our coverage on p. 6
Dylan C. Robertson Helvetia Gazette
Helvetia Gazette. News and views from across Switzerland Volume 1, Number 1 MONDAY, DECEMBER 19, 2011
5.— CHF / £4.00 GBP / 4,50€ EUR / $7.50 CND / $7.00 USD / ¥530 JPY
Right-wing parties tumble Federal council election nets five new faces Associated Press BERN - Swiss voters backed
moderate parties in their general election on Sunday, and the nationalist Swiss People’s Party lost ground after mounting a campaign heavy on antiimmigrant sentiment. The nationalists were projected to take 25.9 percent of the vote for the lower house, a drop from four years ago, according to projections from the public television station SF early Monday. On the left, the Green Party
also suffered a surprising setback, taking 7.9 percent of the vote. Both the People’s Party and the Greens were projected to lose seats in Switzerland’s lower chamber, the 200-member National Council. The results halted 20 years of steady growth by the People’s Party in parliamentary elections, which are held every four years. The party, which drew just 11 percent of the vote in 1987, rose to capture 28.9 percent in 2007, while support eroded for two of the major center-right parties, the Free Democrats and the Christian Democrats. Two other centrist parties – the Conservative Democrats, who split from the People’s
Three Swiss now face nuclear arms charges Katie Reid Reuters A father and his two sons have been charged with involvement in the smuggling ring of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan’s atom bomb who sold nuclear secrets to North Korea, Iran and Libya, prosecutors said Tuesday. The three Swiss men were engineers who worked with
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centrifuges – used to enrich nuclear material – and became friends with Khan, say media. The Khan network trafficked nuclear material, equipment and know-how to Iran, Libya and North Korea for two decades before Khan’s 2004 arrest. Non-nuclear power Switzerland is not authorized under the global Non-Proliferation Treaty to possess documents related to nuclear weaponry.
Party in 2007, and the Green Liberal Party – were the beneficiaries of the nationalists’ decline. The Green Liberals in particular rode a wave of antinuclear sentiment stoked by the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan in March. The number of political parties in Switzerland makes for intense haggling after every election, as each group demands fair representation in the country’s seven-member cabinet, which governs by consensus despite the sometimes widely differing views of its members. Despite its setback, the People’s Party won the most votes, and it immediately laid
Fish heated by train-tunnel wind
Photo courtesy of Swiss Federal Council
The eight elected council members, from left: Johann Schneider-Ammann, Didier Burkhalter, Doris Leuthard, Micheline Calmy-Rey, Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, Corina Casanova Ueli Maurer and Simonetta Sommaruga. claim to two seats in the cabinet, whose ministers run federal agencies and take turns serving as president for a year. The party’s campaign warned that immigrants were spoiling
a nation that has been an oasis of stability. Almost one in five residents of Switzerland was born elsewhere, one of the highest proportions in Europe.
U.S. offers immunity to banks who disclose IDs Cathy Bosley Reuters
Kim Jong-Un is set to take over his father as leader of North Korea. See our exclusive footage of Jong-Un as a high-schooler in Bern. gazette.ch
Caviar from the Alps?
U.S. officials are offering 11 Swiss banks, among them Credit Suisse, a deal that allows them to avoid criminal prosecution in exchange for revealing details of their U.S. offshore business to Washington, a paper reported Sunday. Famed for the care with which it protects account holders’ anonymity, the Alpine state has been forced to act by a series of U.S. probes into alleged tax evasion by Americans concealing their assets in Swiss banks. In 2009, the Swiss parliament approved a deal to allow UBS to reveal details of around 4,450 U.S. clients and pay a $780 million fine to end lengthy tax proceedings that had threatened the future of the country’s biggest bank. The Swiss government has been in talks with U.S. authorities for months to try to get an investigation into 11 banks
dropped, in return for expected hefty fines on the banks and the handing over of the names. Credit Suisse and Basler Kantonalbank are among the banks under investigation. Citing an unnamed source, the newspaper SonntagsZeitung reported that 11 banks would each be offered a deal like the one to which UBS agreed. In exchange, the banks would have to accept U.S. requests for administrative assistance in tax evasion cases that would mean delivering all information on their U.S. offshore business via Bern to the United States, the paper reported. The paper described a meeting between Swiss officials and representatives on Friday in Bern. The paper said banks would likely accept the deal. Yet a spokesman for the State Secretariat for International Financial Matters, which represents the Swiss government in negotiations with the U.S., said talks were still ongoing.
