Even if the symbolic value of citizen participation in decision-making should not be underestimated, the actual importance of direct democracy in Switzerland is often exaggerated, claims leading Swiss historian Thomas Maissen. An interview with the Paris-based academic, published in in a German-language Sunday newspaper external link in Switzerland last month, prompted two days of considerable reaction by readers before fizzling out.
Traditionalists and other unconditional supporters of direct democracy may have bristled after reading the article’s headline: “The Swiss overrate direct democracy.” In the interview, Maissen is also quoted as saying that “direct democracy is more symbolic than we admit.”
Another perceived provocation might be Maissen’s reference to nationwide ballots on seemingly minor issues, including the initiative aimed at promoting cows with horns, rejected by Swiss voters last November.
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