Switzerland: Attitudes towards minorities getting worse

Switzerland: Attitudes towards minorities getting worse

Via Swiss Info:

The political climate for minorities in Switzerland is becoming more difficult, an expert tells swissinfo.ch.

Gülcan Akkaya, vice president of the Federal Commission against Racism, says Switzerland needs a policy that includes and recognises everyone living here.

Her comments come after the population voted in favour of a controversial anti-minaret building initiative in November 2009 and prepares to vote on a people’s initiative to deport foreign criminals. Another issue making the news is the debate in Switzerland over wearing headscarves and burkas.

Akkaya works as a project leader and teacher at Lucerne University’s institute of socio-cultural development.

swissinfo.ch: Minorities have been scapegoats for thousands of years. Why?

Gülcan Akkaya: Groups feel the need to set themselves apart using a huge variety of criteria. The main thing is that these boundaries do not question the right of other groups to exist. Stereotypes can be dangerous – comments like, “all foreigners collect welfare or are criminals”.

These stereotypes appear not just in everyday situations, but also in the media and in literature. If we want to stop prejudices, then we need to replace them with non-discriminating images. The way the image of blacks has changed in our schoolbooks over the last decades is an example.

At the same time, societal segregation continues at various levels. This leads to discrimination on the job market, in the media, in politics and legislation.

swissinfo.ch: Discrimination affects not only large minorities like gypsies, Tamils, Turks, Jews and Muslims, but also those who don’t conform to society’s norms, such as the overweight, red-haired or unfashionable.

G.A.: It is true that discrimination affects not only ethnic and racial groups but also other groups that deviate from the accepted norms. But in any event, the promotion of tolerance and human rights education is a help.

Switzerland needs a policy that includes and recognises everyone living here. That is an important requirement for social cohesion and solidarity.


swissinfo.ch: And the conflicts keep getting more brutal. Many of the warring parties don’t bother about the Geneva Conventions, which demand protection of the civilian population.

G.A.: Wars have always been brutal. Today’s violence mainly affects the civilian population. Therefore it is crucial to ensure that the human rights of civilians in warzones are not breached. However, the defence of human rights is important not only in extreme situations but also in peaceful ones – otherwise it’s a breeding ground for conflict and violence.

swissinfo.ch: By this, you’re referring to the minaret and upcoming criminal deportation initiatives?

G.A.: Exactly. Other examples involving important principles of human rights include the current discussions on wearing headscarves and burkas, where stereotypes come into play. During these debates it is key that society finds solutions that respect diversity and set an example for living together peacefully.