Last weekend, Swiss people living in Canton Schaffhausen had the opportunity to vote for an initiative that aimed at establishing the right to vote for immigrants who have been living for at least five years in the canton.
The result? A mere 15% voted yes.
The overwhelming majority seems to share the cantonal parliament’s opinion that the right to vote ought to be acquired exclusively through naturalization. Regular naturalization becomes possible after having lived for at least 12 years in Switzerland. Looks like both the cantonal parliament and 85% of those who cast their vote think that it is fine for immigrants to, you know, pay taxes but the right to take part in cantonal political development ought to be off limits, for over a decade.
The result is in fact not surprising, which is part of why Schaffhausen missed an opportunity, namely to surprise.
The situation seems reminiscent of the Swiss history of women’s suffrage, at least to some degree. Though debates over women’s rights started within feminist movements shortly after the Swiss Constitution of 1848, it was only in the 1960s that the first Swiss cantons introduced women’s suffrage, and only in 1971 it was introduced at the federal level. Change first began in the French part of Switzerland and moved more or less West to East. The Canton Appenzell Ausserrhoden adopted the change in 1989, and it was not the last canton. Appenzell Innerrhoden was eventually forced to introduce women’s suffrage by the federal court in 1990. The Wikipedia timeline of women’s suffrage puts this into international perspective.
The tyranny of the majority–at that time the tyranny of the male majority–delayed the introduction of women’s suffrage in Switzerland by decades, if not the better part of a century. In Appenzell Innerrhoden, the Swiss Canton that prides itself for being stuck in time, circa 1885, some men perhaps still wonder why women ought to vote, anyway. More than some, I am certain, look back at that 1990 federal court decision as an “illegal meddling in internal cantonal affairs” and a good reminder for why the Swiss soldier ought to keep his weapon at home. Against government tyranny the Swiss ought to be prepared.
Today the tyranny is of the naturalized Swiss, over the immigrant. Just like in the second half of the last century, when men had to vote for the introduction of women’s suffrage, today “the Swiss” is asked to vote for the introduction of political rights for immigrants. Back then, women couldn’t vote to express their opinion on the matter. Today the immigrant cannot vote to express her opinion on the matter.
In half a century, we may well wonder how come we once thought immigrants ought not to take part in the political development of the community in which they live. Herein lies the opportunity, namely to actively shape the understanding of modern reality.
Modern reality is one of migration. Globalization seems to have hit goods first; next are people. In some communities, such as in academia, mobility across countries and continents is already part of the curriculum, to the extent that I bet for many the concept of home, that place where you settle down and build a house in which you are going to die, at most evokes a pale nostalgia. Will Schaffhausen, and beyond, grant the not naturalized the right to engage in political development when the majority will transition in less than a decade, or within a few years, cantons and countries become temporary hosts, and naturalization fades into history?
Perhaps Finland opens a window into the future, as it did for women’s suffrage, established in 1906. I am a Swiss immigrant to Finland and, guess what, I have the right to vote in local elections–and participated in the past, shortly after I had been living here for just two years.