In Switzerland, the far right is fighting for neutrality

The ritual is so regular that no one really pays attention to it anymore. On April 11, men and women once again unloaded and stacked heavy boxes in front of the doors of the Federal Chancellery in Bern, in the company of the patriarch of Swiss national populism Christoph Blocher. Mockingly, they presented the success of their “popular initiative”, cornerstone of Swiss direct democracy. In the boxes, 132,780 handwritten signatures of citizens (100,000 are required), which will trigger a “popular vote” in a few years, while the administrative and political machine processes the file and places it on the consultation agenda.

Switzerland votes four times a year on three or four varied subjects, political and social, more or less urgent, more or less important. The disgruntled have not forgotten the vote of November 2018 on the relevance of removing cows’ horns… But the matter of the day is significant. The challenge of the upcoming vote: should the country become even more neutral than it currently is? The promoters of the initiative are campaigning for a “armed and perpetual neutrality, permanently and without exception”. But isn’t that already the case today?

“By adopting European Union sanctions (EU) against Russia, we blocked our way. In the eyes of the Russians, we are no longer neutral,” underlined Walter Wobmann, former deputy of the Democratic Union of the Center (UDC, far right), the largest party in Switzerland but minor in the coalition government. According to the ultra-sovereignist movement Pro Suisse, at the origin of the text, the multiple pressures suffered by Berne from its main Western partners (Washington and Paris, Berlin and Brussels for the European Union) from the start of the war in Ukraine led to “thoughtless sacrifice of credible neutrality”.

An untenable position

On February 24, 2022, all Western countries, NATO members or not, sang the same song against Russian aggression. Swiss diplomacy has tried to remain equidistant from the Russians and the Ukrainians. But the position was so untenable that it lasted no more than ten days, at the end of which Bern no longer dared to mention any “parties to the conflict”, but indeed an aggressor and an attacked. Paradoxically, Switzerland is still suspected of dragging its feet in the application of sanctions against the Kremlin and its cronies, for example by seeking and lazily freezing the assets of Russian oligarchs (7 billion blocked out of 150 billion Swiss francs); while being classified by Moscow in the radius of “hostile countries”.

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