Should foreign residents have to know how to recycle waste oil before they can apply for citizenship? Are people who shop at local corner shops more deserving citizens than those who frequent supermarkets? And what kind of sport is “hornussing”?
These are just some of the questions Switzerland is puzzling over after a 25-year-old failed the notoriously tough Swiss citizenship requirements – even though she has lived in the country all her life, speaks fluently in the local dialect and had passed the written part of the exam with full marks.
Funda Yilmaz, who was born in Switzerland to Turkish parents and works as a draughtswoman in the town of Aarau, applied for citizenship after her Swiss fiancee had suggested that she should take a more active part in the referendums that make up the country’s unusual mix of direct and representative democracy.
“I was born here. I don’t know any other life,” she told a panel of six examiners at the interview which follows the written test. “I don’t have plans to emigrate either.”
Yet after two rounds of interviews and more than 100 questions, a jury of local councilors from the municipality of Buchs rejected Yilmaz’s application by 20 votes to 12, reasoning that she “lives in a small world and shows no interest in entering a dialogue with Switzerland and its population” – a verdict many have questioned after weekly news magazine Schweizer Illustrierte published a transcript of the interview.
The jury criticized Yilmaz for displaying “gaps” in her knowledge of the municipal recycling system and for not being able to name any local shops other than chain supermarkets such as Aldi.
Another complaint centred around her unfamiliarity with “typical Swiss sports”, such as Hornussen, an indigenous cross between baseball and golf, or Schwingen, a style of folk wrestling. Yilmaz had named skiing as a typical Swiss sport. “One could have a very long debate about what is typical and traditional,” she wrote in a letter complaining about her rejection.
Other questions chosen by the jury included “Do you like hiking?”, “Would you rather visit Geneva or the region around Lake Geneva?” and “What kind of fitness training do you do?”
Since the case emerged, there have been several calls for a reform of the naturalization process, which is decided by municipal juries comprised of local residents rather than a centralized agency. “The arbitrary nature of the official process has rarely been so visibly on display,” wrote the Tagesanzeiger newspaper. In February, Switzerland voted to make it easier for third-generation immigrants to become citizens, rejecting the complaints of rightwing politicians that the proposed measures would pose a security risk. Until now, a fast-track route to citizenship has been open only to foreigners who had been married to Swiss citizens for more than six years, including those who have never lived in the country.