Switzerland at 200 – the once proud democracy at the verge of plunging into an oligarchy

THE PACIFIC MAGAZINE, ISSUE JULY/AUGUST 2048 – In the 200th year of its existence, Switzerland finds itself grappling with one of the highest levels of economic and political inequality globally.

This summer, Switzerland will be celebrating its 200th anniversary. Following a long tradition, the Swiss will come together all over the country to set off fireworks, light bonfires and share food while politicians will praise the alpine nation’s wealth and independence.
Yet, in the picturesque landscapes of Switzerland, deep cracks have emerged, exposing a society divided along economic, social, and cultural classes. Economic power is concentrated in the hands of a few families while the once prospering middle classes have shrunk to a slightly better-off préquariat that receives a basic income of 1'700 Francs to counteract sinking real wages. At the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid, migrant workers without Swiss citizenship toil away in menial labor, earning meager wages that barely sustain their most basic needs.

It’s like playing Monopoly without owning any hotels

The 40% foreign-born residents of Switzerland contribute significantly to the nation's prosperity. Yet, they face increasingly stringent requirements to be granted basic political and social rights. They have to endure a 20-year wait to qualify to become Swiss residents, while receiving lower quality social services compared to their Swiss counterparts.
In the words of Fatima, who has come to Switzerland from a neighboring country: «We work tirelessly, day in and day out, taking care of the elderly, the sick, and the children. Yet we are treated as second-class citizens. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to retire.»Hans, an elderly Swiss citizen living just above the poverty-line, shares his perspective: «It's not just the foreign-born residents who suffer; we, the Swiss-born poor, are trapped, too. Everything is so expensive. We  struggle to survive.»
Expressing her frustration with the current state of affairs, Anna, a 33-year old primary school teacher, compares living in Switzerland to playing a game of Monopoly without owning any of the real estate: «If you don’t own land, you’ll always be stuck to just barely be able to pay your rent
Well, if you belong to the 90% renters in the country you can at least pretend to own land if you spend your free time in the Metasphere “e-Heidiland” as hundreds of thousands do every day. In the endless digital realms of Heidiland you can build your own picturesque e-farm or e-village and stroll the pristine e-countryside with your avatarised friends. «e-Heidiland is the place where I feel most at home - it’s where I’m the master of my fate» says a high school student we met in Zurich. His friend added «They want to keep us stupid and busy - but I shouldn’t say that too loudly».

Did someone say Oligarchy?

Who are «they»? At the heart of Switzerland's divisions lies the influence wielded by a handful of affluent Swiss families who have slowly built large media and retail conglomerates. Backed by considerable inheritances, these families acquired struggling media outlets and turned them into platforms of shallow entertainment.
Notably, these wealthy families exert significant influence within the major political parties of the centre and centre-right, further exacerbating the imbalance of power. As political activist Lara Bortuzii of the Geneva-based movement DemocratieMaintenant remarks, «Switzerland has devolved into an oligarchy, where the wealthy families buy off the support of citizens by providing a meager rent falsely advertised as a basic universal income scheme. This facade of social welfare conceals the deep-rooted inequality and perpetuates their control over our democracy.»
Switzerland was once seen as a haven of democracy, stability, and transparency. Now, corruption is rampant. The top public officials are all recruited from Hergiswil college - a small private elite university that’s funded by anonymous donors. On the shores of Lake Lucerne, the college is where the youngsters of the elite are trained and prepared for important roles in business and politics. Widespread criticism erupted ten years ago, when claims of corruption came to light and students were shown to have bought degrees. However, calls for reform of the institution have not come to fruition.
By capitalising on advanced consumer analytics, they then weaponised these media-cum-entertainment-platforms to peddle the goods and services of other branches of their conglomerates through more or less subtle means of product placement. The resulting concentration of power has raised concerns about the erosion of a diverse and independent media landscape, as well as the growing influence of corporate interests on public affairs.

Escape or reclaim forgotten Ideals

As Switzerland moves into its third century, many wealthy Swiss citizens have turned to spending their holidays in luxurious destinations such as Dubai and London, where they can indulge in opulence, shielded from the everyday struggles faced by their co-countrypeople.
On its birthday, Switzerland celebrates its ancient pledge to be «a unified people of brethren (and sisters)». There are many who want this pledge to be more than empty rhetoric and fight for a society where empathy and equal opportunities prevail over exclusive enclaves of privilege. Lara Bortuzzi says: «The only upside of so many of us youngsters being unemployed is that we have time to dedicate ourselves to politics. We’re here to reclaim democracy
As Switzerland celebrates its 200th birthday, it is time to bridge the chasms that divide its population in order to progress towards a future where the realities faced by all its citizens are no longer masked by the allure of faraway destinations.