On the occasion of the Swiss national day – 725 years of independance


On August 1, citizens in Switzerland and abroad celebrate the founding of the Swiss Confederation in 1291.

Some 725 years ago, representatives of the three Swiss original Cantons secretly met on an isolated mountain meadow to swear to each other mutual support in case of external threats.

Although this defensive alliance worked quite well during the ensuing centuries, allowing Switzerland to preserve its independence and continue to expand, it did not prevent it from being regularly torn apart and ravaged by civil and religious wars like the rest of Europe. By the middle of the 16th century, my country learned the lesson and unilaterally decided not to engage in foreign wars anymore; this is the origin of the Swiss neutrality.

Since then, peace and stability have prevailed most of the time in Switzerland, allowing it to develop a culture of tolerance and consensus.

My country has, therefore, also very often served as a refuge for people fleeing religious or political persecution at home. Some of these refugees, for example the Protestants fleeing France in the 17th century, brought with them capital, relations and know-how.

They contributed to developing some sectors of the Swiss economy that are today vibrant like watch-making or private banking. For a country deprived of natural resources like Switzerland, these newcomers proved to be crucial for its long-term development.

The diversity of religions, of cultures, of languages, of political traditions and of development levels that characterise my country up to this day may at first sight make Switzerland look weak and divided.

It is certainly a complicated result of a long history with a modest federal government and powerful Cantons that can adapt to local specificities better than a centralised and distant authority.

These characteristics have led us to develop a strong respect for minorities, high sensitivity for human rights and the rule of law, institutional mechanisms to balance interests and an inclusive democratic system that favours consensus-finding rather than fruitless opposition.

The Swiss neutrality, its tradition of dialogue and respect for minorities has also proved to be a fertile breeding ground for its humanitarian tradition, i.e. the deeply engrained belief that the vulnerable and the weak have to be protected.

In its preamble, the Swiss constitution provides that “the strength of a people is measured by the well-being of its weakest members”.

True to this message, Switzerland has become over the years the humanitarian centre of the world, with institutions like the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees or the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights headquartered in my country.

As Depositary State of the Geneva Conventions, the founding blocs of international humanitarian law, Switzerland also has a special role and responsibility when it comes to alleviating the sufferings caused by conflict and violence all over the world.

When it comes to preserving stability and alleviating the suffering of hundreds of thousands of refugees in a very troubled and volatile area, Jordan is playing a crucial role.

I’m deeply impressed by your country’s capacity and commitment to deal with all the current challenges and would like to seize the opportunity of our national day to ensure Switzerland’s ongoing support to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and to encourage your country to continue with its tradition of generous hospitality, especially for the weak and most vulnerable.

The writer is Switzerland’s ambassador to Jordan. He contributed this article to The
Jordan Times.

source:   http://jordantimes.com/opinion/hans-peter-lenz/occasion-swiss-national-day

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