Carol Copley Reuters Fribourg - Dressed in a
surgeon’s white garb, “Caviar Meister” Tobias Felix slits open the slimy, grey skin of the sturgeon on the table in front of him to reveal Switzerland’s latest luxury delicacy. Costing up to 1,275 CHF for 250 grams, “Oona” – meaning “extraordinary” in Celtic – is the name of the Alpine country’s first Swiss caviar. The product came about thanks to a brainwave by engineer Peter Hufschmied who decided to use the mountain stream that tumbles out of the north end of the Loetschberg railway tunnel with a temperature of 20 degrees Celsius to breed fish that thrive in warm water. Some 35,000 Siberian sturgeon were released into the balmy waters six years ago. They sturgeon have since produced some 300 kg of caviar for the current winter season. Switzerland has the second highest proportion of millionaire households worldwide, at 9.9 per cent, according to the Boston Consulting Group. The country is also one of the world’s top consumers of caviar per capita. The fish farm in Frutigen in the Bernese Oberland plans to grow its shoal to 60,000 sturgeon, making it possible to produce three tonnes of caviar annually, of which two tonnes will be dedicated for export. It’s a project that has locals seeing green. “Caviar” continued on p. 4
A2 | NEWS
HELVETIA GAZETTE · gazette.ch · monday, december 19, 2011
Costly tradition hits doghouse High-tech rescue gear and expensive diet are putting famed St. Bernards out of commission
Peter Popham INM LUGANO - Talk to the en-
thusiasts and you will quickly learn that there are few things on Earth more magnificent than a St. Bernard dog. Marco Polo, on his journeys through China, was introduced to the Tibetan Mastiff, “tall as a donkey”, he declared later, “and with the roar of a lion”. St. Bernards are their closest European cousins. If you believe the experts, they have been bounding around in the Alps for 2,000 years. But now the St. Bernard risks being torn once and for all from the place after which it was named. The one picture everyone carries around of a St. Bernard is of this huge dog, a small barrel of brandy strapped to its throat, rescuing unfortunate travellers caught in the snow and ice. The barrel of brandy was always, sadly, a myth but the person-saving task was real enough, and lasted for centuries. The Great St. Bernard Hospice, 2,500 feet up the Alps on the way to Mt. Blanc, was for centuries a life-saving institution at this perilous crossroads on the roof of
Europe. Everybody who was everybody came through St. Bernard’s Pass: Hannibal, Charlemagne, Napoleon, Stendahl. If you wanted to get into Italy the quick way before they bored the tunnel, this was the way you came. But if fate was to bring you here late or early in the year, your chances of getting buried alive in an avalanche, or merely succumbing to the cold and altitude, would be extremely strong. In which case you would normally die - and if you didn’t it was because one of the St. Bernards kept by the monks, their great size complemented by their incredible senses of hearing and smell, came to rescue you. Now, sadly, that whole extraordinary tradition risks being snuffed out. The monks at St. Bernard’s are down to four, including Father Hilary. These days the dogs no longer serve any purpose. “It’s not that some other breed of dog has taken over,” says Giovanni Morsiani, president of Italy’s Saint Bernards club, “but they’ve been supplanted by the inventions of man: helicopters, mechanical diggers, sensors.” It’s nearly 40 years since the St. Bernards of St. Bernard’s last performed their traditional function. The only reason they remain is for visiting tourists. But
human companions. They can also sense whether humans buried, under the snow and ice or in the wreckage of an earthquake, are alive or dead, which at the scene of a major disaster is a faculty of obvious importance. Then there is the sheer benignity, which is harder to explain or understand.
Reuters file photo
Though they can detect avalanches, these huge dogs eat five pounds of meat and grain daily. the experience is frequently disillusioning: long gone are the monks photographed for National Geographic in 1957 who practically lived with the dogs. The dogs’ living conditions have deteriorated. In 1957 they were housed in a barn of a building behind the hospice, but in recent years they have been confined to small kennels, far too small for them to exercise properly. When the snow and ice closed in recently the monks moved the dogs to the mu-
seum for warmth, as a temporary measure. But that was considered inadequate, too, and they have now all been moved to the main Augustine monastery in the Swiss town of Martigny. The Swiss authorities say that the conditions in which the dogs are kept do not satisfy Swiss law and at this point the monks are ready to throw in the towel. They can no longer, they say, afford to keep their enormous companions, each of which gets through five
Dry winter is ‘snow joke for Swiss tourism
pounds of horsemeat and dog meal per day. It’s a sad conclusion. The ancestors of today’s St. Bernards have been high in the Alps for about as long as the people and are ideally built for the conditions: big enough to trundle unbothered through deep snow drifts; strong enough to haul sleds loaded with supplies like a train of huskies; endowed above all with amazing hearing and smell, so they can hear an avalanche coming critical seconds before their
Can Geneva do local and global? Matthew Saltmarsh NYT GENEVA - As this compact
Anja Niedringhaus Associated Press
Though generous discounts still bring skiers to the resort town of Verbier, the dry weather often shortens their stay.
