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“You always remain Swiss”
Davide Wüthrich grew up in Italy and recently moved to Lausanne. An interview with the President of the Youth Parliament of the Swiss Abroad on the topic of “The Swiss at home and abroad – one world”.
The theme of the next Congress of the Swiss Abroad is “The Swiss at home and abroad – one world”. One key aspect is how the Swiss diaspora see Switzerland from outside. You grew up in Italy. Do you think the Swiss in Italy see their native country differently to their compatriots at home?
Yes and no. People who were born and grew up abroad definitely see Switzerland in a different way from those born there. People who have lived in Switzerland have clear memories of it based on first-hand experience whereas those who haven’t got this experience get to know it through what their parents tell them, by talking to relatives, watching films, taking part in Swiss society activities and occasional summer holidays, as in my case. This gives us the impression that we know it almost like a work of art by Monet or Seurat. From a distance we are able to appreciate it in its entirety and form an overall view of it, but when we get close to it we realise that not everything is as we thought.
You recently moved to Lausanne. Has your personal view of Switzerland changed since moving there?
Returning to Switzerland has given me the opportunity to see how the impressions I had compare with day-to-day reality. I realised that Switzerland was much more than chocolate, Toblerone, banks and cheese with holes in, as people abroad think, but rather a nation with tremendous potential. Personally, I always worried that the Swiss lifestyle would be too orderly for me but French-speaking Switzerland has turned out to be a pleasant surprise in terms of social tolerance and multi-ethnicity. Unfortunately, the image of Swiss people abroad is that they are all rich, a little bit snobbish and individualistic. That’s far from the truth, but it is only by living here and getting to know them that I have met some very modest and friendly people with whom I have established lasting friendships.
What do you particularly like and dislike about Switzerland?
I like the fact that Switzerland gives young people the opportunity to establish a stable and prosperous future based on merit, something which is becoming increasingly difficult in other countries. And by opportunity I mean stable, well-paid employment that enables them to pursue long-term plans without having to worry about whether they have enough money to last until the end of the month. It may seem banal, but I very much enjoy the scenery and the fact that people love outdoor activities. I like the way people attach such importance to protecting the landscape and that you can get anywhere by public transport. However, I don’t identify with the highly family-oriented lifestyle, which means shops are closed on Sundays and you can’t go shopping after 7 p.m. during the week. It is certainly a lot less vibrant than the Mediterranean countries that I’m used to.
Some Swiss people have an ambivalent attitude towards the Swiss Abroad. For example, they are calling for the abolition of dual citizenship. What do you make of that?
My personal view is that scrapping dual citizenship would be a huge mistake. I’m Italian and Swiss and don’t see that as irreconcilable in any way. Swiss people will always be Swiss regardless of their country of residence or whether they hold another passport. Dual citizenship can be passed on by a foreign parent and I believe it is selfish to ask someone to give up part of their identity. I think we must learn to live with such multiculturalism and dual/triple citizenships as, given the current mobility, things can only “get worse”.
Other people believe the Swiss Abroad should not be allowed to vote in elections and referenda. Their argument is: why should they have a say in a country that they don’t even live in? Do you understand their point?
Yes, their point of view is understandable to an extent. Nevertheless, I strongly disagree with it. The Swiss Abroad are less concerned about some of the issues voted on but there are others (such as immigration and relations with the European Union, for example) which concern them just as much as Swiss citizens living at home. Such referenda set the course of the country’s future and I firmly believe that the Swiss Abroad are fully entitled to be able to return to Switzerland one day and find a country with a system in which they believe and ideals that they identify with. Voting is a privilege, not an obligation and, personally speaking, if I don’t feel involved or don’t have a clear opinion about a particular issue, I don’t vote. It’s always down to the individual to decide whether to vote and what to vote. As far as the Swiss Abroad are concerned, the right to vote is the only thing that prevents the political class from forgetting about us.
You are the President of the Youth Parliament of the Swiss Abroad, which was established quite recently. What are your main goals?
Our main aim is to inspire young Swiss people abroad to be part of the international community. Sadly, the members of Swiss societies around the world are getting older, and we need the younger generation to take over; we hope to be able to help rejuvenate our extensive family. We are using the types of communication that young people like best, such as Facebook and the internet, in the hope of reaching as many people as possible. Our goals remain to raise young people’s awareness of political issues (without ever taking a position), to inform them about developments in Switzerland and to facilitate communication between people all over the world.
Is the typical young Swiss person abroad interested and involved in politics?
Some are, some aren’t – you can’t generalise. Over these past two years as President of the Youth Parliament of the Swiss Abroad, I’ve met lots of people with a very strong interest in Swiss politics but also lots of youngsters with absolutely no interest at all. I get the impression that the apathy is often down to a lack of information or not feeling directly involved and these are things we are seeking to rectify through the Youth Parliament’s activities. We are currently trying to encourage the set-up of local sub-groups in various countries, like the ones which already exist in Italy, Austria and Chile. We hope to add other countries to this list in future.
What have you achieved with the Youth Parliament so far?
We’re a young organisation – we’ve not even been going for two years – and the main aim of the first year was to get to know one another. We need to let the Swiss societies know we are here and while there are not many of us at the moment, we are stepping up our activities and need their full support. In parallel, we have started to develop a network of young Swiss people abroad which we hope to expand over the next few years, mainly through our Facebook group and by creating a website shortly. We’ve also managed to obtain a seat on the Council of the Swiss Abroad and will have up to three from the next “legislative period” which is a landmark achievement in itself. Inspiring our young people undoubtedly requires perseverance and dedication. We are giving our all and hope our hard work will soon pay off.
Theme of the 95th Congress of the Swiss Abroad: “The Swiss at home and abroad – one world”
The Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) often highlights the importance to Switzerland of the external perspective of the Swiss Abroad. The congress taking place from 18 to 20 August in Basel aims to highlight the extent to which the perspective of the Swiss Abroad sometimes differs from that of their compatriots at home, how the Swiss in Switzerland react to that and the specific benefits of this special outlook. Various viewpoints of Swiss people abroad will be explored.