What's behind the rebellion of Swiss youth
Lausanne, Switzerland — Angry shouts of young demonstrator and the crash of breaking shop windows are stirring the Swiss from their comfortable, satisfied state of stability. What surfaced this spring in Zurich as a demonstration against the closing of a youth center has crept across Switzerland, feeding on the restlessness of a young generation anxious to break out of what they see as a suffocating society.
"We don't want a world where the guarantee of not dying of hunger is paid for by the certainty of dying of boredom," proclaim banners and spray-painted storefronts in Lausanne.
But the seeds of discontent widely scattered throughout major Swiss cities seem to be rooted in a larger and much deeper social malaise than the demonstrations for autonomous youth centers suggest, or the Swiss establishment cares to admit.
The neutral Swiss have engineered a political and economic system that functions as precisely as clockwork. This in turn has produced one of the highest standards of living in the world. With negligible inflation and unemployment, Switzerland is the showpiece of Europe.
In Lausanne, a city of 130,000 perched on the slopes above Lake Geneva's northeastern shore, prosperity is in the air. Storklike construction cranes race to raise rows of modern gray apartment buildings with their uniform orange awings; sleek pleasure boats jam the ports; and blue-smocked gardeners execute precise floral masterpieces in the lush green park areas throughout the city.
but for all its picture-postcard perfection, the Swiss success story is beginning to take its toll. "We have everything," a young man said, "Stereo, television, food, a place to sleep, everything. Our parent say, 'Here's some money, now go away.' We want something else."
"The Lausanne manifestations are the tip of an iceberg," according to Jean-Daniele Cruchaud, Lausanne's director of police. "There is a certain malaise which is directly linked to our prosperity. We cannot minimize the problem.
"There is no longer any need to struggle for survival," says Mr. Cruchaud. "It's enough to get by, to have a job and time to go sailing and to the mountains. We have all we need."
Prosperity has turned what was once strictly an agricultural country into a nation of business and banks. "We have created an atificial world where there is no time for fantasy or poetry," says Chruchaud. "Life used to flow with the seasons. After the harvest there was time to slow down, think, and talk. Now we live in a world of intolerance. Look how drivers treat pedestrians or how people pass each other in the street. Everything is either for -- or against, there is no dialogue. Switzerland has become a fast-moving bureaucracy based on money.
"The young people of this country don't like what they see of the adult world: no creativity, no imagination," Cruchaud continued. "There is a certain idealism among the young about life and how they could live differently. The past -- however difficult -- is attractive to them, but I'm worried that this idealism may be twisted by others to destabilize the sytem."
Although in imitation of the riots in Zurich, the weekend demonstrations that began in Lausanne Sept. 27 and continued through October, so far, have been more restrained. But by Swiss standards, clashes with police that produce injuries and arrests are starling enough.
A member of "Lausanne bouge" (Lausanne moves), the young force behind the manifestations, was quick to point out that the majority of the demonstrators have no interest in violence or politics. "Everything is too expensive in this city and I'm bored. All I want is someplace to go and have fun. There is nothing political involved at all.I'm just bored." He pointed to a clock with moving soldiers and dancers in the Place de La Palud. "That's Switzerland for you right there. Mechanical, cute, and programmed. Only the clothes change."
Another young man described the various factions among the protesters: "First of all you have a large group of unorganized ones who talk a lot but never seem to be able to make decisions. Then there is a small group from the Socialist Workers' Party. There is another group of maybe a dozen 'casseurs' -- the ones who break windows and want to attack the police. Then you ave the kids who want to have fun and just follow along."
Young people between the ages of 15 and 30 represent less than 1 percent of Lausanne's population. The demonstrators -- mostly apprentices and high school students -- number less than 300 persons. And the violent "casseurs" make up a tiny percentage of that amount.
But the young people of Lausanne, as in other Swiss cities, have succeeded in waking their elders. And this, observers feel, is where the real danger lies.
"The Swiss want to live without being bothered," Cruchaud says. "To live the best life possible. The young get in the way of that goal and the solution for many is to eliminate. That's when it becomes scary. There are those who want a good war."
The director of a large Swiss bank, however, dismissed the demonstrations as "Nothing at all. . . . These problems exists and will always exist. I talk with young people, I understand them. It all will pass. Here in Switzerland we don't like excess -- political or economic."
But among shopkeepers and people in the street, the tone is somewhat different. "All those punks who say they can't get jobs, they just don't want to work," says a jeweler. "It is that simple. They have arms like everyone else, why don't they go to Algeria and help survivors of the earthquake. There's so much suffering in the world, why make it more difficult at home?"
"It's frightening enough," said a woman furrier, "Just look what they did to our window and storefront!"
The director of police insists that "If you organized the party of law and order today in this city, I'm sure it would obtain the majority."
Chruchaud says this is because some have either "lost confidence in the traditional political system, or, because of their failure to communicate with the young people, now give the police the image of an all-powerful authority."
"All the barriers have come down," says Cruchaud. "Churches that were once strict are now less to be more attrative.Each level of authority from parents on has been skipped over until, now, it comes to the police where there is no discussion. It is the law. The impersonal voice of authority."
This has set the police up as the symbol of the young people's ire. "The police are too oppressive," says one demonstrator. "Sometimes I think they are just around to bother people. They stop you to check identification. There's always something."
Indeed, because of many stolen mopeds, police frequently stop young riders to check registration and to make sure engines, handlebars, and other equipment are within strict regulations.
"They [police] stop my children at least once a week," says the father of three children aged to 15 to 18. "They have nothing to do with the manifestations, but this really upsets them."
So far, there has been little dialogue between the authorities and the young people.The demonstrators want to meet them on their level -- in the street. But , says one city official, "That's just not how we operate." A young girl offers the other side of the coin: "They [mayor's office] won't listen to us."
We could say yes easily, but the problem will continue," Cruchaud points out. "A young center with boundaries against any form of law, where they can do anything they want just doesn't work."
The majority of the demonstrators, he feels, want to talk, but "They are intimidated. They don't dare suggest anything because of few who still want violence.
"The solution is patience," he maintains, "It will calm down until the spring. We must put those four or five months of winter to good use. We must make a serious social study to see what can be done. We cannot let it go on thinking it will wear itself out. What else can we do?
"We cannot ignore even 1 percent of the population. It's the minority that makes any democratic system function. Destroy that minority, and you destroy democracy."