Cathy Bosley Reuters Zürich - Armed with snow
canons and cut-price hotel deals some of Switzerland’s ski resorts, already beleaguered by the strong Swiss franc, are grappling with another obstacle – no snow. A dry November has forced several ski resorts to push back the start of the season, the latest in a string of bad news for hoteliers who have struggled to fill beds as the soaring Swiss franc deters foreign holidaymakers. Not to be disheartened, Davos-Klosters nestled in eastern Switzerland employed no less than 250 snow canons to get
pistes ready for the season start – a week later than scheduled. Some 3,000 winter sport enthusiasts trekked to the resort lying 1,560 meters above sea level last weekend to slide down the 6 km of pistes made from artificial snow, long white stretches on an otherwise brown and green landscape. Despite the delayed start, Yves Bugmann, finance director of Davos-Klosters mountain railway, remained unperturbed for now. “The losses so far are marginal and can be recouped through cost cuts,” he said. “Even so, a good start is the basis for a successful season.” Tourism, which contributes some 5 per cent to Swiss gross domestic product, has come under pressure due to the strong Swiss franc that rose by more
than 20 per cent against the euro earlier this year and flirted with parity in August – the height of the summer season. Although the Swiss National Bank set a cap of 1.20 CHF to the euro on September 6, many hoteliers still regard the currency as overvalued and say the tourist sector needs a good winter to stave off job cuts. Veronique Kanel, spokeswoman for the Swiss tourism organization, said there was no cause for alarm yet. “However, should this situation last until mid-December, the lack of snow coupled with the strong Swiss franc would be extremely worrying,” she said. Switzerland had its last heavy snowfall on October 19, but the Federal Office for Meteorology is forecasting snow Friday evening, ending a fiveweek drought.
To lure price-conscious skiers and stop locals from straying to slopes over the border, Davos is offering free lift passes to those who book an overnight stay. This is just one initiative as part of the project ‘Franc-ly Switzerland’ run by the tourist board, which aims to sell the country, a favorite winter haunt of the rich and royalty, as an affordable destination. Boasting many snow-capped peaks, Saas Fee in southwestern Switzerland poked fun at snow-poorer resorts in a video showing winter sports fans attempting to ski and sledge and on grassy fields. “We regret that snow enthusiasts are forced to carry out such questionable activities and invite you to enjoy the start of the winter season with us,” Saas Fee said in a mock news video.
When they find a traveller unconscious in the snow, they instinctively cover them with their bodies to raise the blood temperature. They instinctively lick their face, repeatedly. If there are several dogs at the spot, one will stay with the victim while the others set up a hullabaloo of barking, to bring help. For a long time St. Bernard’s hospice was the only place in the world to find St. Bernards. At the place where they originated they are now penned up in nasty cages, a burden to monks who no longer have any use for them. This week the monks launched an appeal for funds, with the collaboration of Italy’s St. Bernards club and the Italian and Swiss towns closest to the hospice, to enable the monks to hire two specialised dog handlers and build new, decent kennels, so the connection of the St. Bernards with St. Bernard’s may be preserved.
Swiss city pushes to enhance its reputation as a host for international organizations, there are likely to be some local casualties. In fact, there may already be one. A tussle encapsulating the tensions between the city’s international aspirations and local realities is playing out in microcosm at a prime property in the heart of Geneva’s international district. The site, Le Domaine du Château de Penthes, dates to the 14th century and comprises six buildings, including a museum on Geneva’s military history, a restaurant and education and conference facilities. A foundation that has been managing the site and museum for decades has a lease with the owner, the Geneva regional government, that expires early next year. The problem is that the regional government, or canton, will not disclose its plans, leaving the foundation in limbo and unsure whether it should stay and invest, try to relocate or close down. The canton has signaled, however, that it favours redeveloping the site as a retreat for international organizations. “We are the owner and we will do what we want with it,” said Olivier Coutau, the canton’s representative for international organizations.
Squeezed among the United Nations Palace, the U.S. and Italian diplomatic missions and the city’s Botanical Gardens, Château de Penthes occupies a prize location in a city in which good real estate is scarce, real estate values have soared and zoning laws are strict. The site has about nine hectares of tree-dotted land, open to the public, offering panoramic views over Lake Léman and of Mont Blanc. For many residents, the domain’s gardens offer bucolic relief in an increasingly crowded city. Benedict von Tscharner, the foundation’s president, and his backers say they have been trying to get a response from the canton on its plans s i n c e Olivier Coutau 2008. Geneva already is home to 165 diplomatic missions, 23 international organizations and 250 nongovernmental organizations. An estimated 30,000 people work for nongovernmental organizations and diplomatic missions in the city. The local government extends incentives for international and diplomatic missions, including waiving rents and arranging favorable financing. Yet that may not be enough. A message is filtering down from the top that Geneva
A3 | FEATURE
monday, december 19, 2011 · gazette.ch · HELVETIA GAZETTE
A Swiss Frankenstein
