As seen on the streets of Zürich - made with the bus slogan generator
As seen on the streets of Zürich (not) - made with the bus slogan generator

The Swiss referendum banning the construction of minarets has caused a load of hand-wringing. Why?

Of course it’s absolutely wrong to deny freedom of religious expression, and the outcome of the vote is wrong. I’m no fan of any religion but here the Voltaire quote seems apt: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

But to be remotely surprised or aghast or shocked that Switzerland would pass such a vote strikes me as utterly ludicrous. After all the SVP/UDC is the largest party and Switzerland, it’s been fiendishly hard to get Swiss citizenship for decades, and it even took the country until 2002 to join the UN. The country’s direct democracy is seldom a force for anything progressive, and indeed seems to be quite the opposite.

And while everyone is having a good old rant at the offense caused to muslims by this vote, equally have a look at the difficulties atheists have had in Switzerland to run an advertising campaign – see the report below from Swiss TV from 9 months ago, and look at the way atheist posters have been defaced. Basically if you’re not christian then you don’t count (which is what the bus slogan above alludes to).


  1. Cristo

    Existiert Gott? – eine gute Debatte auf Deutsch, die Christen haben die besten Argumente, sieht’s euch an:)

  2. Did you see the comment piece in yesterday’s Mail on this?
    The assumption throughout the article and in the comments below is that direct democracy is inherently better than representative democracy, which I suppose it is, it’s just that the Swiss experience throughtout the 1990s was that low turnout didn’t mean that the quality of the decision-making was good not even necessarily representative…
    BTW did you notice the Mail managed to blame “left wing feminists” for the vote’s success – must’ve been hard to know whether to support or condemn the vote in DailyMailLand…

  3. On the Austria vs Switzerland point – yes, it has had this edge to it for a long time. Thing is that as it’s outside the EU, it’s government executive is so unusual and it has so much direct democracy no-one seems to have noticed much.

  4. Hmmm, you could see it that way, and especially in the UK I think referendums are just used by politicians to kick tricky issues out of election campaigns.

    But the Swiss case is complex, as theoretically it’s bottom-up – 100k signatures and a referendum can take place – so this shouldn’t be just to rubber stamp politicians’ prejudices.

  5. robert

    BTW I always thought it was Austria that had this undercurrent of nasty right-wing feeling. Has Switzerland really been like this for some time and we just haven’t noticed (for whatever reason).

  6. robert

    Could this be considered an argument against referenda? Isn’t there the theory that referenda are only used by governments (or other political organisations) to validate a previously made decision rather than truely devolve that decision to the people?

  7. I don’t post in German because it’s hard enough to find time to blog as it is anyway and, as this post has shown, I get into wrangles about the grammar. I’ve been told it should be “Es gibt wahrscheinlich einen Gott” rather than “Da ist wahrscheinlich ein Gott” which is an adaption of the Swiss posters… So it will always just be English for me here I’m afraid.

    And I do tweet from time to time in German, French and even Swedish, but that just seems to confuse people.

  8. * I think the ECHR is almost certainly going to overturn it in a couple of years anyway.

  9. From your title I thought this was going to be a rare German language post! Out of interest, why don’t you ever post in German?

    If I was a (cynical) Swiss politician, there is no way I would tackle this issue. It’s not going to win any votes, and I the ECHR is almost certainly going to overturn it in a couple of years anyway.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *