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Global issue 20

Arena History Keeping the peace Swiss neutrality has helped the country avoid warfare and foreign invasion since the end of the 13th century. It also makes it an attractive location for the headquarters of international organisations like the World Health Organization and events such as the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting Johannes Ruckstuhl Swiss author Friedrich Dürrenmatt once described his fellow countrymen as being “free as prisoners in the prison of their neutrality”. Cynical though his satirical essay is, it is nevertheless an accurate encapsulation of the outlook that characterises the small and curious nation at the centre of Europe. The ‘experiment’ of Switzerland’s neutrality and self-determination has been running quite stably for more than 700 years, ever since some rowdy peasants in the Prealps decided to rid themselves of their Habsburg occupants in 1291. Dürrenmatt argues that this scheme of separation is, in a sense, the creation of a utopian ideal – carving out a small and prosperous nation among the turmoil of Europe. Its citizens are very proud of their achievements, and rightly so, despite the system’s constraints – as Dürrenmatt adds: “There is only one problem for this prison, namely that of proving that it is not a prison but a bulwark of freedom, since seen from the outside, a prison is a prison, and its inmates are prisoners, and prisoners are not free.” On the whole, neutrality has been very beneficial for Switzerland. The fact that it emerged essentially unscathed from two conflicts that devastated the European continent in the 20th century, and thus avoided the arduous task of reconstruction, is proof enough. Not that maintaining its neutrality in both world wars was entirely ‘Swiss made’ (it is still unclear why Hitler never executed Operation Tannenbaum, the planned invasion of Switzerland), but it contributed greatly to national pride in the post-war era, as well as ensuring opposition to foreign allegiance and membership of bodies such as the UN, NATO, the EC and later the EU. Switzerland did join the UN in 2002, and a referendum in 2005 allowed it to 50 l www.global -br ief ing.org f i rst quar ter 2015 global © Martin Good / Shutterstock.com The United Nations has had a base in Geneva since 1947, but Switzerland didn’t become a member of the UN until 2002, following a national referendum


Global issue 20
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