A weak euro has sent the Swiss franc soaring, with devastating effects on the country’s export-driven economy. The Guardian’s Helen Pidd travelled to Kreuzlingen, a village in Thurgau canton, 10 minutes from the German border. Like all of Switzerland, townspeople are struggling with less tourism and nearby attractive prices. sale prices between the co-op and the manufacturers. “It’s ridiculous really,” said the dad, Marco. “Everything is at least half the price, sometimes a third of the price back n the Karussell shopping home. I’d be prepared to pay centre in the Swiss town a premium, maybe 20-30 per of Kreuzlingen on Thursday, cent, to shop back home, but all was quiet. At noon in the not 50% or more. I’d be mad.” The Städlers were not just Ca’Puccini cafe, one whitehaired lady nursed an empty benefiting from the unusually clement currency exchange coffee cup. The opticians: empty. H&M: rates: they were also able to two browsers. In the Import claim back the 19-per-cent perfume shop, the saleswoman sales tax charged on almost all said she had served just eight German goods. After a hard day’s shopcustomers ping, all they since 8:30 a.m. “It’s un- “Since the financial crisis, had to do was pop into cusbelievable,” the franc strengthened toms on their she sighed. “I 40 per cent, snapped up way back went on holihome and ask day for three- by panicked investors for a stamp on a n d - a - h a l f - seeking havens from the green tax weeks and dollars and euros.” refund forms came back to they received this. Look! in each shop. There’s nobody here.” She knew where everyone was: “Germany. Over there.” Stamps and statistics She nodded her head backLast Saturday, the tiny road wards. Her problem is that border crossing between Kon“over there”, just a 10-minute stanz and Kreuzlingen had a walk away, is the medieval uni- record day. “We were stampversity town of Konstanz. And ing 380 an hour at one point,” since the Swiss franc (CHF) said Robert Helfrith, a customs stormed to a record high last spokesman. “Last year we week, reaching almost 1:1 par- stamped 5 million forms; in the ity with the euro (down from first six months of this year we 1.3 CHF to the euro last year) had already stamped 3 million, after global currency traders so we’re looking at a 20-perpiled in, more and more Swiss cent increase in Swiss shopshoppers have abandoned the ping trips in Konstanz year-onmotherland to snap up bargains year.” across the border. In his office at Konstanz Meanwhile, the Lago mall town hall, Friedhelm Schaal, over inW Konstanz was bus- the head of economic detling. In DM, a local phar- velopment, presented more macy, the Städler family from statistics. On the wall was a the Swiss town of Maur were printout of the previous day’s stocking up. In their trolley currency fluctuations; when he were multiple cans of Axe gets to his desk each morning, deodorant for their two teen- the first thing he does is look age sons (€3.25 compared at how the franc is performing. with 6.20 CHF), family-sized The stronger it gets, the richer bottles of Head & Shoulders his town becomes. “We have shampoo (half the price back an annual sales volume of home), and various products €550 million and 30 per cent from L’Oréal no longer avail- of that comes from Swiss cusable in their local supermarket tomers,” he said. “By the end – due to a standoff over whole- of this year we’re expecting that percentage to rise to 35-38 per cent.” And that’s not all: “The average Swiss customer spends 30 per cent more than the average German.” By the Limmat river in Zürich on Thursday afternoon, Christian Bruggers, the manager of Teddy’s Souvenir Shop, was looking at a rather different set of accounts. “We’re still getting the same number of tourists, they’re Dylan C. Robertson HG just not spending as much,” “Enough is enough” reads he said, as his colleague rang a a statement from a co-op few francs for a fridge magnet fighting franc price-gouging. through the till. “As with the
Analysis This table shows some of the extensive price differences between Switzerland and bordering Germany. It’s because of low prices like this that many are crossing the border to buy necessities.
cuckoo clocks, the proper ones [155-2,500 CHF] – no one is buying those right now. But what can I do? I can’t lower my prices. My costs are still the same.” The Milligan family from Berkshire, U.K. were browsing. “We’ve had a bit of a shock with the prices,” said Debbie, on holiday with husband Rob, daughter Ellen, 13, and son James, nine. “We were in Frankfurt a few days ago and bought three pretzels for €1.75. Here we saw one pretzel on sale for 7 CHF. Breakfast in our hotel, just an ordinary Novotel, costs 28 C H F . We ’ v e been going to the supermarket and making our own.” The Swiss government is so worried about losing tourists that it recently gave the national tourist board an extra 12 million CHF for marketing. “It’s a worry for us,” said Daniela Bär, a spokeswoman for Schweiz Tourismus. “We don’t have our figures yet but we’re expecting a 5-per-cent decrease in tourist numbers on last year.” The lesser-known mountain regions are the worst hit, she said. “The cities get a lot of business travellers who aren’t as price-sensitive, and the bighitting mountain resorts, like the Matterhorn and the Jungfraujoch, will be fine too. But the smaller places are already suffering.” Until the financial crisis, the franc traded in a relatively narrow band. But since then, it has strengthened 40 per cent on a trade-weighted basis, snapped up by panicked investors seeking havens from dollars and euros.
The Swiss National Bank (SNB) has warned that what the billionaire entrepreneur Christoph Blocher this week described as the “catastrophic” overvaluation of the franc could tip the country into re-
One kilogram of bananas Nivea Visage cleansing wipes Dove roll-on deodorant Pampers diapers (x40) H&M plain white vest
3.20 CHF $3.55 5.95 CHF $6.60 5.95 CHF $6.60 25.95 CHF $28.78 7.90 CHF $8.76
€1.59 $2.15 €2.25 $3.08 €1.95 $2.64 €8.65 $11.72 €4.95 $6.70
39% $1.40 53% $3.52 60% $3.96 59% $17.06 24% $2.06
Data source: The Guardian. Calculation and conversion to Canadian dollars by Dylan C. Robertson.
