Geneva: the very heart of Switzerland, an idyllic country where guns and ammo flow freely from the mountains themselves, where fountains of neutrality and sound finances spring forth, enveloping the land in a permanent paradisical state of peace. Never before has a place existed that has so completely succeeded in accomplishing everything that a society could yearn for.
Not so fast. As we have previously made abundantly clear, Switzerland is far from free of violence and crime. Indeed, as yet another aggravated assault rocks fair Genève, we are reminded of the recent crime spike plaguing the region. Why is this? Why is the Swiss homeland slipping away from the peace that once enveloped its mountainous landscape?
To answer that question, there are two dimensions to the recent crime spike: desperation and hate crimes.
Central to the first issue are immigrants. They come to Switzerland with high hopes and expectations; some as refugees, some simply seeking a better life, some as criminals escaping persecution in their countries of origin. Those with high hopes often find themselves disappointed and disgruntled by the reality of life in Switzerland. As a result, the once-hopeful peaceful immigrants become involved with the former criminals with whom they arrived. Without the moral support of their families left behind in pursuit of a better life, they can easily fall into criminality out of desperation.
Now to address the second point, that of hate crimes. The Swiss can tend to be a rather reserved and insular people, not exactly a cultural attitude that’s conducive to acceptance of foreigners. Immigrants, therefore, are often rather ill-received in Swiss society unless they fall on a really nice group of folk. Locals are frustrated with the onset of violence and burglary brought by foreigners and those from just across the border, especially in the French regions. In their frustration, their tendencies turn fascist. Local Swiss also become vexed by the competitiveness of the job market, and subsequently blame part of it, if not all of it, on immigration. As a result, there’s resentment on both sides. This sometimes leads to clashes whose instigators are rarely, if ever, discernable.
Finally, Switzerland’s legal framework is not properly developed for adequately dealing with personal defense against crime and violence. Contrary to popular myth, Switzerland’s restrictions regarding firearms possession, while progressive by European standards, still have room for improvement. Former members of the military may purchase their service weapons for personal use, and average citizens are able to possess firearms, but only after surmounting a considerable tangle of paperwork in order to obtain a permit. This includes supplying an up to date extract of their criminal record, which must be ordered from the archives in the capital. Private possession of ammunition off the firing range, other than for hunting purposes, is strictly forbidden, and the bearing of arms in public is only permissible for security personnel, either on-duty or en-route to their occupation. For all practical purposes private citizens are not able to bear arms, and an armed-and-ready citizenry, outside of military service, is purely a myth.
What does this last point have to do with Swiss violence and crime? Actually a whole lot, especially considering changing circumstances. An unarmed and defenseless law-abiding people can do nothing for its own protection. The responsibility for the defense of the people from criminals and killers, therefore, falls entirely upon law enforcement. This wasn’t a problem in years past. However, growing economic insecurity coupled with immigration-based societal tensions have taxed law enforcement’s ability to keep up with the upsurge in violence. Seeing as there isn’t a mechanism in place for the Swiss people to rise to the challenge and provide for their own defense, we can probably expect this increasing trend in violence to continue.
Far from a crime-free paradise, Switzerland, while better off than many European nations, still faces some of the same criminal problems stemming from economic uncertainty coupled with social tension from immigrants. The current Swiss legal system is unable to adequately counter the upsurge in violence by allowing the people to more take greater charge of their own defense, the grand result being that the safety and tranquility of Geneva has taken a blow.
Alon Starkman is a former Sergeant in the Swiss Army and a contributor to The Desert Lynx. Joël Valenzuela is the editor of The Desert Lynx