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Fame and fortune are passports to citizenship

No trouble getting the red passport: footballers Hakan (left) and Murat Yakin have Turkish roots


Opponents of easing naturalisation, led by the rightwing Swiss People’s Party, say citizenship is a privilege that ought to be earned.

But the obstacles facing ordinary people don’t seem to apply to the rich and famous.

When the Swiss football team took the field at this summer’s European Championships in Portugal, the stands were packed with cheering fans, united in a sea of patriotism.

Their heroes included players such as Bernt Haas, Johann Vogel and Stéphane Henchoz, but also Murat and Hakan Yakin, Milaim Rama, Fabio Celestini and Ricardo Cabanas.

The names of these last five players betray non-Swiss roots, yet they were all born and brought up in Switzerland, and are proud holders of Swiss passports.

And it is not just on the field of play that immigrants make their presence felt. Gigi Oeri, the vice-president of FC Basel, has been a key figure in the success of the only Swiss team in recent years to make its mark internationally.

Of German origin, Oeri married into the Basel-based Roche pharmaceutical dynasty, acquiring Swiss nationality as recently as 1978.

Sweet smell of success

According to Justice Minister Christoph Blocher, obtaining “Swiss citizenship entails far greater rights and obligations than is the case in other countries.”

And if his People’s Party has its way in this month’s vote on granting citizenship to second- and third-generation foreigners, it will stay that way.

And yet, when they want to, the authorities can and will move heaven and earth to smooth the way.

A good example is the gymnastics champion Donghua Li, who won Olympic gold in Atlanta 1996.

The Chinese exile, who is married to a Swiss woman, had to wait the prescribed five years before he could represent his adoptive country in international competition – but not a day longer.

Tennis star Martina Hingis, who has won five grand slam titles, is the daughter of Slovak immigrants. She, too, was granted a Swiss passport without the slightest difficulty.

Those with conspicuous talent or ability can find themselves on a fast track to naturalisation, and this is not just true of sport.

Money talks

If you are rich or successful, the path to a Swiss passport appears somewhat smoother. French actor Alain Delon, for example, has recently acquired his.

Italian-born Ernesto Bertarelli, boss of Geneva-based biotechnology group Serono, has also applied for Swiss citizenship.

There is little doubt that the 39-year-old billionaire has earned it, after his Team Alinghi brought Switzerland the America’s Cup, sailing’s greatest prize.

Delving further back into time, there is the case of a certain Henri Nestlé, who arrived from Frankfurt in 1833. The German-born chemist established the Swiss-based food company which now ranks number one in the world.

Chocolate and coffee were also a factor in the success of Klaus J Jacobs. Heir to a German commercial dynasty, he moved to Switzerland in 1972 and acquired a Swiss passport.

German author Herman Hesse and his compatriot Albert Einstein not only shared the distinction of winning Nobel prizes, they also could travel on a Swiss passport.

Even the national Circus Knie, famous for its highly trained horses, is Austrian in origin, as is Ulrich Bally, the founder of Bally shoes, who crossed the border to make his fortune in Switzerland.

Another example is Nicolas Hayek, the inventor of the Swatch. Hayek is of Lebanese descent, but this has not prevented him from becoming a key figure in the Swiss watchmaking industry.

swissinfo, Daniele Papacella

In brief

The contribution made by immigrants is an important factor in Swiss identity.

The legislation drafted by parliament standardises procedures for the granting of Swiss citizenship.

The Swiss electorate will be voting on whether or not to make naturalisation easier for second- and third-generation immigrants.

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