General Henri Guisan led the Swiss army during the Second World War. On 19 August 1945, i.e. 75 years ago, he read out his last order of the day and bid farewell to his officers at his headquarters in Jegenstorf. In his speech, he voices the following impressive words: “[...] however global the problems may be, there will always be a Swiss solution to solve them”. Guisan was until recently the most popular personality in Switzerland (cf. Current Concerns No 18 from 21 August). Like hardly anyone else, he understood how to unite the country in dangerous times. He appreciated the sense of community that had grown over the centuries, the fruitful interaction between military and civilian life, and also between politics and business. His memorable words shall hereafter be the starting point for the assessment of open questions about the management of today’s conflicts.
It is true that war-torn Yugoslavia and its successor states are currently no longer at war, but many questions are still unresolved. In Kosovo, for example, foreign soldiers are still deployed as peacekeepers, even 20 years after the end of the war. And also in Ukraine, where the Minsk Treaty of 2015 should have given the two eastern provinces a statute of autonomy and self-government, this treaty is not being implemented.
If those who are powerful in this world were really interested in resolving conflicts, there would be other ways and means than to instigate wars – and these would be entirely in the spirit of the “Swiss solution”. Let me give you an example: in the run-up to the Yugoslavian wars at the beginning of the 1990s, Federal Councillor Adolf Ogi publicly put forward a proposal of this kind in Helsinki, within the framework of the CSCE: if Yugoslavia was to be divided up at all costs, one could do it like in the Jura – i.e. let the various ethnic groups vote on where and how they wanted to set up their states. Ogi was heavily criticised for his proposal and soon fell silent. But his “Swiss solution” remains. What did he mean when proposing this solution?
Ever since the 19th century, Catholic parts of the Jura wanted to secede from the Protestant canton of Berne. After long debates in more recent times, several referendums took place in the seventies of the 20th century – in the individual districts, in the Canton of Berne and throughout Switzerland. Three of the six districts voted for a new Canton of Jura. The others wanted to stay with Berne.
The most important thing in Switzerland was the high approval of the voters in the Canton of Berne, who thus – once the procedure had been negotiated – gave the Jurassians the freedom to separate from Berne and to found the new Canton of Jura. The Swiss people had to vote on it because the establishment of a new canton required a change in the Federal Constitution. According to a long Swiss tradition, it was a matter of course that the vast majority of voters gave their blessing to the new Canton of Jura after the people concerned had found their way to it.
In the 700-year history of the Confederation, internal conflicts or even warlike conflicts have not been so rare. But conflict solutions emerged that have usually proved their worth. They include the principle that in an internal conflict the non-participants should not take sides but mediate. This was already stated in the Federal Charter of 1291: “If a dispute arises between Swiss Confederates, reasonable persons shall mediate between them and oppose the side which rejects the ruling.” Only in this way has the Confederation survived for more than 700 years! There are many examples. On the homepage of Appenzell Innerrhoden we find the following significant text about the division of the canton in 1597, which was imposed as a result of the Reformation:
“The rift between the Rhodes, that were divided in faith and foreign policy, was now so deep that all attempts at mediation failed. In June 1597, the people of Innerrhoden and Ausserrhoden agreed in two separate cantonal assemblies to the separation of their state into two half-cantons. The confederates then sent six arbitrators to Appenzell, with the task of determining the exact formalities in negotiations with the two parties to the dispute. On 8 September 1597, the mediators submitted a state division statute which sealed the final separation into two states. From then on, Appenzell Innerrhoden and Appenzell Ausserrhoden were granted the status of semi-cantons, and they accepted the fact that their influence in the Confederation would be weakened.” (ai.ch)
In Yugoslavia, the authorities of the international community (EU and NATO) had little regard for the population. They dictated the political processes from above and tried to steer them according to their own ideas, without even once considering a referendum – although there were repeated demands for this procedure. Instead, there were numerous wars, a lot of violence and expulsions as well as a bomb war by NATO violating international law and unique in history. States were formed from above without the consent of the population. Flows of refugees were set in motion, which have changed the population structures in several European countries. These wars have also inflicted new wounds, which are not healing quickly, and some of the groups that had previously lived together peacefully have not yet really been drawing near each other.
Some of the newly formed states still do not have a viable foundation. Twenty years after the war, contingents of foreign soldiers, also from Switzerland, are still present in Kosovo. Bosnia is still under “guardianship” and is not really a “state”. Croatia used to have a minority of 30 per cent Serbs. The province of Krajina was mostly inhabited by Serbs. When the area was conquered, most of them fled or were expelled. Referendums like those in the Jura would have been essential there and in many other places. A complete separation would often not even have been necessary. A statute of autonomy, combined with extensive self-government, such as that of the Basques in Spain, would probably often have sufficed.
Something struck me at that time: As a vocational school teacher, I used to have students from all the affected population groups in my classes during those years. They sat side by side in the classroom and were in peaceful contact with each other – even during the years of war. When I asked them about this, they explained that it wasn’t the people who wanted the war, it was the politicians.
