Direct Democracy – a Stronghold in Stormy Times

Published on Current Concerns, by Erika Vögeli, Switzerland, Issue No 19, november 2010.

“The next storm front of the economic crisis is drawing near”, Gabi Huber, parliamentary party leader of the Liberal Free Democratic Party FDP/Die Liberalen explained in her message prior to the elections of the second Federal Council. In her plea, she reminded electors to vote for those FDP candidates who had the necessary qualifications, “which our country needs in those stormy times to come”.

So far, Switzerland has mastered the economic crisis well – and the resigning Federal Councilor Hans-Rudolf Merz left “the federal finances as sound as in hardly any other country”, as the President of the National Council Pascale Federer explained.

The number of the unemployed persons kept within reasonable limits compared to many other countries. It is only one aspect of the mentioned storm that may intensify the problems here and there. An economic crisis can be manifold, and it is always a challenge for a country’s political system, as well. A brief view into today’s world and into history shows that economic crises and economic wars were repeatedly made use of in order to bring about political changes under the pretext of specific economic necessities. The challenge now is to be watchful in view of the “malice of the time”.

The political system of Switzerland, this delicate interaction between direct democracy, federalism and the principle of subsidiarity, of concordance and the search for sustainable compromise, of neutrality with regard to foreign policy as a rejection of power politics and humanitarian commitment, is not only a peace model, which we would wish other countries to have; the development of the Swiss direct democracy is also a trend-setting experience and with all improvability (which is and should be inherent in all human characteristics) it is the most modern realization of political human rights and human dignity in the best sense, providing sensible forms of democratic power control and co-operation.

Direct democracy makes codetermination and control of influence possible on all those levels, which directly concern the life of each individual. It has proved to be the most effective form of power control. Each citizen is part of this state, can contribute, and many, as the outgoing Moritz Leuenberger mentioned, also do so by cooperating “politically, […] do volunteer work or engage on the communal level”. “Solidarity, voluntary work, and the common shaping of our politics are no myth, but they are actually realized.”

Federalism has always enabled a fruitful living together of different cultures, languages, religions. Only the freedom granted by an active federalism – which is always connected to the awareness that only concurrent solidarity permits the continuation of the entity – the often quoted competition in its humane form becomes possible and enables the community to find solutions which optimally consider the local conditions. “Protection of minorities” is thereby ensured in a far more natural and more dignified way than by additional minority rights “granted” by the majority.

Concordance is also a characteristic that is closely connected with the history of a country’s development: The alliance, a voluntary union of places that are different in their history, in their geographical location, their economic situation, their language and culture, could only protect its freedom if it considered the needs of the confederates so that they remained loyal to the federation. Although Switzerland has known power and subject relations as well, it is not a state forced to unite by power rule, but a varied structure, which finally united to form the Confederation on the basis of its different experiences and innumerable contracts with consideration to its federal emergence and in good Swiss manner. The insight, that freedom can only prevail if power is limited, was probably also a reason, why neutrality was very early recognized as the only possible maxim for foreign policy. The maintenance of the alliance was more important that conquest for the securing of the achieved self-determination – an insight, which has never lost its importance. In a world maltreated by wars, hunger and unfairness there should be at least one place, which refrains from the struggle for power and is dedicated to nothing else than peace and mutual understanding. The humanitarian tradition of Switzerland, its good services, is inconceivable without neutrality … (full text).

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