Votes 2021 Burqa ban and palm oil: It’s about pure symbolic politics



No burqas and no palm oil: what are we actually voting on?

There are only a few veiled women in Switzerland and almost no palm oil from Indonesia. Nonetheless, the March 7 vote revolves around these two issues.

Maybe it’s due to Corona. The event bans imposed due to the crisis make the voting campaign more difficult; it takes place almost exclusively virtually. However, this only partially explains why a campaign is taking place on two of the three proposals on which we will be voting on March 7th that has little to do with reality.

But one after anonther. Let’s start with the least problematic topic:


The trade union campaign is polemical, but that’s part of it. Image: keystone

The vote revolves around the question of whether the electronic proof of identity should be based on a purely state solution, as the opponents demand, or whether it is developed by private individuals according to state specifications. Sometimes there is polemicism, for example when the unions use the slogan “Privatize Swiss passports?” occur.

The E-ID is not a travel document, but such exaggerations are business as usual. The most irritating thing is how lame the referendum campaign is. It seems like confirmation of a central finding from the corona crisis: the supposedly innovative Switzerland is struggling with digitization, despite its great importance.

Burka ban

A Swiss couple is talking here who really knows what they’re talking about

Video: watson/lea bloch

Much more violent is the dispute over the popular initiative of the Egerking Committee for a ban on veiling. There are no clear fronts: left-wing women are for and against, as are right-wing men. Even the initiators admit that there are at most a few dozen veiled women living in Switzerland. Often they are Swiss women who have converted to Islam.

We are voting on a popular initiative that affects only a tiny minority in the country. And that can be easily avoided. Even football hooligans can “camouflage” themselves with a medical face mask, with the permission of the Egerking Committee, which expressly allows exceptions for health reasons in the initiative text.

But despite Corona, there is hardly any talk about it. In general, the debate about the burqa ban – that is ultimately what it is about, as the posters by the Egerking Committee show – almost completely ignores a central question: Why do you attack women when “political Islam” is a genuinely male construct ?

In the year of the “anniversary” of women’s suffrage, we vote on regulations “that are aimed solely at women. That only applies to women, ”criticizes the“ Sonntagsblick ”as one of the few media. And says: “But Islam cannot simply be voted away with a yes to the initiative.”

Palm oil

Excerpt from the flyer of the yes committee. Image: Peter Blunschi

The debate about the free trade agreement with Indonesia is even more bizarre. It is intended to make it easier for the Swiss economy to do business with the fourth largest country in the world in terms of population and to remove trade barriers. The vote, however, is practically only about one product: palm oil. Its reputation has suffered in recent years.

Proponents emphasize that only sustainably produced palm oil can be imported into Switzerland. The opponents doubt that this is possible. It is hardly discussed which quantities are involved or, better said, not. Because of the lousy image of the “rainforest killer”, the import of palm oil into Switzerland has been declining for years.

In addition, Indonesia is by far the largest producer in the world, but is hardly of any importance for Switzerland. According to the federal foreign trade statistics, it only obtains around one percent of its imports directly from Indonesia. The reverse is even more blatant: just 0.0001 percent of Indonesian exports go to Switzerland.

That is less than two shipping containers, which probably explains why the Swiss requirements in terms of sustainability were met. They do not play a role in on-site production. More palm oil is likely to be imported indirectly from Indonesia, for example via the former colonial power Netherlands, but that is not what this treaty is about.

It is obvious: the opponents hit the sack (palm oil) and actually mean the donkey, i.e. free trade and globalization. The referendum was not called for in vain by the Uniterre association, which calls itself the farmers’ union, but actually wants to go back to the earlier planned economy with state-set prices and market foreclosure.

It would be more honest to express this openly instead of cultivating a sideline with emotional orangutan subjects. It will be really exciting with the free trade agreement with Malaysia, which is also being sought. Most of the palm oil imports come from there. Then it will show what the commitment to sustainability is worth.

It has to be made clear: not a single square meter of primeval forest will be cleared if Switzerland rejects the agreement with Indonesia. And the Islamists will be unimpressed by a yes to the ban on veiling. On the contrary, as the development in France since the introduction of the burqa ban ten years ago shows.

Ultimately, in both cases it is a matter of “setting an example”, in other words, symbolic politics. Our direct democracy can withstand that. If, however, there are more and more campaigns in which the actual topic is debated and pseudo-problems are boiled up, then we have a problem. It’s called disenchantment with politics.


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Votes Burqa ban palm oil pure symbolic politics


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