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#DearDemocracy Globi: the cartoon character explaining democracy to kids

Globi e Helvetia

Helvetia (right) explains the ins and outs of Swiss democracy to Globi.

(Orell Füssli)

Consensus government, division of powers, federal constitution: all frightening words for children. But now, a new book – and a popular animated character – tries to explain to the young how democracy functions in Switzerland.

It’s difficult to explain the Swiss political system to children. Anyone who has tried has probably been met by blank looks; many children see politics as something belonging firmly in the adult world.

How can we make children enthusiastic about politics? “By telling them a story and taking them on a journey through Switzerland with a familiar and popular children’s comic character,” says Marc Zollinger, the author of recently-published ‘Globi and Democracy’.

The cover of one of the early editions of Globi.

(Orell Füssli)

Ambassador for democracy

Globi, who is half person and half parrot, was conceived as a character to advertise the department-store chain Globus more than 80 years ago. The blue bird characterexternal link quickly conquered the hearts of Swiss children with his comic books.

And he still does today. With his yellow beak, beret and checked trousers, Globi has lured several generations of children to China, the Alps, Venice, onto the television or to the zoo.

“But Globi hasn’t yet taken on the biggest adventure of all – democracy,” said Dominique de Buman, the president of the House of Representatives, at the book launch in parliament.

“It’s nevertheless the job of politicians to determine Switzerland’s relations with China, or how the thief who steals the gold from the Swiss National Bank should be punished,” de Buman said – issues that play a direct role in Globi’s adventures.

In his new adventure, so, accompanied by Helvetia – a female character symbolising Switzerland – Globi visits people and places that were important for the development of Swiss democracy over time.

The adventure begins on the Rütliwiese, a meadow where, according to Swiss mythology, the country was founded. Children recognise themselves in Globi and can identify with him, because he is a bit like them: a kind, funny cheeky rascal. He asks thousands of questions. And that’s how he teaches children how Swiss institutions function.

“Globi is a kind of ambassador for democracy. He builds a bridge between the children and abstract concepts,” says Moria Zürrer of the New Helvetic Societyexternal link, who commissioned the book. The society is a non-partisan organisation founded at the beginning of World War I in response to internal strife and to defend national independence.

Globi e Guglielmo Tell

The adventure begins with Swiss national hero William Tell.

(Orell Füssli)

From the page to daily life

The new book is part of the series ‘Globi Knowledge’, a collection aiming to give children access to complicated subjects that they struggle to understand, like chemistry, space and time, and energy.

Although these are serious subjects, Globi remains his classic burlesque self. In the book about democracy, he demands that the following rights be enshrined in the constitution: the right to own a pet of your choice, to meet up with friends once a week to eat cake, and free open-air swimming-pools.

Globi then decides he wants to change the constitution. “Does it have to be an important text?” he asks. “Of course it does,” answers Helvetia. “The constitution sets rules on how the Swiss live together. It grants security, guarantees freedom, and provides justice.”

“Learning about democracy from books is not enough,” Zürrer says. “Democracy has to be lived on a daily basis. To take part in democratic processes, you have to understand democracy as well as its rules.”

Globi con Cassis

Globi talks to current Swiss Foreign Affairs Minister Ignazio Cassis.

(Orell Füssli)

Zürrer also adds that the book is intended not only for children, but also for their parents. When reading Globi’s adventures aloud, he says, adults can also associate democracy with pleasant experiences, such as being together in a community.

“The real journey starts now,” says Marc Zollinger, the author of the book. He is awaiting the feedback of children and young people about whether the story was able to explain how Swiss democracy functions.

Globi

Globi is a comic character who hatched from an egg in the Sahara in 1932. The creators of the character – who is very popular in German-speaking Switzerland but virtually unknown in other parts of the country – were Ignatius Karl Schiele, the head of advertising at Globus, and illustrator Robert Lips.

Together they gave a shape to the unmistakeable figure – half-man, half-parrot, with a beret and checked trousers – who has become the hero of countless adventures over the years.

In his early books, Globi is sometimes seen smoking a cigarette or drinking a glass of wine, something that certainly didn’t meet with the approval of teachers. In the 1970s, Globi was also accused of racism and paternalism. He has since learned his lessons, without completely losing his rascally character.

Some Globi books have been translated into English and French. ‘Globi and Democracy’is currently only available in German, but the authors are planning to translate the book into the other three national languages.

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Translated from Italian by Catherine Hickley, swissinfo.ch

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