Switzerland’s strange bedfellows

By Kris Kotarski

It’s high noon, it’s dark, and clouds of angry locusts are swarming outside the window. Switzerland has joined the United Nations and the Angel of Death is having coffee in your living room.

He speaks German and French-two of his four official languages. He represents 12 of the 23 Cantons and 54 per cent of the popular vote. He smiles at you, his teeth glisten, and he looks at the coo-coo clock on your wall.

"It’s time," he says and pushes his cup aside. "It’s time to go."

My friend Pascal is Swiss. The Angel of Death just paid him a visit.

Pascal was born to a German family but moved to Geneva and learned French. He was in the Swiss Army for almost 12 days before they threw him out for being a "rotten apple." Most of his 12 days were spent in the brig, though he did manage to learn first-aid.

Pascal is typically Swiss. He’s conservative, but courteous to those who are not. His self-esteem is quite high and his eyes are blue. In his only un-Swiss moment, he moved to Canada after the 1988 Olympics because he met a nice Canadian girl. Once again proof that women are more powerful than nationalism.

Pascal hates the government. I talked to him about the Swiss joining an organization like the UN and he simply said "why?" He didn’t understand what would prompt the land of discrete banking and cheese with holes to break with its long tradition of neutrality. I know Pascal isn’t happy right now. That might not matter to you, but ask yourself, have you ever seen the Swiss get angry? The last time they got angry Wilhelm Tell was still alive.

You knew it would come sooner or later. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse couldn’t be held back forever and once the Swiss decided neutrality wasn’t for them it was high time for deadly action.

The Swiss have been formally neutral since the 1815 Treaty of Paris which ended the Napoleonic wars. In 1986, the Swiss voted against joining the UN by a three-to-one margin and saved the world for bobsled and precision time pieces. This time we were not so lucky. The world is changing and the Swiss have moved to change along with it, but was this the right choice? Will the European Union be next?

The Swiss joined the UN because the world climate of the last decade suits them better. There is no more Cold War and Switzerland is surrounded by friendly neighbours. But how does that stand up against 186 years of neutrality and centuries of traditions?

If you ask Pascal, not very well.

Kris Kotarski can be reached at kotarski@shaw.ca.

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