The Swiss People’s Party (SVP) led political initiative known as the Durchsetzungsinitiative to be decided on February 28, 2016 will have drastic consequences for Switzerland should it pass and set the country on a dangerous path that it does not want to go down. If passed political flexibility, a strong point of Swiss democracy, will be limited and a two-tiered justice system, which is in opposition to the founding principles of the constitutional democracy the country is, will be breached.
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On November 30, 2011 Swiss federal defense and sport minister (yes, the same ministry deals with both of these issues) Ueli Maurer (SVP) made it known that the Swiss military would purchase 22 new fighter jets from the Swedish aerospace company Saab. The Griffin JAS 39 (Gripen in German) come at a cost of 3.1 billion francs. To finance this purchase the federal government will cut spending in other areas like education and research.
On February 13, 2012 Swiss newspapers reported about how Mr. Maurer is coming under fire after resent studies and evaluations have graded the new jets as insufficient in meeting the criteria the military had established for the new jets. Furthermore, the new Griffin jets are supposedly worse than the F/A-18s that the air force took into commission 15 years ago. What is also hard to understand about the results of the test is that the tests were conducted in 2008, meaning that Mr. Maurer should have had at least two years to read the reports, which he claims he was unaware of.
While the Griffin purchase will surely become known as Switzerland’s “Griffingate”, the underlying issue is being less discussed. Why is Switzerland investing so much money in its military? Switzerland has not been militarily attacked by a foreign force since its neutrality was officially declared at the Vienna Conference of 1815. There are two parts to this answer.
The first is what I call the myth of nations. Each nation has a set of myths that help to build a national consciousness. In Switzerland the predominant myth is that the country’s wealth comes from the hardworking and industrious people in the country. This wealth is subsequently protected by its well trained military. According to the myth the military is so respect and efficient that without the use of force has made Switzerland an unattractive target for foreign invasion, even during World War II.
I’m not going to say that this is all wrong, but it is definitely not all correct. Switzerland profits from its small size, attractive tax structure, and geographical situation. Furthermore, its neutrality made it attractive for many NGOs and other organizations to be located here in the earlier part of the 20th century. Today the big banks live off foreign holdings and investments. They bring money to Switzerland. That’s not to say companies like ABB and Nestlé do not matter, of course they do, but the banks are the largest source of money for the country and why threats from the US, EU and other countries regarding banking secrecy are taken so seriously and so much anxiety.
To link this back to “Griffingate” I am going to propose a psychological argument. Why is the country investing in the military and not in education and research? The answer is that open public investment in the military tells the people that Switzerland is threatened and needs to protect itself. This increases the conservative and xenophobic mentality of people, who will in turn be more likely to vote for parties that preach conservative values.
For Switzerland’s own best interest, the government would do better to invest in a standing professional military that can be used for patrolling and protecting major summits held within its borders. Increased spending in education and research spending will do more to keep Switzerland an economic success than a military. Every economist and business professional full acknowledges that low-end manufacturing is a dying industry. Advanced technology, research and development are the only ways of securing the economic future of Western countries. Switzerland has done a good job in this field, but as the world becomes more competitive, more investment in this field will be necessary.
The solution to “Griffingate” is bitter. Cancel the contract with Saab and pay the high breaking of contract penalty. Then re-evaluate priorities and draw a plan for where the country wants to go. Switzerland cannot stay a frozen bubble. It can choose to lead the world in new developments or fall behind trying to save what it has.
Swiss politics has become a scary place. From blatantly prejudice campaign posters to remarkably low voter turnout, Swiss democracy finds itself in a perilous situation. How the Swiss vote on October 23 can possibly change the face of this rather young democracy very quickly.
Young democracy you may be questioning. What about the 1291 founding of Switzerland and the established country since then? Truth be told this is all part of the larger Swiss mythology with which children are raised and what politicians call upon to inspire the nationalistic vote. However, the simple fact is that the current political system was founded in 1848, the same year the rest of Europe was undergoing its failed revolutions, shows that something different was happening in the alpine nation. Already before that though, it was Napoleon who freed the majority of the people from the tyranny of a few wealthy families that controlled the different cities and willingly sold off their inhabitants (as they were not allowed to vote) to be mercenaries for different and often competing royal households.
On a call back to Napoleonic times the political party known as Secondos Plus called for the retirement of the current Swiss flag and the possible revival of the Napoleonic flag for the country – green, red, yellow. Their claim is that the white cross on a red background no longer represents the societal landscape of Switzerland and that the cross is a clear symbol of Christianity. Now what must be understood is that this party also has many “real” Swiss members, so it’s not just a group of immigrants that have suggested this change. However, this suggestion could not have been made at a worse time.
To suggest the replacement of the internationally renowned Swiss cross will have the equivalent effect of giving the SVP, Switzerland’s rightist party, X tens of thousands of votes. Already this week the party has launched an aggressive attack on the idea from Secondos Plus as well as what they consider a justification for their xenophobic stance on immigration. They are using fear of the abolition on traditional Swiss values to win votes. These are the same tactics that the American Tea Party and GOP are using every time they accuse Democratic politicians of trying to install a socialistic/communistic government.
The problem that both Switzerland and America as well as the majority of the western world faces is that the democratic systems are not functioning. We are told that we live in democracies yet few of us are political beings in an Aristotelean sense. Just like many parents go around treating their children like small adults allowing them to make choices they are not yet fit to make, we go around believing we have a right to vote. However, one should only have the right to vote if you’re actually politically inclined. Or said another way, having the right to vote demands that you partake in politics. This means more than reading posters and listening to TV personalities give their two cents on what they think about current events.
In today’s world, politics is more complicated than ever as our systems work in more integrated ways. With this in mind we need to understand that we are a part of a system and that everything that we know today is dependent on the relationships that exist today. The SVP would like the Swiss to believe that Switzerland can exist as an island without symbiotic relationships with other countries. They want to give the people (das Volk) the right to make decisions on everything, without asking them to be politically skeptical, inquisitive and aware of the repercussions in an international context. For this reason Switzerland has already started to fall on the ranking of democracies and during the last election we even had an agency supervise the elections.
From where Switzerland stands today, it is clear that the majority of citizens have not earned the right to vote and/or lived up to their responsibilities as voting citizens. This is further backed by the fact that in the last election more than 53% of the population did not bother to cast a ballot. For this reason, it is imperative that politicians in parliament be given the task of evaluating the laws and treaties that the country signs and to be aware of everything that they entail. A country cannot exist in a vacuum.
Most people today are too busy worrying about paying their bills, working, taking care of their family and other things than to worry about politics. Just like hardly anyone understands how their mobile works most people do not understand how politics work, but nonetheless they expect it to function and not leave them in a bind.
Switzerland used to have a grand coalition whereby members of different linguistics and geographic areas as well as from different segments of the political spectrum worked together to come up with resolutions best suited for Switzerland as a country and its people. Today the country is on a race to the bottom with the growth of party politics and an economically incentivized political program that will eventually bankrupt the state and leave piles of debt to future generations. In terms of human rights the country is already being taken to the European Human Rights tribunal in Strasbourg for the 2009 laws against the building of Minarets.
If you’re interested in Swiss politics and its current state read: “Die käufliche Schweiz” by Viktor Parma and Oswald Sigg. The authors will also be talking at Kaufleuten on Monday, October 10th at 8pm.