The other day I was teaching English at a corporate client’s office when we started discussing politics. The discussion was started by a Thomas Friedman article from the New York Times. However, my students soon started to see the similarities that current Swiss politics have with American politics. And from there a great many issues surrounding the October elections were discussed.
Up until that moment I was quite aware that many Swiss people are not happy with the political direction that Switzerland is headed down. Books like “Die käufliche Schweiz”, written by insiders, show that these are not simply the feelings of some people with little time for politics, but real issues.
At the heart of the matter is a really the same problem that America and most Western countries face. It is an identity crisis mixed with an understanding of the big picture. By big picture I mean that many countries and even smaller political units fail to see that they are part of a bigger unit. There is a real need for systems thinking in world politics. People need to understand that the entire world, politically, economically and culturally is now connected. With this in mind I believe that Switzerland needs a party that addresses the following issues and posits a similar credo.
- Switzerland is a country of diverse cultures and histories. Historically, different cities had different political structures. The country has four official languages and many many more dialects. Coupled with recent immigration patterns, Switzerland is a multicultural country and these differences and their ability to live together need to be celebrated. The people also need to respect others’ rights. That the country is being charged by the Human Rights Court in Strasbourg is a shame. The country is better than that. No Switzerland is not being bullied, it is clearly in the wrong. That a mayor has resigned because of threats after voicing his support for multiculturalism in his city is disgusting. Again the country is better than that. Radicalizing opinions is dangerous. Tradition can and should be supported, but it cannot be put before societal progress.
- Switzerland needs to be more active internationally. Despite the famous myth of Swiss neutrality, we need to acknowledge that neutrality does not exist. Up to the Congress of Vienna (1814-15) the Swiss cantons were exempted from fighting in Europe as along as they delivered mercenaries to the waring kings, princes, and dukes in Europe. During the World Wars they aided both sides and thus kept their people from needing to fight, but were connected with both sides. Today Switzerland is part of the UN and could be part of the EU and other organizations. Joining these associations would give Switzerland a voice in European/world politics.
- Switzerland is not an island. Though many Swiss believe that the wealth of the country has come through their hard work, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Wealth from outside the country has poured into Switzerland since the First World War. Tourism and banking may be industries, but they can easily leave a country. People need to understand that every country is connected and without trade a country is doomed. Switzerland needs to cooperate with other countries to do what is right for everyone. To make an analogy: Switzerland is like a knight in chess — it’s easier to play with the knight, but you can still win the game without him. At present the country is seen as a cherry picker by the international community. This has to stop, Switzerland needs to show itself as a willing collaborator in ensuring that international laws and and regulations are upheld and that the betterment of the current world political and economic systems is of importance.
- Switzerland’s greatest wealth is in the minds of its people. Innovation on all fonts needs to be the driving force of the Swiss economy. Research and development spawn new companies, sources of employment and wealth. Solving key environmental issues such as power generation would bring unimaginable business to the country.
- A great part of Switzerland’s wealth lies in its nature. There is hardly another place on earth that has so many UNESCO world heritage sites so close together. Be it glaciers, bridges, old cities or vineyards, Switzerland’s natural beauty is a source of pride for its people and keeps tourists coming back time and again. This needs to be protected and the only way to do this is to make sure that strict environmental policy is implemented and enforced thereby challenging industry to innovate.
Lastly, the Swiss and anyone who sympathizes with Switzerland’s political system need to be told that direct democracy is not a right, but a duty, a challenge and in many ways a burden. I say it is not a right, because a right does not intrinsically implicate responsibility.
- Direct democracy is a duty in that it demands that all citizens vote, otherwise it becomes very easy for a minority to soon dictate the laws for the majority.
- Direct democracy is a challenge, because it demands that the constituents be politically active and understand everything that is at stake. Political posters and fliers do not provide the full picture. Decisions must be evaluated for their full meaning and repercussions.
- Direct democracy is a burden, because when excepted it must be carried out faithfully and always. Every citizen accepting direct democracy resigns their right to not vote and says that they will be politically active and always do that which is best for the country and best for the future of the country and future generations.
I believe that every Western country has it within their ability to secure themselves and change the world.