cession and deflation. It is also causing losses for millions of east European homeown-
ers with mortgages in francs, as well as for European banks holding franc-linked derivatives contracts. Less likely to garner sympathy are the ultra-rich Swiss-domiciled hedge fund traders who are grumbling that their lavish bonuses – often paid in dollars – are suddenly worth less than they thought. But for many wealthy Swiss residents, many of whom own homes abroad, the situation has left them even richer. Drinking outside Zürich’s Churchi am Wasser restaurant, a group of software developers were toasting the success of a new project. “My disposable income has gone through the roof recently,” said Martin Taylor, 41, a British IT manager who has a euro mortgage on a house in the Netherlands. “In Holland, I paid
sy of s Photo courte
52-per-cent income tax. Where I live, in the canton of Zug, I pay 5.6 per cent”. But it is the traders panicbuying francs who have really left Switzerland in a precarious position, according to angry business leaders. These “speculators” were recently criticized by Nick Hayek, chief executive of the Swatch group, who told them to “stop messing with our Swiss franc.” Christoph Raz, a producer of Emmental cheese, said this week that he had already lost 17 per cent of exports. Serge Gaillard, director of employment at Switzerland’s state secretariat for economic affairs, predicted big job
losses this autumn if the franc remained high. Fifty per cent of Switzerland’s robust, stable economy relies on exports, and it’s this sector the SNB was trying to shore up earlier this month when it started trying to devalue the franc by flooding currency markets. So far the experiment has had only modest success: on Friday the franc had fallen back to about 1.13 against the euro. Scan here to share your thoughts on the ongoing currency crisis.
This chart demonstrates the Swiss franc’s fluctuation with the euro. Because eurozone members are Switzerland’s main source of trade and tourism, the franc’s sharp rise in value this August was traumatic. It seems to be gradually stabilizing. Generated by I ndexmundi.com
A4 | NEWS
HELVETIA GAZETTE · gazette.ch · monday, december 19, 2011
Visa-free gets stamp of approval After three years, shared-border Schengen agreement is being hailed by Swiss and neighbours. Though still no plans to join EU
Luigi Jorio SwissInfo BERN - On December 12, 2008 Switzerland officially opened its borders to citizens of the Schengen area and broke its physical isolation from its European neighbours. Systematic checks at the border have been abolished but the fight against crime has become more effective thanks to better international collaboration. By entering the “borderless” Schengen zone – comprising European Union members (without Britain and Ireland), as well as Norway and Iceland - Switzerland took a step closer to joining the large European club. The Swiss people approved the move in 2005. Switzerland’s international airports form one of the principal entry points into the old
continent. Under Schengen the Swiss authorities have therefore had to assume a gatekeeper role to help tackle the flow of illegal immigrants into Europe from third countries. Thanks to tighter judicial and police cross-border cooperation, Schengen has become a useful crime-fighting tool. The Dublin Convention, which has also been in force since 2005, has also resulted in better management of asylum requests by member states. “Switzerland is in a special situation seeing as it’s not part of the European customs union,” explained Rodolfo Contin, chief of staff at the Swiss Border Guards HQ. “Systematic checks on people have been abolished but, unlike other states, other customs controls have been maintained, such as on goods.” Mobile customs controls in border regions and on the main rail links have been stepped up as compensatory measures, said Contin. At Swiss airports,
Photo courtesy of flickr user warrenski
Border crossings like Brogeda are now only used for inspecting industrial transfers. which were given the Schengen-friendly stamp of approval in March 2009, passenger checks from third countries have become “systematic and rigorous”, he noted. Yet the system is not infallible. Swiss border guards have been asked to take on additional responsibilities to manage the flow of 650,000 people and 350,000 vehicles that cross national borders every day. But they say they need
additional staff. Both houses of parliament last week supported a motion to increase border personnel and salaries. The senate urged the government to review staffing levels by the end of 2010. The head of the Swiss border guards, Jürg North, gave a positive overview of Swiss integration in the Schengen zone and replied indirectly to right-wing fears that Schen-
gen could cause an increase in crime. North praised stronger crossborder cooperation, partly resulting from the Schengen Information Service (SIS), a database which lists stolen objects, false documents and people wanted by another European country in connection with serious crimes. “Thanks to the SIS we have identified 5,958 delinquents, of whom 60-70 were particu-
larly dangerous criminals,” he recently told the Südostschweiz newspaper, adding that four kilograms of drugs were seized every day. The Schengen security system also foresees a common visa policy. Whoever is in possession of a three-month Schengen visa to travel to Italy, for example, can visit Switzerland without additional formal procedures. According to Switzerland Tourism, introducing a single European visa has been especially significant for visitors from China, Russia and India. “For travel agencies, it has become much easier to include Switzerland on European circuits,” said spokesperson Veronique Kanel. Scan here to share your thoughts on the Schengen agreement.
Caviar: ‘It’s a bit like washing gold, only it’s black’ Taking in some tunes at the Bundesplatz “Caviar” from p. 1 “We’ve already received enquiries from Russia, Hong Kong and Abu Dhabi,” said Andreas Schmid, head of marketing and sales at Oona. “It’s partly to do with the fact that Switzerland has a reputation for good quality.” In the caviar laboratories, chilled to between four and seven degrees Celsius, the delicacy, synonymous with Russian tsars, is collected entirely by hand. First the sturgeon are scanned using ultra-sound technology to check that the roe (eggs) are ripe and ready for consumption. Once the sac of eggs is removed from the fish, Felix rubs the mass over a metal sieve-like bowl to separate them from the membrane and remove traces of blood.
Michael Buholzer REUTERS
Long the world’s top caviar consumer, Switzerland now makes some of its own black gold. “It’s a bit like washing gold, only it’s black,” said Felix, Switzerland’s only CaviarMeister, who says he never tires of sampling the delicacy. “It’s great. I get paid to eat caviar every day.” Then a large pair of tweezers is used to pick out any eggs that are discolored. A fine, powder salt is added to the caviar to draw out the mois-
Here today. Here tomorrow.
ture, and make it glisten like black pearls. Oona is sold under four different grades. The best-quality one is eggs handpicked by Felix to have a minimum diameter of 2.6 mm, around just five per cent of the total caviar produced. A 30-gram tin costs 215 CHF, positioning it in the upper-end of caviar brands.
Dylan C. Robertson Helvetia Gazette
A man listens at the weekly concert in front of the federal parliament house in Bern. Last Tuesday the Thurgau Police Band performed as part of a rotating canton schedule.
Banker invests in giving Simon Bradley SwissInfo GENEVA - Gorka Cruz is not
your typical Geneva banker. Every winter he hangs up his suit and tie to prepare for several months’ humanitarian work in India. The young financier has many other strings to his bow – and guitar. He recently scored an online hit with his humorous song and video clip “Global Economy” about an impending economic meltdown. “On average I spend six months here and then six months there, but we’ve got a visa problem with India and can only stay three months, so I’ll have to see how I can stay longer. I’ve got Swiss-Spanish dual nationality, so maybe I can find a solution,” he told swissinfo.ch, sipping a cup of tea on the terrace of the Café du Soleil in Geneva. Cruz is used to this slightly odd routine, as he has been
shuttling back and forth between Switzerland and India for the past five years. The 33-year-old, who studied philosophy, Spanish and sociology at university, has just finished a three-month mission at a Geneva hedge fund. Before that he worked for four years at Barclays Bank in Geneva in their back office. “I want to go to India, so I earn my money here in order to finance my stay there. When I’m in Geneva I don’t spend very much going out to restaurants, in order to save,” he said. His love of India dates back to 1999 when he began visiting to learn yoga and meditation. In 2001, he met Saswot Sourav, the blind founder of an NGO behind the Children’s Hope orphanage in the town of Mamallapuram in Tamil Nadu. From 2005 to 2010, Cruz travelled to India to lend a hand at the orphanage “from morning to nightfall” dealing mostly with administrative and financial matters. The 20 orphans from the centre are now being looked after by local foster families funded
by the NGO. This winter Cruz is about to start a new mission. “It’s about helping protect the banks of the Ganges; local mafias have appropriated land to build on and people have created a movement to stop that,” he said. “Saswot’s always got lots of projects going on.” Cruz is very comfortable with this nonconforming dual existence, which to some might seem rather contradictory. “I didn’t study finance but landed in Gorka Cruz the industry by chance; it’s a job like any other,” he said. “I don’t have any ethical problems; that’s what the world’s like.” Ironically, the work in Geneva seems to help him personally. “It’s good for me. It’s structured with deadlines,” he said. “There are moments when it’s stressful but it’s also very comfortable. It’s a holiday compared with the work in India.”
A5 | IDEAS
monday, december 19, 2011 · gazette.ch · HELVETIA GAZETTE
News and views from across Switzerland
Dylan C. Robertson Editor-in-Chief Markus Spillmann Publisher Fredy Greuter Editorial Page Head René E. Zeller Managing Editor Lukas Häuptli Politics Editor Felix Müller Online Bureau Chief Michèle Reis Public Editor
AN end to the svp?
Bye bye, black sheep The Swiss People’s Party, known as SVP, lost crows standing over Switzerland’s borders. dramatically in last week’s elections. Illustrations of immigrants as conniving aniGood riddance. mals are not that different from Nazi posters The party, long an embarrassment to Swit- depicting Jews as rats. zerland, is an extreme right-wing, nationalist SVP has used emotional propaganda to adorganization which opposes immigration and vance its political objectives. Using ads unthe Schengen agreement, a shared European imaginable in Canada, it creates an “other” out free-travel zone. The party made worldwide headlines in the run-up to the 2007 national election with its infamous black sheep ad, which featured an illustration of three white sheep standing on a Swiss flag, one of which is kicking a single black sheep across a line. The ad, which reads “for increasing security,” had blatant racist undertones and promoted a party that wants strict border controls and mass deportations of foreigners. In that 2007 election, the party scored 28.9 per cent of the popular vote, making it the Photo courtesy OFSchweizerische Volkspartei single largest party on SwitzerThe SVP often used not-too-subtle imagery in advertising land’s National Council. to advance its racist policies. In November 2009, the SVP successfully campaigned for a ban on the construction of minarets. The country of foreigners, making Swiss citizens fear and was flooded with an illustration featuring minarets mistrust a large number of the people they entearing through a Swiss flag while a black niqab- counter every day. clad woman glared at onlookers. The party’s rise has been reminiscent of the The ban made little sense. Muslims only fascism of the 1930s, when multiple European make up five per cent of the Swiss population, states urged citizens to cling to their national and most come from Turkey and Balkan coun- identity with a fervour that resembled or even tries, areas with relatively liberal forms of Islam incorporated religion. Dictators ruled, regular where niqab wearing is uncommon. Prior to the people reported their neighbours for thought ban, the whole country only had six mosques, crimes, and genocide was committed on a terfour of which had minarets. rifying scale. The SVP has published other offensive ads. Luckily, Swiss voters have turned to a more One against naturalization features hands of rational political discourse. But citizens ought varying skin tones prying into a tray of Swiss to ask themselves: how did such a crazy party passports. Another features menacing black become so popular in the first place?
