How a mountain village made headlines worldwide

Albinen is combating emigration through a financial incentive. This story created a global furore that took the commune completely by surprise. We paid a visit to this besieged mountain village in Valais.

The idyllic setting is deceptive. Like many Swiss communes in peripheral regions, Albinen, a village in Valais, is also being adversely hit by emigration.

He finally gives vent to his frustration: “You’re all mad,” Beat Jost scolds the assembled crowd of journalists. The president of the commune of Albinen plucks at his moustache, mumbles something about an “absurd story” and storms off. Why is this man whom residents describe as hands-on and charismatic so exasperated? It is the proposed funding of homes in his village that has surprisingly caused such a stir all over the world. In the run-up to the communal assembly meeting, Albinen’s most senior official worries that his citizens may refuse to support him over this issue for fear of being overrun by outsiders. He complains that his opponents could not come up with a better campaign and makes no mention of the fact that the commune has pulled of a remarkable PR coup.

Let’s go back to the start. Albinen, an archetypal Valais village lying 1,300 metres above sea level, is in a tranquil spot and enjoys wonderful views. Yet the idyllic setting is deceptive. While Switzerland’s urban centres complain about trains crammed full with passengers, peripheral regions like Albinen are desperately fighting emigration. So, to keep young people in the village or to attract new families, the commune put forward an unorthodox proposal – compensation of 70,000 Swiss francs for a family of four who decide to stay in the village. The money is subject to strict conditions – a ten-year stay and an investment of at least 200,000 Swiss francs in accommodation. Foreign nationals must hold at least a C residence permit.

The story was presented as it inevitably would be in the age of online journalism. After some media outlets had reported matter-of-factly on the initiative last summer, the issue provided the “20 Minuten” online platform with material for a Christmas story that was too good to be true: “Would you move here for 70,000 Swiss francs?” read the newspaper’s headline. The authors of the piece only mentioned the stringent conditions attached in passing. The news then spread like wildfire around the globe. Media outlets worldwide picked up the story. The UK tabloids were the first to run it, followed by media in Russia, India and China. They vied to outdo one another with headlines like: “This Swiss village will give you 70,000 Swiss francs to move there. Pack your bags!”

Appearing with suitcases in the village shop

There was an immediate response. Officials were inundated with thousands of applications. Initially, they treated this with good humour. But they stopped smiling when Italians with their suitcases packed turned up in the village shop enquiring about the money. Jost, a former trade unionist and journalist, was overwhelmed by the developments. He went to ground and even wanted to ban journalists from attending the decisive assembly meeting. But he was called into line by the canton, which reminded him of the principle of public access. This led to a showdown at the fire station in early December.

The residents of Albinen backed their president, overwhelmingly approving the proposal that had caused such a furore beforehand. The young people celebrated, Jost smoothed his hair and all of a sudden willingly appeared in front of the cameras. He was once again at peace with himself, the journalists and the world.

The young villagers are still faced with a dilemma. Should they stay or go? Would they be better off heading to places offering employment, schools and supermarkets? Three young families recently moved away. The elderly are left behind. Next year, half of the village’s 240 residents will draw a pension. “We’re on our deathbed,” warns Jost. He still hopes the housing subsidy will help rejuvenate the village by attracting five to ten new families. In the best-case scenario, that would mean the school reopening.

 

Jonas Schmid is an editor at the “Südostschweiz” newspaper

Comments (10)
  • gabriele
    gabriele at 21.03.2018
    Man braucht doch nur Internet, um dort zu leben. Haben die gutes Internet? Wo sind die Häuser, die man bewohnen kann? Gibt es eine Liste?
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  • Francois Blachere
    Francois Blachere at 21.03.2018
    I would love to move back to Switzerland, unfortunately the cost of living is out of this world for retired couple on fixed income. As I would love to see some incentives to help Swiss people to move back home.
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    • S. Lau
      S. Lau at 07.04.2018
      I would also like to move back to Switzerland if I could.
      That article is aimed at YOUNG families, not senior citizens (they already have enough of those!)
      Show Translation
  • Giordani M-Ch.
    Giordani M-Ch. at 23.03.2018
    Ce n'est pas un cadeau s'il faut débourser 200.000 francs. Et avoir 4 enfants! Conditions absurdes, ils vont attendre longtemps pour avoir des adhérents à ce projet...
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  • Ernst  Ruetimann , Trang
    Ernst Ruetimann , Trang at 23.03.2018
    Das A & O sind Arbeitsplaetze und den Anschluss an den naechsten groesseren Ort mit der OeV . Sonst werden hald die Neuzuziehenden wieder jeder mit seinem Auto an den Arbeitsplatz in der naeheren und weiteren Umgebung fahren muessen ! Da sollte schon eine kleine Firma sich im Dorf etablieren .- Ist immer auch noch eine Frage , wie weit der Ort abgelegen ist .-
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  • Ernst  Ruetimann , Trang
    Ernst Ruetimann , Trang at 24.03.2018
    Das mit den Italienern , welche das Geld abholen wollten ist gut ! Aber diese Idee ist so neu nicht . Hier in Thailand werden schon sei Jahrzehnten die ueber 50 jaehrigen Pensionierten mit dem Zueckerchen eines Erlassen der Einkommenssteuer angelockt . Allerdings muss bei der jeweiligen Verlaengerung des jaehrlichen Aufenthaltes ein Depot von ueber THB 800'000.- ( CHF 23'500.- ) auf einer thailaendischen Bank nachgewiesen werden - und das mindestens 3 Monate vor dem faelligen Termin .- Leider gab es in der letzten Zeit etliche Selbstmorde von Expats , welche Finanziell am Ende waren . Andere leben desshalb auch Schwarz im Koenigreich , was dazufuehrte , dass eine Kampagne gestartet wurde , um diese Illegalen ausfindig zu machen !
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  • rar
    rar at 24.03.2018
    This is beyond crazy! it would not be hard to create a little tourist spot for a few months and hope a few people can actually make a little money there and stay in Albinen, if only for half or a third of the year! I was born in Leukerbad, next door. I guess the Swiss still keep money in their mattresses! :) I would never have guessed Albinen had that kind of money to just give away. Beautiful area, my wife fell in love with it, Leukerbad/Albinen especially.

    rar
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  • Michèle Anthis
    Michèle Anthis at 27.03.2018
    Sans école. .pas de famille !
    On ne peut pas faire d'omelette sans casser des oeufs. .malheureusement. Le cas de l'exode rurale est la menace pour toute la periferie avec l'explosion industrielle. Mais l'école reste le bastion incontournable au renouvellement du tissu social d'un village.
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  • Regis Gérard AVANTHAY
    Regis Gérard AVANTHAY at 27.03.2018
    Avoir 4 enfants est hors norme, surtout compte tenu des faibles allocations familiales suisses et devoir au surplus investir 200.000 pour en recevoir 70.000 me semble fort peu attractif, surtout pour vivre dans un village de vieillards.
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  • Walter Schwendener
    Walter Schwendener at 29.03.2018
    En mi caso en particular es muy interesante la propuesta, yo soy Suizo en el extranjero y vivo en Centro America, mis abuelos vinieron el siglo pasado e hicieron muchas cosas buenas en este territorio sin embargo en la actualidad ya no es posible seguir, es cada vez mas dificil pues no hay incentivos ni proyectos de ayuda y desarroyo, por lo que es muy tentativo, recuperar el patrimonio retornando a zuiza y preservar nuestra cultura como familia.
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