'Power to Nobody' -- angry cry of Swiss youth puzzles a nation
Zurich, a city used to solving urban problems with cool efficiency, is being beaten by its youth. Town administration, police, and churches are groping in the dark for some answer to the rioting which has battered Switzerland's financial capital for the past 10 months. The toll so far: around 500 injured; one death when a young woman set fire to herself on a public square in protest against a "cold" society; more than 1,600 arrests; nearly $5 million in damage; and more than a dozen firebombings included the suspected arson of a leading Zurich fashion store.
The coming summer promises a hotter scenario than the last. Since the start of the year, the camps have hardened.
On the one extreme, angry citizens horrified by smashed windows and unable to understand what youth could possibly lack in one of the richest industrialized nations in the world.
On the other, youthful militants who claim to have learned that violence is the only way to get results.
"A" for anarchy is the rebel symbol sprayed on buildings throughout the town. Wall scribblings read "Chaos is Beautiful," "Fury Does Good," "Power to Nobody."
Says Thomas Wagner, town councilor and member of a group trying to negotiate an end to the youth rebellion: "It came without warning. We had no time to really think, just time to react."
Now, he adds, both sides are faced with a dilemma. The city administration is finding it impossible to communicate with a movement when no representative has the right to speak for the whole. The youth movement has become the victim of its window-smashing wing which rejects any compromise.
Youthful discontent has spread to other Swiss cities -- Berne, Basel, Lucerne , Lausanne, and Zug. On a recent riot weekend, in the provincial town of St. Gallen the windows of the Swiss President's house were shattered by rocks.
What do Swiss youth want?
They want autonomous youth centers, meaning centers which they run themselves with no outside interference such as police bursting in to look for drugs or runaway teenagers.
Zurich is willing to provide the center but not to put it "outside the boundaries of the law."
Last summer, a temporarily opened center was closed down after police found drugs. A decade ago, following the student uprisings, a short-lived youth center was shut for the same reason. It is difficult to get away from the fact that affluent Zurich is a major drug-dealing point, with at least 10 deaths from overdoses so far this year.
Young Hans, with a Palestinian scarf tossed around his neck, explains, "We do not want to fit into this society, we want space of our own to try out new life styles."
Amnesty for protesters arrested during riots is high on the movement's list. As 22-year-old Bea, dressed in jeans, says, "They are guilty of nothing more than trying to wake up this lousy society."
Under a banner of "discontent," at times up to 10,000 have marched for the cause of youth along Zurich streets. They include apprentices who want fewer restrictions on the job, squatters pushing for cheap housing, women who want a less male-dominated society, activists campaigning against nuclear power, and high school students wanting a less repressive school system.
Often the cause is justified. Reasonably priced housing is being eaten up here by insurance companies and luxury renovations. Men can still control their wives' finances and keep them from working. The Swiss work the longest hours in Europe, at a weekly average of 44.5 hours, according to the International Labor Organization in Geneva.
Teenagers must feel the very close conditions under which people live in this small country. If they turn on the rock music, their neighbors' protests would soon drown out the sound.
Most Wednesday nights the youth movement meets at what it calls a "full assembly" where anyone can speak, and collective decisions are taken. At a recent meeting it was decided to reject the city council's offer to reopen the youth center until autonomy is granted.
The assembly ended in the traditional way. Most participants went home peacefully, but a few dozen militants went on a rampage smashing windows and setting dustbins on fire.
An estimated few hundred of the youth movement's many thousands of members are bent on violence. But they have managed to break up every peaceful demonstration held here recently. Confrontation with the police is a cat-and-mouse game which the police attempt to contain with tearg as and rubber bullets.