Switzerland, the Swiss and their Freedom

December 12th, 2012

I have the impression that we Swiss often respond too defensively to allegations and blackmails – Published on Current Concerns, by Federal Councillor Ueli Maurer, head of the Federal Department for Defence, Civil Protection and Sports, December 3, 2012 (on the occasion of the Ustertag celebration on 18 November 2012).

… Freedom requires courage:

  • It is fortunate that the concern of the father is historically known. We can look behind the backdrop of the story. We learn about the mood of the people of that time, fear and its overcoming, about the courage they needed. From this we learn something very important: freedom is not for granted. Courage is a prerequisite of freedom. Because courage was required to come to Uster; it took courage to take one’s destiny into one’s own hands.  
  • By the Ustertag (People’s Assembly at Uster) we celebrate our freedom. We remember the courage of all those citizens who stood up for freedom on that memorable 22nd November 1830. And we remember that freedom is only there as long as we citizens stand up for our freedom.
  • The courage to freedom has been shown at that time in the citizens’ march to Uster. But it was not limited to that alone: the significance of the day becomes clear when we look at the wider context. The Ustertag marks the breakthrough of liberal principles. What was previously discussed in pamphlets, popular entries, memoirs, is being politically implemented as a result of the Ustertag. First in the new Zurich Cantonal Constitution of 1831. Then by reforms in other cantons. And finally in the Federal Constitution of 1848.
  • These constitutions founded the ground for the liberal social order; for the social order that has made Switzerland one of the freest, most peaceful and prosperous countries – for the society to which we owe our unique quality of life.
  • Principles of freedom: The principles are simple, clear and timeless: we are free citizens. One of the three speakers on the Day of Uster, Johannes Jacob Hegetschweiler, physician in Stäfa, quoted Friedrich Schiller: “Man is created free, and is free, though he be born in chains.”2 Everything else follows from that: freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of science and arts, economic freedom, equality before the law, protection of private property, privacy, protection against arbitrary interference, to name only a few. It includes also the transparency in governance. Because the government is accountable to the citizens and not the citizens to the state. The Ustertag and liberal constitutions define the new conditions: Previously, the government had a country. Since then the country has a government.
  • This brings us to the most important principle: we all together, we, the people, we are the sovereign, i.e. the supreme power in the state. The people enact the Constitution and may change it at any time again. This is the introductory principle with which the manifest of the Ustertag opens. And so, it is written in the first article of the Zurich Cantonal Constitution of 1831.
  • All these principles are essential to secure freedom. The Ustertag is not a far away historical event: it has paved the way to a lasting effect. The ruling for freedom on that day is the foundation of today’s success. Therefore, the celebration of the Ustertag is one of the most important commemorative events in our country.
  • But it is not enough if we solemnly commemorate freedom once a year – and go on to forget these important principles again in everyday political life.
  • For example our talking about tax gifts: This is a relapse to conditions of well before the Ustertag. This is the feudal state again: Everything belongs to the ruler. The land and the labor of his subjects; what is passed down to the subjects is a gracious gift of the Lord.
  • At least since November 1830, we see it the other way: we are free. What we worked for belongs to us. Therefore there is no such thing as a tax gift. Because the state cannot give to us what belongs to us, anyway.
  • Another thing: Tax money does not get lost where it is not levied. Tax money is lost, where it is nonsensically squandered by the state.
  • Do never forget the most important principle: The people are the sovereign. Only citizens can change the constitution – but the citizens, they can really change it. A referendum is therefore binding. Even if it is about the deportation of foreign criminals, which displeases the government, the media and the political elite. A poll result is not a submissive petition to the gracious lords as it was in the ancien régime. It is a decision by the supreme body of the country, a decision by the citizens in their role as the highest authority. So, a firm order, which must be put into action. That we should have known as well, since November 1830 at the latest!

