SWITZERLAND, January 17, 2017 – When it comes to democracy, maybe the Swiss are better at it than we are in the United States. After all, they have been practicing it five hundred years longer than we have.
Case in point is the story of Nancy Holten, 42, who was born in the Netherlands and moved to Switzerland when she was eight. Her children are Swiss citizens and Ms. Holten is fluent in the Swiss-German language, one of the criteria for citizenship.
Holten is an activist living in the canton (state) of Aargau. She is also a vegan and extremely opinionated as evidenced by her efforts at giving interviews to local media regarding her views on animal rights among other subjects.
One of Holten’s biggest complaints is the use of cowbells hanging from the necks of the bovines owned by local farmers. Holten claims, “The sound that cowbells make is a hundred decibel. It is comparable to a pneumatic drill. We also would not want such a thing hanging close to our ears.
“The animals carry around five kilograms around their neck. It causes friction and burns to their skin.”
For most people, including the Swiss themselves, cowbells are a pleasant rural sound that enhances the ambiance of the countryside. Each bell has a distinct tone so local farmers can identify where their animals are without having to see them.
In a sense, it is much like branding, only without using a hot iron.
So unpopular have Holten’s protestations become that she is now paying the price from her neighbors.
In 2015, and again in 2016, Holten applied for Swiss naturalization and received approval from local authorities. But there was a catch. In Switzerland local residents have the right to determine whether someone’s passport application should be approved.
By a vote of 144 to 62, the locals rejected Holten’s application in 2015.
Speaking to the local paper, which happens to be called “The Local”, Holten admitted that she may have gone overboard in expressing her opinions and added that she had no intention of attacking Swiss traditions in the process. She added that her primary concern was the welfare of the animals.
Holten continued by saying that Switzerland is her home and she has many friends and family there.
Apparently, the confession was not enough for Tanja Suter, the president of the local Swiss People’s Party.
Said Suter, “Ms Holten has a big mouth” and residents had no desire to give her the gift of citizenship “if she annoys us and doesn’t respect our traditions.”
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the local government, Urs Treier, admitted to the paper that the residents recognize that the legal requirements for Holten’s citizenship have been met, but when someone showcases their opinions by putting themselves in the limelight, it goes against the nature of the Swiss.
People who rebel against time-honored traditions in a community are not well received and, says Treier, “it can cause the community to not want such a person in their midst.”
Holten has also been vocal about the local tradition of piglet racing, church bells, hunting and other historic conventions which most residents consider Swiss values.
The denial is the first time in 20 years that residents of the village of Gipf-Oberfrick have rejected an application.
“Nancy Holten’s attitude speaks to her personal view of the world. In Switzerland, the freedom of expression is enshrined in law. Citizenship cannot be denied on the basis of personal opinion,” said Treier.
Holten has appealed and Treier expects the appeal to be upheld.
All of which leaves us to wonder what William Tell, the Swiss national hero, would have said.
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Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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