Swiss town rejects pleas for citizenship

Voters in a town in canton Lucerne have refused to grant citizenship to 48 foreign residents. They turned down pleas for naturalisation from citizens of Turkey and former Communist countries in Europe, but granted Swiss nationality to eight Italians.

This content was published on March 13, 2000 - 10:58

Voters in a town in canton Lucerne have refused to grant citizenship to 48 foreign residents living in their community. They turned down pleas for naturalisation from citizens of Turkey and former Communist countries in Europe, but granted Swiss nationality to eight Italians.

For 56 residents of Emmen, Sunday was a very important day. Their citizenship applications - 23 in all from individuals and families - were voted on by most of their 27,000 neighbours.

To help the voters decide, photographs of the applicants - along with personal details such as their taxable income - were mailed to residents before the ballot.

Four applications related to eight people from Italy, and all were approved. The remaining 19 were put forward by individuals and families from Turkey, former Yugoslavia, Poland and Hungary. All were rejected.

For people such as Rosemarie Simmen, president of the federal commission on foreigners, the result makes a mockery of Switzerland's system of direct democracy.

"I think these people are fundamentally wrong, because what they want is to have more insight and have better reasons for taking a decision. But, it's a kind of mock democracy, because they know next to nothing about these people."

Embedded in Switzerland's system of direct democracy is the idea that the inhabitants of a particular community have the right to decide who should be allowed to live there.

In communities with their own parliament, this decision is now left to the local authorities. But the town Emmen is unique in that it is the only community with a local parliament, where applications for citizenship are still put before the public.

Rosemarie Simmen believes this makes foreigners vulnerable to local prejudices and, in some cases, overt racism.

"It's a classic case of scapegoats. These foreigners did not deserve to be rejected. And it's not only unjust; the voters themselves are not serving their own country. We are losing the people we need most."

swissinfo and agencies

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