If pundits were hoping that the 2016 Brexit referendum across the English channel and the Trump election on the other side of the Atlantic would ricochet in Switzerland riding on xenophobia and hatred, they were in for a rude shock.
The Alpine nation voted on Sunday to make it easier for third generation immigrants to become citizens after a campaign which was marred by anti-Muslim rhetoric and charges of prejudice including religious prejudice.
Over 60 percent voted in favour of relaxing rules that would significantly lighten the long and tedious process of becoming Swiss. Voters also rejected a government bid to reform the countryâ€™s tax structure (Iâ€™ll write about that in another post).
The results were unexpected- verdict had seemed a foregone conclusion in a continent divided as much by unemployment and recent sabre-rattling as by religious prejudice and terrorism.
As news of the vote trickled in late Sunday afternoon, there was relief and presumably regret in some quarters.
Buoyed xenophobia and encouraged by the far right in other parts of Europe especially the Netherlands, France and Germany (all countries going to the ballot in that order this year), the Swiss vote was viewed as a window into what might happen next.
In all the years I have lived in this country and interacted with people across the political, legal and socio-economic spectrum, I sensed that the rhetoric of hate had run its course. Some of this may be a direct reaction to the goings on the the United States- the Swiss are institutions builders and take pride in being the modern world's oldest democracy which is over 800 years old.
Swiss people vote all the time and people take their electoral responsibility very seriously. Ahead of votes, people get envelopes of explanation which is discussed at dinner tables and sometimes over the hedge.
The Swiss are a very private people not given to open demonstrations of emotions and views especially political views but that is also shifting. Sunday's vote was a clear indication that.
Grandchildren of immigrants can now skip several lengthy steps in the process of securing a Swiss passport. Switzerland is a small country (8 million) barely the size of a large Indian metropolis.
The country routinely tops global innovation and continues to be a world leader in a range of good and services (pharmaceuticals, banking and finance, machine tools, watches, etc) and has so far managed to do rather well for itself by negotiating bilateral deals with all the European Union (EU) nations surrounding it without belonging to the community.
It's stable nature- democracy- a excellent public school system and safety in times of global distress makes the country a top destination for goods and capital, people and services. The Swiss also read a lot (average six books per person per year) suggesting that their intake of news and current affairs is different.
The fabled Swiss passportâ€“ a little red book with a white cross on it- is a coveted piece of documentation used as much during times of war and peace in Europeâ€™s chequered history. Switzerland is situated in the heart of Europeâ€“ an hour by flight to all the Continentâ€™s capitals â€“ and living in the country with a local document continues to be a dream many pursue.
Older generation Swiss are touchy about immigration and refugees as the country has a nasty history of turning Jews away at its borders during the two world wars that ravaged the continent. The message from the Sunday vote for me is as clear as it can be and it says- pause and think.