R. Reese, Daily Bulletin, May 18, 1997, B5



The recently released 212-page report compiled by a team of officials headed by Commerce Undersecretary Stuart E. Eizenstat has implicated Switzerland as a result of its involvement with Nazi German. This report, coupled with recent charges leveled by Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, R-N.Y., has marred the image of a country that has prided itself on being civil and neutral.

When most people think of Switzerland, they think of a utopian society that produces excellent exports such as watches, knives and cheese. Indeed, we think of a place where the people are civil and the trains run on time.

I spent the summer of 1995 as a guest researcher at the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development in Geneva. During my brief stay, I had the opportunity to travel all over Switzerland and interview people. I wanted to learn about the Swiss culture and identity.

After I completed my research, I realized that Switzerland was not a perfect society. In Zurich, I saw an alarming number of teen-agers who were drugged out. In Geneva, I unexpectedly saw graffiti scrawled across many structures. I sensed a rift between the old and new generation in Switzerland. Whereas the older generation prided themselves on work and efficiency, the new generation has not adopted this ethos. They have begun to rebel against the pressures of high standards and high expectations.

Immigrants make up almost 20 percent of the Swiss population. I came to Switzerland applauding its stance on immigration. However, I learned that most immigrants are brought in to do jobs that the Swiss do not want to do. Immigrants contribute to the social security system and they pay taxes, but they have no political rights. My interviews with immigrants in Switzerland also suggested that they were increasingly the targets of xenophobic behavior.

When we point to the successes of democratic governance, Switzerland is at the top of our lists. However, women that I interviewed suggested the Swiss democracy was incomplete until women were allowed to vote in 1971.

In a 1986 referendum, the Swiss rejected joining the United Nations. At the end of 1992, the Swiss turned downed membership in the European Economic Area. There was a time when this type of Swiss independence was admirable. Today, some see this drive to stay independent as arrogance running amok.

The Eizenstat report accused Swiss banks of accepting “dirty” gold and serving as Germany's chief source of credit, thereby sustaining the Nazi war effort. The report also said that Switzerland supplied Germany with key war materials, such as aluminum, ammunition, machinery, locomotives and arms during the war. The new charges of a limited alliance with Nazi Germany have cast darkness on a country that has, for so long, been perceived as a model of goodness and excellence.

Switzerland is going through an identity crisis. Most people living inside of Switzerland have known that their country is not perfect. However, our perceptions of Switzerland have somehow been skewed. Either the Swiss have been masterful at hiding their imperfections or the world has overlooked these flaws in an effort to have a shining model of utopia. Reality suggests that no country is perfect, not even Switzerland.