practice #1: Stammtisch. Koloniales Erbe: Rassismus, Denkmäler und die Schweiz

1. Juli 2020

The Swiss self-understanding of neutrality and the comparison to “real” former colonial powers often leads to the supposition that Swiss participation in the colonialist enterprise was either absent or insignificantly small. To the contrary, many Swiss banks, missionaries, industrialists and trading companies were involved in colonialism. In our first “Stammtisch” meeting, every participant was able to choose among a variety of texts like newspaper and journal articles or interviews. We discussed the urgent topic of racism and colonialism in Switzerland as well as the current debate about colonialist and racist remnants in public places, such as monuments, statues or street names. It is a widespread assumption that just because Switzerland had no colonies, there was no Swiss colonialism. This suggests that there is a colonial amnesia in Switzerland – neither exists a discourse nor does the Swiss participation in colonialism belong to common knowledge. As Harald Fischer-Tiné put it, Swiss involvement in colonialism was excluded from academic discourses for a long time and more so from public and collective memory. We asked ourselves: Can people take part in a debate on colonialism who do not critically examine historical and political processes on a daily basis? Since our goal as Decolonize Zurich is to spread information and the debate from academic into public spaces, it is important to engage in discussions about colonialism and racism with friends and acquaintances, even if these discussions have previously been inconclusive. Not only the participation in colonialism but also societal problems of racism are often downplayed in public. Switzerland is promoted as being homogenous instead of diverse and this is connected to a utilitarian approach to migrants who are only welcomed when they prove to be useful. A constructive approach concerning racism would probably be one of intuition instead of top-down teaching: It might be helpful to say that we have all racism inside us and then to talk about what we could change together.