About 25,000 third generation immigrants could benefit from facilitated citizenship if voters approve a reform on February 12. Iva Petrusic, whose grandfather came from Croatia to Switzerland in the 1970s, explains just how complicated the process was for her to get a Swiss passport.
“I know who I am and I’m comfortable with who I am,” says the 20-year-old student. Iva has learned to live in two cultures: she was born and raised in Switzerland of parents with roots in Croatia - she is a typical ‘third-generation’ Swiss immigrant.
She went through the regular and cumbersome citizenship procedure, which lasted more than two years, and in December 2015 she finally became Swiss at the age of 16.
“I was born here, I grew up here and have always lived here,” she says. “Therefore I wanted to be able to participate in the political life of my country.”
We meet in the town of Aarau and a find a table in a café which serves French-style pancakes on this cold January morning. Iva who lives with her parents in nearby Suhr, usually comes to Aarau to meet friends in the evening.
She recalls the quarrels with her parents about going into town at night when she was still a teenager.
“The Swiss seem to be much more relaxed about spending time with friends in town, or sleeping over or even going on holiday together,” she says. “Croatian parents are often much more conservative. For them the family takes priority.”
She found a way of bringing both cultural identities together, her parents learning to trust her and, at the same time, her friends understanding the importance of family ties.
“It was not easy for my parents to know when they should act like the Swiss do and when it was right to pass on to us something about the Croatian mentality.”
Growing up without the Swiss passport was not really a problem for Iva. “At school other pupils sometimes called me a ‘Yugo’ but this has never bothered me.”
She says there were occasions, for instance in snowball fights, when the group of Swiss she was with, battled against foreign kids. “My group sometimes slagged off the ‘dirty foreigners’, forgetting that I was one of them.”
Despite growing up in Switzerland, Iva had to prove that she is well integrated in local society.
“I had to take an oral exam in German. This was a bit of a waste of time because my mother tongue is German. My knowledge of Croatian is limited,” she says, smiling.
She also needed three letters of recommendation from people who know her well, but that was not all. “The authorities asked my apprenticeship tutor and my school to write a report about me.”
Then she had to sit an integration test, answer questions in two meetings with municipal officials, hand in numerous documents, and then wait a long time. Her application for Swiss citizenship was approved by the cantonal and then the national authorities.
The final hurdle was a town hall assembly where her request was submitted to local citizens.
“It was all a bit weird. There were extra seats for me and the other candidates. All eyes were on us. Before the assembly took the vote, we had to leave the room. Afterwards we were told that our applications were approved,” Iva recalls.
Since that day, she is eligible to vote and participate in elections. She will also do so on February 12 and back a proposal to ease the citizenship procedure for ‘third-generation’ immigrants.
“I agree that the passport should not be given for free,” she says. “It’s alright that the state asks candidates to show a commitment. But the procedure should be simplified.”
If Swiss voters approve the constitutional reform at the ballot box, Iva’s two younger siblings – her 16-year-old brother and eight-year old sister – could apply for a passport under a facilitated citizenship procedure.
Whether they will do so is not clear to her. “They are too young at the moment and interested in other things.”
Her parents don’t see the point in submitting themselves to the long and costly nationalisation procedure. They plan to return to Croatia once they reach retirement, following in the footsteps of Iva’s grandparents.
“My grandpa came to Switzerland in the 1970s with a temporary work permit. In the beginning, he found a job during the summer season. His family had also settled here by the time the conflict in the [the former Yugoslavia] Balkan countries erupted.”
Iva has kept close ties with her extended family in Croatia where she regularly spends her holidays, but her future lies in Switzerland for the time being.
She started training as a social worker, like an uncle of hers who works in the same field and is engaged actively in Swiss politics.
Iva says she may join a political party herself one day, because she likes the country’s political system. “Religion plays a major part in Croatian politics. Switzerland is different and better off for it.”
For Iva, coming from a practising Catholic family, she says religious convictions are a personal matter and should not be mixed up with politics.
It didn’t escape Iva that religion also regularly becomes a subject of politics in Switzerland. The controversial poster campaign against facilitated citizenship reform showing a woman in a burka is a case in point.
“It was weird seeing those posters at the railway station. I don’t take them too seriously. The opponents try to scare people for lack of solid arguments.”
Iva says many of her friends with immigration background have also acquired the Swiss passport. But even those who haven’t, are entirely integrated in the local Swiss society and none of them wears a burka.
“I suppose it would have been much more difficult to integrate if my family were Muslim,” she acknowledges.
For her part, Iva says she takes the best of the two cultures, nationalities and mentalities she is familiar with. “It is a blessing,” she says.
Adapted from French by Urs Geiser, swissinfo.ch