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Swiss demonstrate to express solidarity

Calls to end nuclear power have brought together thousands of demonstrators in recent months Keystone

People who take to the streets to demonstrate in Switzerland tend to defend a cause rather than personal interest, and are more likely to be older, well-educated and to trust Swiss political leadership, according to a European study.

The results of the study were published by the Swiss National Science Foundation on Tuesday. Researchers also examined the motivations of demonstrators in Belgium, Britain, the Netherlands and Spain. For the first time, the results were collected during various marches rather than gathering intentions beforehand.

“We thought it would be interesting to get people’s point of views while they are participating,” said Marco Giugni of Geneva University. “We wanted to know their motivations, their sociological profile.”

The demonstrations included two women’s marches, an anti-nuclear protest, a gay pride event and Zurich’s Labour Day march. The events held between 2010 and 2012 were chosen to provide a wide spectrum and large number of participants. 

However, the number of demonstrations that could be included in the study was restricted by the relative low number of large events in Switzerland.

According to Giugni, it wasn’t possible to include marches involving foreigners or rightwing rallies because they didn’t reach the minimum of 5,000 participants set for the study. Spontaneous rallies were also excluded for practical reasons.

The researchers found that a majority of participants were aged between 40 and 64, most of them held a university degree, in line with previous research that shows education and political awareness are often related. Less than four per cent of participants had low levels of education.

The age result may stem though from the choice of events surveyed.

“They covered issues that have been on the political agenda for a long time and that mobilised a generation of people,” Giugni told “We also didn’t cover the kind of demonstration that attracts younger people such as global justice movements, partly because these are fading now.”

Solidarity for a cause

Nearly 70 per cent of those questioned said they were marching to express solidarity for a cause, 63 per cent to raise awareness and 38 per cent to defend their own interests.

People were not demonstrating though to complain about political leadership. Most of those questioned said they trusted Switzerland’s political institutions, especially the government.

“Swiss people in general are more trustful of their institutions than people are in other countries such as Italy,” said Giugni. According to the political scientist, Swiss citizens have more influence on the political process through the instruments of direct democracy.

The downside of this situation is that people are less likely to mobilise about an issue, unlike in countries such as France where citizens have fewer opportunities to express themselves at the ballot box, he said.

For the Swiss, belonging to the right network is more of a reason to demonstrate one’s convictions. The more one is integrated, the more likely that person will hit the streets.

Age (40-64):

Belgium: 57.5%

Britain: 44.9%

Netherlands: 53.6%

Spain: 55.7%

Sweden: 35.9%

Switzerland: 50.2% 

Education (tertiary):

Belgium: 42.1%

Britain: 82.1%

Netherlands: 68.7%

Spain: 63.1%

Sweden: 68.6%

Switzerland: 61.4%

Number of respondents in Switzerland: 1,100+

World March of Women (Bern, March 13, 2010)

May Day demonstration (Zurich, May 1, 2010)

Anti-nuclear demonstration (Beznau, May 22, 2011)

Gay Pride (Geneva, July 2, 2011)

Women’s demonstration (Geneva, June 14, 2011)

Additional data gathered from:

May Day demonstration (Geneva, May 1, 2011)

Anti-nuclear demonstration (Mühleberg, March 11, 2012)

Gay Pride (Zurich, July 16, 2012).

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR