W H Y N O T S W I T Z E R L A N D ?
“Switzerland is a special and fascinating place. Its unique institutions, its direct democracy, multi-member executives, absence of strikes, communal autonomy, its universal military service, its wealth, and four national languages make it interesting in itself. But it has a wider significance, in representing the ‘Europe that did not happen’, the Europe that escaped the centralisation of state and economy associated with the modern world. Today there is a new special feature. Switzerland is an island surrounded by the European Union and resists membership.” – from Why Switzerland?, Jonathan Steinberg, Cambridge University Press.
“You don’t see where the problem is when every male citizen who has been in the army has an assault rifle (FASS-90) under his bed.” (see You Know You’re Swiss When… below)
Eight million people, 23% of which are “resident foreigners”, a third of this group having Swiss citizenship. A Federal Government, with 26 self-governing cantons, and a seven member cabinet, representing different political parties and a rotating President. Four spoken languages: 63.6 % German; 19.2% French; 7.5% Italian and Romansch 0.6% (40,000 people), plus 8.9 “other languages”. (1990 Census). Those who believe in a God: 38.4% Roman Catholic; 52.8% Protestant; 0.88% Jewish Faith, Hindu and Moslem.
Pinned to a wall in a Lausanne backpacker hostel, some years ago, was the following witty list:
1. You complain if your bus/train,tram is more than five minutes late. Make that 1 minute.
2. You’ve ever been confused with a Swede.
3. You laugh when Americans believe that Swiss Miss is a Swiss product, but then have no clue that Néstle and Rolex ARE.
4. You get frustrated if you go grocery shopping abroad and there aren’t at least 10 different kinds of chocolate and 15 kinds of cheese available.
5. You have learned three to four languages and think this is completely normal.
6. You have been asked – upon stating your nationality – whether you live in the mountains and whether you can yodel.
7. You can pronounce Chuchichäschtli and you know what it means. (1)
8. You have ever been asked who the President of Switzerland is and then failed miserably trying to explain why you’ve lost track.
9. You know what Röschti are and you have crossed the Röschtigrabe at some point. (2)
10. You went to a state-funded ski camp every year with your class mates in high school.
11. To you, skis are like the extensions of your feet, because you’ve skied since you could walk.
12. You are amused when people ask you what language is spoken in your home country and/or you have to explain that “Swiss” is not a language, that there are four national languages and none of them is called “Swiss”!
13. You owned a Swatch growing up… or still do.
14. You’ve even seen Sandmännchen dubbed into Romansch. (3)
15. As a female, you give all your friends three kisses on the cheek as a greeting…
16. You love Migros and you swear that some of their products are better than anything you’ve ever seen elsewhere. (4)
17. You’ve ever been asked by your non-Swiss friends to intervene in a fight and used “Hey, I’m Swiss” as an excuse not to.
18. Your country has six different public television channels in three different languages – and you don’t think this is unusual.
19. You get amused when you see Swiss German people being subtitled on German television. (5)
20. You firmly believe it is more important to do things accurately than do them quickly.
21. You were legally allowed to drink beer and wine at the age of sixteen.
22. You walked to kindergarten without supervision, wearing a large orange triangle around your neck.
23. You think it’s normal that everyone has a bunker underneath their house, or is registered for one of the public bunkers under the school building, for emergency situations. By the way, here’s a fun thing to do: invite over some of your foreign friends (Americans make very good candidates) and take a picture of the look on their face when they SEE the bunker. Priceless!!!!!
24. When being asked to explain how certain things work in your country, you have to use the phrase “it differs for each canton, so…”
25. You are asked to vote on a “Referendum” or “Initiative” at least 6 or 7 times a year.
26. You are used to drinking water from any public fountain in the street unless there is a warning sign that says “No drinking water”.
27. You grew up believing all cows must wear bells.
28. You think driving somewhere for four hours is a hell of a long time.
29. You get slightly irritated or at least confused if your foreign visitors ask to see a chocolate factory.
30. You don’t see where the problem is when every male citizen who has been in the army has an assault rifle (FASS-90) under his bed.
31. You know what Betty Bossi books and products are and have bought one. (6)
32. You know someone that collects the tin foil lids from coffee cream tubs.
33. You have to pay twice the prices for museum entries because you’re not a citizen of the EU, although you live in Europe.
34. You are in a non-European country and can hear people talking Swiss German and just go up and strike up a conversation with a complete stranger.
35. No matter how much of a “bad-ass” you think you are, you will still pick up your candy wrapper off the floor if an old lady asks you to.
36. You think everything is cheap abroad compared to Swiss prices!
Some More Photos
The Red Cross and the Geneva Conventions on warfare started in Geneva in the mid nineteenth century. They flowed from the stimulation caused by the publication of Geneva born Jean-Henry Dunant’s A Memory of Solferino, an eye witness account of the aftermath of the battle of Solferino, June, 1858 , when thousands of soldiers of both sides were left dying or wounded unattended in the aftermath. The battle was fought between French and Sardinian armies against the Austrian army near Solferino on the Italian mainland. The arguments, in his self-published book, for the care of the wounded and dying, and for introducing conventions in warfare, were initially championed by a group in Geneva. As the momentum developed the Swiss Federal Government hosted a congress that led to the first Geneva Convention on Warfare being ratified, on 22 August, 1864.
The Swiss Federal Council
“The Federal Council is the seven member executive council which constitutes the federal government of Switzerland and serves as the Swiss collective head of state. While the entire council is responsible for leading the federal administration of Switzerland, each councillor heads one of the seven federal executive departments” – Wikipedia
The Swiss Federal Council 2014, left to right: Johann Schneider-Ammann, FDP Liberals, Dept. Economic Affairs, Education & Research. Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, Conservative Democrats, Dept. of Finance. Simonetta Sommaruga, Social Democrats, Vice President for 2014, Dept. of Justice and Police. Didier Burkhalter, FDP Liberals President for 2014 & Dept. of Foreign Affairs, Doris Leuthard, Christian Democrats, Dept. of Transport, Energy & Communications. Ueli Maurer, Swiss People’s Party, Dept. of Defence, Civil Protection & Sports. Alain Berset, Social Democrats, Dept of Home Affairs. Federal Chancellor Corina Casanova.
Political Enemies of Direct Democracy
Presently, within the United Kingdom, amongst many, many others….
IN? OUT? Shake it all About…
A British opinion poll in November 2012 revealed that 56% of those polled wanted the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, 30% wanted to stay, and 14% who were undecided. In a March, 2001 Swiss referendum, 76.8% of those voting rejected applying for membership of the European Union. However there does remain a minority in favour of full membership, including both the Swiss Social Democrats and Swiss Green Party. Meanwhile, surrounded by the European Union, unelected Commissioners in Brussels periodically bluster, and bully the Swiss Federation.
With the Conservative Party leadership rattled by such polls, and the growing electoral support for the United Kingdom Independence Party, the Conservative Party has promised a referendum on continuing European Union membership should they win the 2015 British General Election. The promise is based on Conservative leader Cameron re-negotiating aspects of Britain’s membership with Brussels, and then going to the electorate with an In – Out referendum on the outcome of the renegotiations. At the time of writing, (March 2014) the Labour Party and Liberal Democrat Party policy is to oppose offering a referendum.
The mechanism for creating the referendum was for Conservative backbencher James Whitton to introduce a Private Members Bill, based on the Conservative Party draft EU referendum bill. It went through the House of Commons, and then was debated in the unelected House of Lords. There were two ‘readings’ (debates) in the House of Lords, the second on 10 January, 2014. What follows are some of the press reported quotes of those unelected “Lords” opposed to the proposed referendum.
“Peers have been accused of showing contempt for British voters over the proposed EU referendum, saying the public cannot be trusted to make the right decision.”
“Lord Mandelson, the former EU Commissioner, said any vote would be a ‘lottery’ in which the electorate would be swayed by irrelevant issues…’We should be very wary of putting our membership in the hands of a lottery in which we have no idea what factors, completely unrelated to Europe, will affect the outcome.’
“Lord Kinnock, a former Labour leader and European Commissioner, said the referendum was a ‘lame gesture’ in response to the daily drum of the unyielding Europhobes.”
“Lord Oakeshott, Liberal Democrat, said there is ‘no need’ for the Bill because voters can have their say in the 2015 General Election. Referenda are a ‘cowards way out’ for politicians who don’t want to make decisions.’ “
Baron Thomas of Swynnerton (aka Hugh Thomas, historian and academic) said that referendums were alien to British philosophy. ‘Parliament makes decisions, not people’ he said, quoting the former Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan.
Four days later the Swiss online edition of The Local (14 January, 2014) ran a story that would have flabbergasted most of Britain’s professional ‘democratic’ politicians – whose unstated motto is “I trust myself, but not those who elected me” The following story would have caused them palpitations. Think of the implications in a British context.
“May referendum looms on Gripen plane deal”
The goal of the campaigners is to block the purchase of the Gripen fighters, which would cost the mountain country 3.13 billion francs ($3.47 billion).
Under Switzerland’s system of direct democracy, citizens can have the last word on a huge array of issues if campaigners muster enough signatures from voters in order to force a plebiscite.
Polls have shown that a majority of voters oppose the Gripen deal.
Approved by the government in 2011 and backed by parliament last year, it cannot be blocked as such.
But opponents have been able to contest the law that allows the purchase to be funded by drawing an annual 300 million francs from the army’s budget over ten years.
The coalition campaigning against the deal is steered by the left-leaning Socialists and Greens, as well as anti-militarists, but also includes economic liberals opposed to the price tag.
The opponents also argue that the model of Gripen chosen by the authorities only exists on paper, as its maker, Sweden’s Saab, is still developing it.
Last month, Saab’s Gripen beat the Rafale, made by France’s Dassault, and the F/A 18 Super Hornet built by US company McDonnell Douglas in the race to sell 36 planes to Brazil.
The estimated value of the Brazil deal is $5 billion.
The air force of neutral Switzerland currently has 32 Super Hornets in service, purchased in 1996.
There are currently 166 Gripen fighters in service globally, with 100 in Sweden, 26 in South Africa, 14 each in the Czech Republic and Hungary, and 12 in Thailand, according to Saab.”
Bern cancels Swedish fighter-jet air show
The Swiss government’s eagerness to avoid graft accusations could explain why Switzerland cancelled Swedish fighter jets taking part in an air show, reports from Stockholm said on Tuesday.
Sources told Sveriges Radio (SR) that the Swedish participation had been cancelled because the Swiss government did not want to be accused of trying to sway public opinion in favour of the Jas Gripen.
The government is facing a citizens-initiative referendum that will have final say over whether the country should buy the Swedish jets.
Saab headquarters in Sweden told SR that the company was not engaging in any marketing activities in Switzerland whatsoever ahead of the plebiscite, which is scheduled for May.
And the Outcome……..
Voters shoot down Swedish fighter jet deal
Published: 18 May 2014 18:41 GMT+02:00
The Swiss allowed a multi-billion-dollar deal to buy fighter jets from Sweden to crash and burn Sunday, when a majority turned out to nix funding for the purchase.
Swiss reject world’s highest minimum wage (18 May 14)
New Swede named to Bern amid Gripen flap (30 Apr 14)
Defence minister under fire for ‘sexist’ speeches (28 Apr 14)
Critics charge Gripen jet costs could triple (31 Mar 14)
In all, 53.4 percent of voters balked at releasing the 3.1 billion francs ($3.5 billion) needed to purchase the 22 planes from Sweden’s Saab, according to official referendum results.
Polls ahead of the referendum predicted that voters would turn down the government plan, which called for the new fighter jets to replace the Swiss Air Force’s ageing fleet of 54 F-5 Tiger aircraft to defend Switzerland’s air space.
Citizens from French-speaking Switzerland were the biggest opponents of the deal.
Voters in Neuchâtel, for example, voted 69 percent against, while those from Geneva, 67 percent.
Almost 55 percent voted against the Swedish jets in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino.
Support for the planes was strongest in German-speaking cantons, but a majority opposed their purchase in Zurich (51.4 percent) and Basel City (67.7 percent).
Another example – reported in the Swiss 26 February 2014 edition of The Local – of the referendums that occur in the Swiss Federation was the following:
“Swiss to vote on world’s highest minimum wage”
Schneider-Ammann launched a campaign on Tuesday objecting to the proposal, which will be put to Swiss voters in a referendum on May 18th. Switzerland does not currently have a national minimum wage.
If the plan is approved, Switzerland’s lowest hourly salary will exceed that of current record holder Australia by more than ten US dollars. Australian workers are entitled to A$16.37 per hour ($14.67).
The UK’s minimum hourly wage is £6.31 ($10.55), while Germany recently agreed a €8.50 ($11.69) minimum from 2017. The current US rate is $7.25.
Speaking at a media conference reported by Reuters, Schneider-Ammann said: “The government is convinced it would be wrong for the state to impose a nationwide wage.”
“A minimum wage of 4,000 francs could lead to job cuts and even threaten the existence of smaller companies, notably in retail, catering, agriculture and housekeeping.”
“If jobs are being cut, the weakest suffer most,” he said.
In an interview with newspaper Tribune de Genève, Philippe Leuba, economics minister for canton Vaud, agreed.
Bringing in a minimum wage would compound the problems created by the recent anti-immigration yes vote, he said.
“Don’t forget that one franc in two is earned through exports. Our standard of living depends on our ability to export and if we fail to maintain relations with the EU there will be considerable difficulties for the economy, for salaries, for jobs and for apprenticeships. So let’s not multiply our mistakes by saying yes to a minimum wage.”
In November, Neuchâtel became the first Swiss canton to propose a minimum wage of 20 francs ($21.75), to come into effect in 2015, after residents voted to accept the principle.”
Decentralisation, Direct Democracy and Anarchism
As a historian, Hugh Thomas (aka Baron Thomas of Swynnerton) wrote one of the earliest standard works on the Spanish Civil War, a well regarded book that was seen as a well-balanced presentation. This is quite a feat as the Spanish Civil War still arouses strong viewpoints, as what happened, and what the outcomes were, are still pertinent to how societies organise themselves, politically, economically, socially and militarily. No historian dealing with the Spanish Civil War can avoid dealing with one major element of that War: the decentralist, communal anarchist inspired revolutionary events on the mass scale that occurred. In the areas where they had mass support: the appropriation and communal organising of the land, and factories (particularly in Barcelona), the sexual politics – encompassing the freeing arrangements of looser marriages and abortion rights, a progressive education approach and the organisation of their FAI/CNT militias were unique in the history of Western Europe. Nothing like it had happened on this scale before, nor has happened since. It is a credit that Hugh Thomas stuck to impartiality when writing his The Spanish Civil War, given that he may have been hostile to the egalitarian anarchist ideal, and frustrated at its lack of military effectiveness on the campaign front.
The other Western European country that had significant numbers of believers in the de-centralist anarchist ideas of how societies should be organised was Switzerland between the mid nineteenth century, through to the early twentieth century. There were various groups – in Geneva, for instance – but the Swiss watchmakers in the Jura region were the significant body. They fascinated the Russian anarchist theoretician Prince Kropotkin, who like his fellow anarchist Bakunin, was also a political refugee in Switzerland from Tsarist Russia. He visited them in 1871 to find out more about them.
Switzerland was a noted haven, besides Britain, during the mid to late nineteenth century for political refugees. The British periodical The Spectator noted this, in a 8th August, 1885 edition:
“SINCE the time when the English regicides found a safe asylum at Vevey, Switzerland has always extended a generous hospitality to the political waifs and strays of neigh- bouring nations. Whether the refugee be a princely Pretender with views inimical to the welfare of France, a German Minister fleeing from the wrath of Bismarck, a Communard, red- handed from a murderous conflict in the streets of Paris, or a Russian Revolutionist with a price on his head, he may count an a quiet life and freedom from molestation on the sole condition of respecting the laws of the land and refraining from acts which might embroil the Confederation with foreign Powers.”
Not So, Orson
The Swiss Confederation has a set of prejudices against it and about it, just as all nations have, but it is remarkable that the prejudices about them and false observations are so wide of the mark – even by the normal Richter scale of misinformed prejudice.
In trying to weasel his way out of any condemnation of his immoral trade in fatally diluted penicillin Harry Lime says to his former friend Holly Martins (played by Joseph Cotton)
“In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. “
Er, not so Orson. (Orson Wells claims he added these lines himself, to the Graham Greene Third Man screenplay). A stable peace within the Swiss Federation did not arrive until the mid nineteenth century. In addition, at the time of the Borgias in Italy, Switzerland was reckoned to be the most powerful and feared military force in Europe, according to some historians.
Italy, at the time of the Borgias (approximately 1455 – 1503) gave the world Machiavelli, who lived in a similar time period as Calvin. And Machiavelli’s contribution to the development of a democratic society? Many of his Machiavellian followers, even if they are unaware of, or have never read his The Prince, crowd out the parliaments of ‘democratic’ countries. Some of the British variety have recently been de-selected, expelled or imprisoned for massively falsifying their expenses claims.
It could be argued that the French Protestant John Calvin, who was a religious refugee to Switzerland, and eventually built up a large following and influence from Geneva (where he died in 1564 and whose lying in state was crowded out) had a historically massive effect in the development of what became humanistic rationalism (even if he wouldn’t have approved of it). And like the German protestant Luther, the sovereignty of individual human conscience, alongside non-hierarchical religious assemblies were central to his beliefs. These elements, in a secular world, became part of the progress to a more humane and democratic ethos to aspire to and live by.
And cuckoo clocks? Really Orson, Switzerland would not have one of the highest per capita incomes in the world if it depended on the export of cuckoo clocks (which are, incidentally, mostly made in German Bavaria). Chemicals, pharmaceuticals, micro-engineering and the conservation and imaginative use of their resources are just some reasons why this is so.
For those interested in developing genuine political democracy the question is simple: Why not Switzerland? Why not the Swiss model?
And why Social Democratic Parties, and the Green Parties are – beneath the ‘progressive’ sheen – inherently dictatorial and anti-democratic (like the forces they criticise) is another story, and another Post.
p.s. The Latest from Switzerland
“Swiss seem happiest with their lives: OECD”
Published: 18 Mar 2014 23:28 GMT+01:00
Updated: 18 Mar 2014 23:28 GMT+01:00
Swiss residents live longer than those in any other country in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and have the highest level of life satisfaction among the group’s 34 members, a new report says.
Residents in Switzerland have an average life expectancy of 82.8, compared with the OECD average of 80.1, says the Society at a Glance 2014 report of OECD social indicators.
According to its data, the mountain country is also the place where people “seem most satisfied with their lives”, compared to other OECD nations.
“When asked to rate their general satisfaction with life on a scale from 0 to 10, the Swiss recorded a 7.8, much higher than the OECD average of 6.6,” the report said.
Overall, the report gives Switzerland high marks for avoiding the social problems faced by many developed countries in the wake of the 2007-08 financial and economic crisis.
“In no other country is a smaller share of the population (around four percent) reporting that they cannot afford to buy enough food,” it says.
The report highlights the country’s low fertility rate of 1.52 children per woman as one of its challenges.
This is below the OECD average of 1.7 and well beneath the “demographic replacement rate” of 2.1 needed to avoid population shrinkage.
Switzerland has been offsetting its low native birth rate by admitting more immigrants.
The report notes that more than a quarter of Swiss residents are foreign born, more than double the OECD average.
Among other findings of the report:
— Public social spending at 18.9 percent of GDP in Switzerland is lower than the OECD average of 21.9 percent
— Health expenditures, averaging $5,600 per capita, are exceeded only by the US and Norway
— Swiss annual disposable income ranks among the highest in the OECD but the ratio between the average income of the richest and the poorest residents is seven, compared to an OECD average of 9.5 percent.
Malcolm Curtis (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Why Not Switzerland Footnotes
1. Chuchichäschtli: classic Swiss German, meaning “kitchen cupboard”.
2. Röschti: a fried potato dish, a Swiss German favourite. Röschtigrabe: a humorous term to describe the ‘divide’ between German speaking Switzerland and French speaking Switzerland.
3. Sandmännchen: “Sandman”, a popular children’s TV programme, particularly, but not exclusively, throughout German speaking Europe. Although there was a West German produced series, it is the former East German series that is the most popular, and continues to be watched, including by Le Patron’s enklekinder – grandchildren – when younger.
4. Food supermarket.
5. Schwyzerdütsch – Swiss German has its own grammar and many different words, but it is particularly the soft pronunciation and the almost Scandavnavian ‘sing-song’ intonation that foxes most people when heard for the first time, when trying to identify the country of the speaker.
6. Switzerland’s favourite series of cook books.
Sources and Links (highlighted)
Why Switzerland, Jonathan Steinberg, Cambridge University Press.
The official Swiss information online service: “A service of the Confederation, Cantons and Communes”.
“You Know You’re Swiss when…” two A4 pages, kindly photocopied for Le Patron by staff at the Lausanne Guest House backpacker hostel.
SWI news online.
The Spectator online archive.
Photos Copyrighted where stated. Photos by Pete Grafton and Elspeth Wight: free dissemination with photographer credit for non-commercial use. For commercial use, contact Le Patron.