Special case freedom: … //

… Switzerland and the Holy Alliance:

  • Switzerland has been a member of the Holy Alliance since 1817, today we would say: a supranational organization. Almost all countries in Europe belong to it.
  • The founding agreement of September 1815 consists of fine words. It says that relations with all countries are marked by “the principles of justice, love and peace alone”. They want to “give remedy to the human institutions and their imperfections”.4 Noble explanations – if there had already been the Nobel Peace Prize, the Holy Alliance would have been awarded it …
  • Behind the backdrop of beautiful words, reality is somewhat different: the big states set the tone. The objective of the Holy Alliance is to ensure the rule of the monarch over the citizens. Politics is dominated by Prince Metternich, the foreign minister of the Empire of Austria-Hungary. He is the legendary grand master of power politics.
  • Anyone who does not obey sees the whip. Repeatedly the rulers threaten with the cavalry. And they send it out, as well – against liberal citizen’ movements in Spain or Italy.
  • Switzerland gets targeted as well. Pressed by the Holy Alliance, the “Tagsatzung” (= Diet = legislative and executive council) decides the “Pressekonklusum” (= censorship after going to press) in 1823, which then is being extended repeatedly over several years. This is a prescription for the cantons how to supervise the press. Because the powers are demanding less freedom of opinion but more censorship.5
  • Customs measures are used as means of pressure: The neighbors show their economic power. There are difficulties concerning customs with France as well as with Prussia.
  • The monarchs launch rumors and threatening campaigns: In the Canton of Vaud, for example agents go to winegrowers under the pretext of wanting to taste their wine. In the conversation with the people they make them fear, that the French were assembling troops and would soon invade the country.6
  • By the way: Actually a loss of savoir-vivre, today a press department justs posts a communiqué on the internet …
  • The high European governments have the power on their side. But at the same time they fear that the liberal order of Switzerland could inspire the citizens of their own countries. Freedom is always a provocation in the eyes of those, who pin their faith on the State. Therefore, the attacks are always targeting the reputation of Switzerland.
  • Metternich said: “Switzerland today stands alone as a republic, and it serves as a Freeport for all kinds of troublemakers.”7 This denigration is part of a political strategy. Today Metternich would speak of tax haven instead of Freeport …
  • The large states clothe the brutal power politics in a pseudo-ethical garb: The liberal Switzerland is presented as morally reprehensible. Metternich wrote in an instruction letter for an imperial envoy of “a moral rot that is spreading more and more in the popular mind, and which is also undermining the Swiss life of the state “.8
  • Despite this immense pressure Switzerland then bravely selects her own way, because freedom is more important than international praise.

Freedom under pressure: … //

… Balance of bilateral agreements:

  • Let us examine more precisely the most important bilateral agreements with the EU. Since they stand exemplarily for the international positioning of our country in general … //

… Power and law:

  • I am worried about this development. And I ask myself: When we carry out an overall assessment of the agreements, are we still sure that the result is right for us?
  • International relations are determined by two factors: By power and by law. Great powers rely on power always and again. This is nothing new as we have learned from history – and also from last years’ experiences. In case the debt crisis gets worse, power politics will also become harder.
  • As a small state law is ever more important to us. In contrast to the great powers we cannot simply ignore the arrangements or bend them into shape afterwards to make them suit our interests.
  • Because law is so important for us, we must give special attention to international responsibilities. And we must think twice towards whom we take on responsibilities ourselves; and also, how long we want to remain in a contractual relationship.
  • In doing so we have to bear in mind how such agreements develop. Often they generate a particular dynamism. With ever varying adaptations and enlargements a slipstream develops towards more and more enforced conformity.
  • Recently, the EU even demanded that we automatically take over their law, as well as all future law which we do not know yet, at all. That means we would submit to EU jurisdiction. Is this really what we want?
  • The relations with the EU exemplarily show what we notice in relation to other international organisations or states, also to the USA: Certain international agreements always imply ever new liabilities. And they affect our freedom as well as our domestic order ever stronger.

Venture freedom: … //

… (full long text).

Links:

All I want before Christmas is hours of low grade revision fun with Wordle, on realsociology, by blog owner, Dec. 11, 2012;

Putting DRC Poverty in Context, on realsociology, by blog owner, Dec. 9, 2012: part 1; part 2.

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