Ideas Online: How to deal with the high franc?
See our Ideas Online section for even more insightful commentary. This week, Gazette columnist Berner Schöggi examines Switzerland’s options for dealing with its soaring currency. gazette.ch
Mike Peters Helvetia Gazette
Letters to the editor If you build it, will they come? Robert Libman’s ideas (“Replace parking lots with people,” Opinion, Dec. 12) would encourage speculation, not land development. Parking-lot operators are not real-estate developers. In most cases such land was inherited, or purchased based on the parking-revenue potential and density laws at the time. All that this increased allowance for density and height will achieve is to hike land values, which would permit the parking-lot operators to refinance and realize additional “non-realized capital gains” (i.e. take the value out of the property without paying taxes) while waiting for the additional inflation of their land. Until there is a realistic solution to the parking needs of the downtown core, I don’t doubt that this will simply raise the costs of parking. Maximization of return on investment is directly related to the price of the land, which in turn is determined by the density proposed by the planners of the potential project. In the so-called public consultation, which if I understand correctly is for propertyowners only, the “merits of the projects” seem to be profitability and maximization of same. What property-owner would not want an increase in his or her land evaluation based on an adjacent development? Talk about a catch-22 scenario, and a conflict of private in-
terests with our need for public urbanization. Ken London Fribourg
Stop harassing us with bad data
Re: “Workplace harassment linked to higher wages” (Business, Dec. 12). The author of a Vanderbilt University Law School study attempts to make a correlation between wages and incidence of sexual harassment. Joni Hersch lists a number of professions that have both a high incidence of sexual harassment and a high salary. She lists, in order of prevalence: mining, followed by construction, agriculture, forestry, fishing, hunting, transportation and utilities. She notes that the lowest incidence occurs in education and health services. Hersch has failed to observe that the top fields where harassment occurs are overwhelmingly male-dominated, while the lowest harassment fields are overwhelmingly female dominated. So, in the male-dominated fields, a woman is isolated from female support. She is outnumbered by men. Sheer numbers of men in these fields — and not the salaries — is the detail of interest. Also, since women are paid less than men, naturally the fields where women dominate would reflect lower salaries. But Hersch is adding two and two, and coming up with
20. She says that companies pay premiums for workplace hazards that cause death and disability. And she extrapolates from health risks to harassment risks. Then she concludes, “Industries where the risk of sexual harassment is high must pay more to attract and retain good employees.” This is unbelievable logic. Can this professor really imagine that managers sit down and analyze how much putting up with harassment is worth? Amy Beth Thompson Toronto, Canada
Kids are no angels
Re: “Home is where bullying begins” (National, Dec. 12). I am a recently retired secondary school teacher and, yes, there is all kinds of bullying among students. But, no one seems to mention the very real bullying of teachers by students. This is not unusual and can be very subtle. And if a teacher cannot deal with it strongly and effectively it is a huge problem. No one wants to look incompetent and while, I have to tell you, I miss the kids. For the most part, I appreciated and tried to sympathize with and understand them,. Life in a classroom is no bed of roses. It takes thick skin. But I’d do supply work just to be able to have spend time with young students. Anne Curran Geneva
It’s good to be clean, but I’d rather be happy
have to confess, I have always been a bit intimidated by the Swiss devotion to cleanliness. It all began not long after I arrived in Switzerland when, as a new mother, I was invited for coffee by a woman who had had her baby in the same hospital as me. I found myself sitting in a kitchen which seemed more suited to open heart surgery than a cosy chat about feeding routines and diaper rash. The surfaces gleamed, the floor was spotless, even the babies were squeaky clean – apart from mine, who was only squeaky. But, a few years on, I have become more used to Swiss hygiene standards so, when it
Imogen Foulkes holes in my cheese came to moving house, I knew I was expected to leave my old home immaculate. Sure enough, I got a letter saying the hygiene inspector would be there at 10 o’clock on a Monday morning. He arrived, punctual to the nanosecond – a dapper little man in a maroon jacket and beautifully pressed trousers. His name was Herr Schweizer – or Mr. Swiss in Eng-
lish – and he had even brought a spare pair of shoes to wear inside the house. I should have recognized the warning signs when I noticed that Herr Schweizer, who was no taller than me, somehow managed to look down at me over the top of his glasses. But I had spent the best part of three days cleaning and I was confident I would pass the inspection with flying colours. “Let’s start in the kitchen,” said Mr. Swiss and I trotted eagerly after him. I was particularly proud of the kitchen – old postcards and invitations were gone from the walls, so too was the odd blob of spaghetti sauce, vintage 2002. But Herr Schweizer was not impressed. He was too busy
