Racism fund receives ringing endorsement

The head of the anti-racism fund, Michele Galizia, unveiled 40 projects which have received government funding Keystone

A government fund to tackle racism has supported 40 projects in its first year of existence, including a hotline which brings victims and perpetrators together.

This content was published on February 26, 2002 - 17:54

The fund, approved by the Swiss government last year, is the first of its kind, and will provide SFr3.4 million a year until 2005 to prevent racism and to help victims of racial abuse.

Ideas for projects were invited from all regions of Switzerland; of the 175 submitted, 40 were judged worthy of financial support.

Michele Galizia, who is director of the fund, explained that projects which had been rejected were often more oriented towards the integration of Switzerland's foreign communities than they were towards the prevention of racism.

"Integration projects are very important," Galizia told swissinfo. "But we have to see racism separately from any particular foreign community.

Changing attitudes

"What we need to remember is that foreign communities may change, but racism continues as a phenomenon. At one time Italians were victims of racism in Switzerland, now the Swiss regard them as their best friends.

"Then we had racism towards Tamils, and towards people from Turkey, so the object of racial hatred can change, but the racist attitude doesn't change."

The fund, Galizia said, is designed specifically to support projects which address racist attitudes. Schemes which deal primarily with integration are re-directed to the Federal Commission on Foreigners, which may provide support.

Telephone helpline

One project which has received money from Galizia's fund is a telephone helpline set up by SOS Racism. The group is based in the French speaking part of Switzerland, but takes calls from right across the country.

Karl Grünberg of SOS Racism explained that the phone line receives up to 30 calls a day from victims, witnesses and sometimes even perpetrators of racial abuse.

"Often the people who call us have been suffering in silence for a very long time," Grünberg told swissinfo. "They really did not believe anyone would want to hear their experiences, so the first important thing we do is listen."

But SOS Racism also offers mediation services. Much of the racial abuse it hears of occurs in the workplace and, as long as the victims agree, SOS Racism will try and set up a dialogue between victims and perpetrators, in the hope of creating greater understanding and thus ending the abuse.

"The main point is that racism should not be dealt with as something which needs to be repressed and punished," said Grünberg. "You can only really fight it if you bring it out into the open and talk about it."

Emphasis on youth

Over the coming year, the fund will be emphasising projects which raise awareness of racism among young people and in schools. Rahel Beyeler has already received support for her series of teaching aids on the subjects of racism and right-wing extremism. She says the reaction from teachers has been very positive.

"They are really happy to have this material," Beyeler told swissinfo. "There wasn't anything like this until now, so although the awareness or racism is greater than before, teachers didn't have the tools to address the issue in the classroom."

One slight disappointment for the fund's coordinators is the lack of suitable projects coming from central and eastern Switzerland and canton Ticino. Michele Galizia however believes the picture will change next year.

"We've only just got started," he said. "And it's perhaps natural that the cities like Zurich, Bern and Geneva have more projects ready to go. But we will be visiting the regions which did not have so much to offer and holding workshops to explain exactly what the fund is for and how to develop suitable projects."

"I'm sure that next year we will have plenty of good projects from those regions too."

by Imogen Foulkes

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