Message from the Mountains

It is now many years since I first sent a report from our beautiful Canton of Mittel Appenzell, about the way that our children and youth have been an example for the world. Once upon a time we were old-fashioned, and paid little attention to the rights of our young people. Then we opened our eyes and we have never looked back. As our saying goes, “The goat on the highest rock sees furthest and gets the best grass”. It is possible that you did not read our reports before, and so I will tell you a little history. In our Canton, we were late in granting the vote to the ladies. The men thought that they could make good decisions, and did not need the advice of the ladies. But when they got home, they found that their wives did not agree with them, and their minds were soon changed.

But in Mittel Appenzell, we are logical people. We asked ourselves, if it is true that every person is an individual, to be respected and valued, and an equal member of our society, then why do only grown-ups have the vote? Why not children too? If people think children are too simple, should we stop simple adults from voting? If it is because they have not passed exams, then we know respected Councillors who never obtained their baccalaureat.

So we decided, let us give the vote to children. Some people said that the little ones should not vote, but we decided that they would not use their votes any worse than their elders. So at our Big Summer Meeting the Council decreed that everyone should have the vote. As soon as they can get to the polling sheds, and press the buttons to cast their votes, they are allowed to vote. It made me laugh to see the little ones standing on their toes, trying to reach, but they became very cross and I had to arrange for little platforms for the tiny children to stand on when they voted.

The result was something we did not expect. The youths got very interested in politics, which naturally is something which we welcome. In their coffee pauses at school, they did not play games, but undertook serious discussions about possibilities concerning the Canton. You know about the Grey Vote, which is when old people put pressure on politicians? Well, in Mittel Appenzell we had the Schulmappestimme – the Satchel Vote, named after the little satchels in which the schoolchildren carry their books and pencils and snacks on their backs. In Appenzell, the Satchel Vote became very powerful and they were well organised, through the use of coffee pause meetings and talking with the mobile phone.

First they demanded money. They said that if big persons get money for going to work, then little persons also deserve money for working. They demanded pay for going to school. We saw the logic in this argument, and so we introduced pay for schoolchildren. If they are on the register and do the required work, they are paid. The older students at college are paid the Canton minimum wage, but the little ones get less money, and for the tiny ones at kindergarten there are special plastic tokens with the Canton mark of a large cheese on them, which they can use in accredited shops to buy ice creams and pop.

We have tried to encourage the children to use their wages for buying cultural books and musical instruments, but I regret that they buy mobile phones and even foreign pop music. The parents complain because the children demand money for cleaning their shoes, and they no longer chop wood unless we give them some cheesy tokens.

It was necessary for the Council to raise the local taxes, and the old people were made to pay more. That was when the Grey Vote became very angry with the Satchel Vote, and tried to stop the taxes, but the weather was windy on the day of the election, so the old people stayed at home. The schools were used as polling stations, all the children voted, and their candidates won.

I was no longer Burgermeister and a smart young boy of thirteen years, Fritz Jodel, was voted to take over. So the children thought, “We shall change the Canton”, but Fritz made a big mistake because he appointed all boys to be his Ministers, and the next year the young Burgermeister found himself attacked by an unexpected coalition. As we say in Mittel Appenzell, “Unless you have eagle’s eyes in the back of your head, do not laugh loudly when you see neighbour across the valley hit by an avalanche”.

Young Fritz did not think of his mother and his sisters. They too had the vote. So the female electors (young and old) got together, and they talked in every kitchen in every house in Mittel Appenzell. They outnumbered the men, and they forced through legislation to change the voting system. The Wilhelmina Party (named after William Tell’s little sister) got the women and girls to elect a Women’s Council and left the men and boys to elect a Men’s Council.

But there were more women than men, so the women had control of the money and decided to spend it on new things like a swimming pool and a big library, and they gave very little to the men. It was terrible; all the old cultural traditions which the men kept going had no money. The men had to close down the Yodelling Society and the Ancient Order of the Alpine Goat. Everyone argued, and everyone was unhappy. “There are too many holes in the cheese”, we say in Mittel Appenzell, “if the cheese-makers cry in the curds”.

In the end, I wrote a letter to the Appenzeller Morgig Zeitung, and said it was time to stop the arguing. I made a proposal, which everybody liked, and now I am Burgermeister again, with Fritz Yodel and the girl from the Wilhelmina Society as my Deputies.

My idea was this. Everyone has the vote if they are able to present themselves at the polling stations and if they can ask to vote. This means that toddlers are too little to understand and a few old people regrettably are no longer capable. But everyone else votes and we have a very good turn-out, especially at the Big Summer Meeting in the field behind my house, when we give them beer and pies.

Then, if people wish, anyone can apply to become Special Voters, whatever their age. They have a little test by the special Canton IT Officer, to make sure that they will have the capability. Next the Canton gives them a computer and a special secret password. Then we send them all the committee reports and council papers and we expect the Special Voters to read them. We ask email questions and they vote every week on their computers, using their secret passwords. If they do not vote, we say we will send the Canton IT Officer to take away their computer, but this has only happened once, when a man was taken ill on holiday.

The Special Voters are good citizens. The youngest is Hans, who is seven and a very clever boy, though not as clever as his sister Maria, who is thirteen and she is a Cabinet Member. The Special Voters can stand to be Cabinet Members and everyone has a vote in the election.

The job of the Cabinet is to oversee the papers which go to the Special Voters, to decide on the wording of the referenda, and to carry out the decisions of the referenda and the votes taken by Special Voters. We have referenda on everything. It is very democratic, and everyone is happy once more. We have started the Yodelling Contests again, and the Kuhglocken Society has arranged a special concert. We have the saying in Mittel Appenzell, “When the cow bells tinkle quietly, there is good milk coming”.

I will write to you on 1 April again next year to tell you if everyone is still happy.

Heinrich Niemann is Burgermeister of Mittel Appenzell.

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