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unscrewing my taps. were still in the kitchen, but “Look”, he said pointing to mercifully almost finished, the inside of a pipe I’d scarce- just one drawer to go. Herr Schweizer pulled it ly known existed. “All these calcium deposits, you’ll have open to reveal three old fish to get rid of them.” knives, a cork, two bottle We moved on to the ce- openers and what looked suspiciously ramic hob. like a lock of Mr. Swiss child’s hair. bent over it. “The surfaces gleamed, I could see the floor was spotless, even This time his reflection the babies were squeaky he said nothin its pristine clean — apart from mine, ing. He just surface – he sighed and added the could see who was only squeaky.” something drawer to else. his list. He produced a razor blade The list grew ever longer and from his pocket and scraped I realized I had at least another gently – a tiny black speck day’s cleaning ahead of me. It gave me a chance, during floated upwards. “Still dirty”, he said. the scrubbing and polishing, to An hour-and-a-half later we reflect on why it is the Swiss
attach so much importance to cleanliness. A friend of mine says it is the crowded this small and mainly mountainous country. Space is limited; most of the seven million inhabitants live in apartments so keeping things clean and tidy is necessary just to live comfortably. My own interpretation has to do with the role of women in Swiss society – those with children often do not work. A recent survey revealed that the average Swiss woman can spend at least two hours – every day – on housework. The very idea exhausts me, but it probably saves them the ordeal I went through at Mr. Schweizer’s hands. From bbc.co.uk
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HELVETIA GAZETTE · gazette.ch · monday, december 19, 2011
There’s no Coca-Cola Santa for citizens of Schwyz canton. Ever year the town of Küssnacht am Rigi welcomes 20,000 visitors to partake in Klausjagen (literally: St. Nicholas chase), a midnight festival of light and sound. A parade goes through the town as men with ornate homemade paper lanterns spin, farmers make a ruckus marching with horns and cow bells, while teenagers give sweets to children. Originally a centuries-old pagan festival, the celebrations are now part of the deeply Catholic canton’s character. The festival takes place on St. Nicholas’ Day, December 6. This year was as loud as ever, and Gazette photographer Dylan C. Robertson was on the scene.
monday, december 19, 2011 路 gazette.ch 路 HELVETIA GAZETTE
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acht Clockwise from top: lanterns parade through the town, the train stop that welcomes 20,000 visitors in one night, a St. Nicholas lantern, groups of men hold large lanterns on their shoulders, Mr. Klaus arrives, farmers welcome him with horns and bells, a look at the city by night.
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HELVETIA GAZETTE · gazette.ch · monday, december 19, 2011 SPORT IN BRIEF Fifa MAY BOOT Swiss over transfers FIFA has threatened to ban the Swiss Football Association if it fails to impose a transfer ban on FC Sion by January 13. The group on Thursday upheld a decision by football’s European ruling body UEFA to refuse FC Sion re-entry to the Europa League after the Swiss club breached player recruitment rules. Sion had been put under a transfer embargo over signing Egyptian goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary, but proceeded to sign six players in the summer. Sion then fielded five of the six players during the Europa League play-off tie against Celtic and were kicked out of the competition as a result. Agence France-presse Basel trumps man u FC Basel pulled off a historic victory on Wednesday night, knocking English football giants Manchester United out of the Champions League. Basel’s 2:1 victory at home saw three-time champion Man U exit contest in the group stage. A draw would have been enough to take them into the knockout rounds. Goals from captain Marco Streller and striker Alex Frei ensured the English side’s humiliation and Basel’s place in the last 16. Swissinfo Federer swoops record six ATP titles Roger Federer held off a resilient Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Sunday for his record sixth ATP World Tour Finals title, winning 6-3, 7-6 (6), 6-3 at the season-ending tournament. Federer failed to serve out the match at 5-4 in the second set, then wasted a match point in the tiebreaker. Playing in his 100th career final, Federer broke for a 5-3 lead in the decider and served out the match at love, sealing his 70th career title with an easy volley. Associated Press Mexico win opens JBR dubai - Switzerland secured a win on the opening day of the FIFA Samsung Beach Soccer Intercontinental Cup that got under way at The Walk JBR last Friday. Switzerland overcame a spirited fight from Mexico before winning 4-3 in the second match on the opening day. The eight-team competition pits continental champions with World Cup winners. GULFNEWS Litscher best of u23 Felt Ötztal X-Bionic team rider Thomas Litscher, 22, has been recognized by the Swiss cycling federation as its “Best Young Rider” for 2011. One of the sport’s top young stars, the cross-country rider had a breakout season, winning both the Swiss National Championship and the World Championship in the Under-23 category. The award was announced November 30 at the Zürich Six Day race. Sportpresse Cuche, Meier are top Some like it cold: both Credit Suisse athletes of the year are winter sports specialists. Didier Cuche, 37, is still at the top of his ski form with World Cup titles in downhill and super-G. Ice queen Sarah Meier, 27 is “living a dream” since winning the European Championship in Bern after a foot injury plagued her for years. GENEVALUNCH.com