In 2015, the Treaty of Minsk provided for a statute of autonomy with far-reaching self-administration for the two eastern provinces, which can’t come to terms with the consequences of the Maidan coup. So why have there not been plebiscites in Ukraine and in these provinces? Why didn’t Ukraine long ago adopt a constitution with federal structures? What kind of politicians are these, who are preparing the war militarily and are already waging it economically with sanctions? The people of Crimea were allowed to exercise their right to self-determination at the ballot box. The referendum result was clear and unequivocal. But high politics simply took no notice of this vote. And time and again Crimea is given as a reason to isolate Russia economically and politically. It is worth taking a closer look at this argument or pretext.
The Crimea, a peninsula on the northern coast of the Black Sea, is an area steeped in history. A few prominent points must suffice here:
In ancient times the Greeks colonised and ruled the area around the Black Sea. They founded Byzantium (later Constantinople and today Istanbul) in the 6th century BC and the city of Cheronesos on the Crimea – near today’s Sevastopol – in the 5th century.
In the early Middle Ages, Scandinavian and Slavic tribes were settled in the Rus, the area between the northeastern Baltic Sea and the Black Sea. The year 988 marks Russia’s turn to Christianity. The Russian Grand Duke Vladimir was baptised in Cheronesos on the Crimean peninsula and thus founded the Russian Orthodox Church – today with a patriarchate in Moscow and one in Kiev. It was based on the Greek Orthodox doctrine and has about 150 million members today.
In the middle of the 13th century the Mongols under Genghis Khan conquered Crimea. In 1399 Islamic Tatars (who belong to the Turkic peoples) occupied the peninsula and founded a Khanat. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Crimea was annexed to the Ottoman Empire. In 1783 Catherine the Great, who came from Germany, recaptured Crimea for Russia and invited Russian settlers and immigrants from friendly European countries to settle there, as a counterweight to the Tatar population. Crimea was to be Russian “for all time”. The first large group of new settlers came from Switzerland and in 1804 founded the Zurichtal colony, now known as Solotoe Pole. Other groups followed from Germany and formed several larger colonies such as Heilbrunn, Friedental, Hoffnungstal and Herzberge. Catherine also ordered the town of Cheronesos, destroyed by the Tartars, to be rebuilt under the new name of Sevastopol. The town was converted into a fortress and was to base the future Russian Black Sea Fleet.
Whoever controls Crimea controls the Black Sea – today the oil and gas reserves as well as those pipelines already in existence and those still to be built. During the Crimean War (1853-1856), British, French and Ottoman troops tried to contain Russia’s urge to head south. They besieged Sevastopol for almost a year and conquered it after three days of continuous fire from over seven hundred cannons. Shortly before the end of the First World War – in the spring of 1918 – German troops occupied Crimea. In the ensuing civil war Sevastopol was once again besieged and conquered by Tsarist General Wrangel together with French and British intervention troops. During the Second World War the German Wehrmacht besieged Sevastopol and took it after 250 days of heavy fighting. Two years later the Russians recaptured the city.
Crimea occopies a strategic position in the imperial power politics between East and West and has often been attacked – by the Mongols, Tatars, Ottomans, French, British and Germans. Sevastopol is today a city of 400,000 inhabitants. In the Russian people’s understanding of themselves and of their state, it is regarded as a heroic city, and it is probably the most often fought over place in world history. So it is not surprising that in 2014, 95 per cent of the voters of Crimea, with a high turnout of 80 per cent, decided in favour of remaining with Russia, which has repeatedly defended them against attacks and assaults from outside. The only odd thing here is that some Western politicians do not want to understand this.
In the course of the negotiation on the German reunification in 1990, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and American President George Bush made various promises and concessions to the President of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev, so that he agreed to the reunification. Above all, they promised that NATO would not expand eastwards: but when the USSR and Gorbachev had receded into history, the exact opposite happened. The Black Sea region became the focus of NATO’s strategic planning. On 13 December 2013, Victoria Nuland boasted to the Open Ukraine Foundation (of Arsenij Jazenzjuk, who later became president) that the US government had invested more than five billion dollars in its Ukraine policy since 1991 – in a territory far from the US and belonging to the former great power and rival, the Soviet Union. Under Obama, Nuland was responsible for Europe and Eurasia in the US State Department. In addition, there were numerous activities of Western foundations and NGOs (see Rudolph, Ralf; Markus, Uwe. Die Rettung der Krim. 2017. p. 16).
A few weeks later – in February 2014 – there came the violent coup on the Maidan, a regime change and a political orientation towards the West – combined with the new government’s desire to join Nato. As a reaction, Crimea, subsequent to a referendum, applied to join the Russian Federation. The two eastern provinces distanced themselves from the Maidan and became independent to a certain extent. War and sanctions imposed by the USA and the EU followed. Donetsk and Lugansk are now supported and protected by Russia. Talks took place in the Belarusian capital Minsk in 2015. Together with Russia, Germany and France, Ukraine signed an agreement that should have given the two eastern provinces a statute of autonomy with a high degree of self-determination. Elections and votes were to follow. “In modern international law, the right to self-determination is the core and the root of democracy and of the legitimacy of any political system,” said Hans Köchler, professor of constitutional law and expert on international law, on 12 February 2015 in his statement on the Minsk Agreement (cf. Köchler, 2019, p. 71).
