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Saturday night in Chur. The bars are heaving, the drink is flowing freely and there’s a noticeable police presence on the streets. Nathaniel Hofer, a member of the Young Socialists Party, is handing out flyers against the new law, which voters will approve or reject on February 24.
HOFER: “It has the wrong goals. It has the aim of prohibiting alcohol when really that is not the main problem. People are complaining about noise and about people littering and loitering. We think it’s the wrong step because you are fighting symptoms and not the root cause.”
It’s a view shared by alcohol prevention expert Henny Stanislaw who says prevention means more than repression and that it would make more sense to tackle under-age drinking by controlling sales to young people.
STANISLAW: “This measure is aimed mainly at young people and the problem is that the entire population is going to be punished. And a ban doesn’t make much sense because young people will just drink outside the zone.”
The new police law originally covered issues such as video surveillance, fines for littering and the exclusion of individuals from the city centre. In these respects, it differs little from the measures which other Swiss cities are considering. But the alcohol ban was introduced at the last minute during a town council debate - and since voters have to accept or reject the whole package, Chur’s police law has essentially become a debate on prohibition. Christian Boner, mayor of Chur, says the issue has been blown out of all proportion.
BONER: “Of course, the police don’t have the resources to persecute everyone. That’s not our goal. We will carry out checks and issue warnings, but it offers the possibility to intervene earlier before these people create other problems.”
No one denies that Chur is a magnet for young people from all over the canton and even further afield. In the early hours of Saturday and Sunday morning, hundreds if not thousands are turning out of the bars and clubs. And just like in any other city, some drunken teenagers are behaving badly. If the vote goes against them later this month, they and everyone else could face a CHF50 fine for drinking on the streets at night.
Update, Feb 25:
Voters in the city of Chur approved what is being billed as the most repressive law on alcohol in Switzerland. Drinking of alcohol in public spaces will be prohibited between 12:30 am and 7 am as part of a raft of measures aimed at cracking down on rowdy behaviour.