. We’ve lived in Chicago, Washington, DC, Nashville, Boston. The main reason we came was so that my husband could have an excellent career and yet still have time for the family. We have three children, 10, 8, and 6 years old. Back in the US he was always under a tremendous amount of pressure and stress. Here we have so much more time together as a family. The culture of work and family balance ...

  • Swiss aviation pioneer brings electric flights into present

    Wed, 14 Jun 2017 09:00:00 GMT

    Tiny all-electric planes that can take off and land vertically - this sci-fi future is not that far away, and Solar Impulse pilot and co-founder André Borschberg wants a slice of the action. His electric plane start-up is one of dozens of firms worldwide hoping to make electric aviation a reality.  Nine months after touching down from his round-the-world solar-electric flight, Borschberg is on a new mission.  “I’m convinced that we are at a turning point in the world of aviation,” he tells swissinfo.ch excitedly.  The Swiss pilot is returning to the skies with H55 (formerly Hangar 55), a small team of aviation specialists and aEro1, their experimental electric aerobatic plane (see video below). The company he co-founded is betting on a green aviation future (see infobox) and is currently testing the plane at Sion Airport in the Rhone valley. Borschberg and H55’s long-term aim is to build on their unique Solar Impulse expertise to develop electric propulsion technologies - from ...

  • Does Switzerland need a sovereign wealth fund?

    Wed, 14 Jun 2017 08:00:00 GMT

    Singapore has one, Norway has one, even Papua New Guinea has one – so why shouldn’t Switzerland also have a sovereign wealth fund (SWF)? The political argument, which appeared to have faded away a year ago, has raised its head once more. Yet another Swiss politician is poised to revive the SWF debate in parliament. Susanne Leutenegger Oberholzer, of the centre-left Social Democrats, has been telling the media that Switzerland needs a fund that can invest in technology start-ups – to protect these future crown jewels from Chinese takeover. Prominent economist, UBS bank’s Daniel Kalt, has also chipped in to the debate with a (slightly) new model for such a fund. He thinks capital should still come from the Swiss National Bank (SNB), but from its annual profits rather than the mountain of reserves it has built up defending the franc. Does Switzerland need a sovereign wealth fund? Economically, perhaps not. The country has long enjoyed steady growth without a SWF, even when the rest ...

  • Swiss open homes to hiking asylum seekers

    Wed, 14 Jun 2017 15:00:00 GMT

    Asylum seekers Hamid and Mohammed from Afghanistan are hiking across Switzerland as an exercise in integration. On this part of their journey, they share their stories with their first Swiss hosts. They have been in the spotlight because they are hiking around Switzerland as part of their attempts to integrate in their host country, and to make good use of their time while they are awaiting a decision on their asylum applications, as they are not allowed to work.  Their accommodation was organised through a social media campaign. Swiss people not only fed them and put them up overnight, but also gave them gifts. At their first stop in Sissach, canton Basel Country, they receive waterproof clothing, which helped them to brave sometimes hostile weather conditions. But only one of them is allowed to stay the night because of legal issues.  Hamid and Mohammed are both 26 years-old and ethnic Hazaras. They fled war in their country in 2015. Hamid is a trained builder and Mohammed is ...

  • Switzerland’s tourism conundrum

    Tue, 13 Jun 2017 09:00:00 GMT

    The Alps, lakes, villages and valleys of Switzerland have long earned it the reputation of a touristic paradise. So why are more visitors shunning it now? One thing is certain—the problem has nothing to do with the country’s image. The picturesque cliché of a stable, bucolic, beautiful nation persists, and a visit to Switzerland is on many people’s bucket list. Simon Anholt, a leading advisor of governments who has developed a system to measure national reputation, confirmed that Swiss standing in the eyes of the world remains excellent: the country has maintained a respectable eighth place in his global country rankings throughout the past decade. But such rankings will hardly come as consolation to Swiss hotel owners or ski resorts. Although tourist numbers are increasing worldwide, Switzerland continues to have a hard time attracting the crowds. Figures from the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) show that total numbers of arrivals to Switzerland stagnated in the period ...

  • All the ingredients for a Swiss civil war

    Tue, 13 Jun 2017 13:57:00 GMT

    Religion, language and a social divide: the conflict had all the elements for an escalation. Now the municipality of Moutier is voting on whether it wants to stay in the Canton of Bern or switch to Jura. This is the last act of the Jura question, which has largely been resolved both peacefully and democratically. "Swiss history did us a bit of a favour there,” says Wolf Linder, nearly 40 years after Swiss voters opted to create a new Canton of Jura in a nationwide vote. The conclusion of the former professor of politics at the University of Bern is a wake-up call. Did Switzerland, which had known nothing but peace within its borders since it was founded in 1848, narrowly avoid a civil war scenario before the historic vote in 1978? This article is part of #DearDemocracy, a platform on direct democracy issues from swissinfo.ch. Like every country, Linder recognizes, Switzerland is marked historically by conflict. Dividing lines were, and continue to be, the trenches of ...

  • From the mountains of Davos to a tiny Texas town

    Mon, 12 Jun 2017 09:00:00 GMT

    Yvette Meisser left Switzerland intending to move to Mexico, but instead ended up in small-town Texas. Life is very different from the Alps, but she says she could never go back to her homeland.  “We don’t want to go back to Switzerland,” says the divorcée with three young children. “We couldn’t go back”. Meisser, 41, was born in Davos. Today, she’s sitting at a Starbucks in Huntsville, Texas, about an hour’s drive from Houston. She’s using the free WiFi to speak via Skype, since a storm caused a pine tree to fall on the power lines leading into the woods near the small nearby town of Trinity where she and her children live a secluded life. Meisser has gone to all this trouble to share her story because, she says, “if it could help someone muster up the courage to go abroad and start a new life, I’d be happy”. Two traffic lights Tiny Trinity has just two sets of traffic lights, which suits Meisser and her children - Ian, 17, Noelle, 16, and Diogo, 14 - just fine. They share ...

  • A hike across Switzerland to promote integration

    Tue, 30 May 2017 15:00:00 GMT

    Hamid and Mohammed from Afghanistan have been described as Switzerland's most famous asylum seekers because they are hiking across the country. They are journeying across Switzerland on foot as part of their attempt to integrate in their host country, and to make good use of their time while they are awaiting a decision on their asylum applications as they are not allowed to work.  Hamid Jasfari and Mohammed Rasuli are both 26 years old and ethnic Hazaras. They fled war in their country in 2015. Hamid is a trained builder and Mohammed was a maths teacher in his native Afghanistan. They are based at asylum centres in canton Aargau and met playing football. As both are sporty and undertook much of their 7000- kilometre (4350-mile) journey from Afghanistan to Switzerland on foot, the prospect of hiking 30 kilometres per day was not too daunting. Their mission is to get to know their host country and its inhabitants, and represent asylum seekers in a positive way.  Their ...

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