With this we have come full circle and back to the “Swiss solution” as formulated by General Henri Guisan after the Second World War and proposed by Federal Councillor Adolf Ogi in Helsinki in the run-up to the Yugoslavian wars: Avoid violence and war – and resolve the conflict as done in the Jura. The Minsk Agreement has not yet been implemented.
The so-called annexation of the Crimea is still cited today as a reason for isolating Russia and justifying sanctions. Only – Russia has not annexed the Crimea, as is alleged contrary to facts. But rather the peninsula – after a referendum – submitted an application to join the Russian Federation, which is all too understandable from its history. Accession does not contravene international law – at most it contravenes the constitution of Ukraine, which had already been violated at the Maidan.
Another argument put forward against Russia is the principle of the “integrity of borders”. Apart from a few months at the end of the First World War, Ukraine never was an independent state. For administrative reasons, Nikita Khrushchev moved the Crimea to the Soviet Republic of Ukraine in 1954. This was ultimately an internal affair in the centralist-authoritarian Soviet Union. The population of the Crimea has never been able to comment on it. In 2014 they invoked the right of self-determination provided in modern international law and corrected that former decision democratically. In 1993, in the post-communist period, Slovakia also invoked this principle of international law and peacefully separated itself from the Czech Republic.
The difference is probably that the Crimea is located in a strategically important place and is once again being targeted by “those who are powerful”, as has been the case so often before.
Ukraine and Russia belong to the cultural and settlement areas of the Rus, as the large area between the north-eastern Baltic Sea and the Black Sea is historically called. Common cultural assets and some traditions still connect the two countries today. But there are dividing lines – also within Ukraine: until the Second World War the western part belonged to Poland and is more oriented towards the West, the eastern part is more connected to Russia, and Russian is spoken there. This is not unusual. Even in Switzerland, with its four linguistic regions and cultures, there are many commonalities and some dividing lines. These do not stand in the way of peaceful conflict resolution; however, dividing lines do require federal structures and a neutral policy of the state as a whole.
For the West, there is little prospect of success in pursuing or supporting policies that deepen the dividing lines in Ukraine. Rather, the conditions must be created for Ukraine to pursue a neutral policy and find its way to a federal state structure that leaves as much autonomy as possible for the individual regions and gives the population a say. On the other hand, dictates from above, the denigration of politicians (who do not conform to these), sanctions, armament or even military actions are disastrous and lead to destruction, as shown by the history of Yugoslavia. However, there is a ray of hope: the Council of Europe has not excluded Russia, and Russia has regained its right to vote after an interruption.
Today’s wars and sometimes also “colour revolutions” have mostly been staged with the claim to protect democracy, human rights and freedom. This would be more credible if those pretending to this claim cultivated their own democratic culture and set an example to the international community. This culture includes a dignified and respectful interaction with the political opponent and with dissenting opinions. And this includes dealing with the opponents’ opinions and beliefs – without insulting, defaming or even ostracising them, which in turn means respecting elections and popular votes. – Such a policy would also tempt countries with a rather authoritarian order to consider steps towards Western democracy and freedom. This path would be more promising than opening up new military and economic fronts, carrying out a gigantic armament campaign and preparing for war. This confrontational policy is a deterrent and harms democracy, freedom and human rights far more than it benefits them. Even staged colour revolutions hardly lead to sustainable solutions. •
Schmid, Hans Rudolf. Der General. Zofingen 1974; cf. also Current Concerns No.18 of 21 August 2019 and the “Allgemeine Schweizerische Militärzeitschrift” 06/2019
Rudolph, Ralf; Markus, Uwe. Die Rettung der Krim (The rescue of Crimea). Berlin 2017
Köchler, Hans. Schweizer Vorträge – Texte zu Völkerrecht und Weltordnung (Swiss Lectures – Texts on International Law and the World Order), Zurich 2019
Federal Charter of the Confederation of 1291
State Division Statute of 1597
ww. Troy (which dominated the access to the Black Sea) lay at the entrance to the Dardanelles, the passage to the Black Sea. About 3,000 years ago, the Greeks besieged it for ten years, allegedly – according to the poet Homer in the Illiad – for the liberation of a kidnapped woman (Helena). When the Greeks had no military success, they resorted to a trick. Odysseus suggested to apparently withdraw and to give a conciliation gift to the opponent – a big, artfully made wooden horse. But this was a “poisoned” gift. Inside were hidden warriors who left their hiding place at night and opened the city gates to the returned Greeks. The city was conquered and the access to the Black Sea was open. Only the visionary Kassandra had seen through the evil game and warned in vain. Today she would probably be called a conspiracy theorist.
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