ts. He notes a growing gap and alienation in Switzerland between an “educated academic elite and the professionals, especially in the private sector”. A rift that runs through society, which can be explained neither by the “old class system nor by the level of income”. And: “Many are not aware of this widening gap. Unfortunately, media professionals are not either.” The one who complains about this is none other than Rudolf H. Strahm, former central secretary of the SP Switzerland (1978-1985) and National Councillor (1991-2004).
Born in Emmental in 1943 as the eldest of five siblings, Strahm got to know both sides of the now criticised divide: After his apprenticeship as a chemical laboratory technician, he completed a degree in economics.
It is mainly due to this life-history background that Strahm has been committed for decades to the appreciation of vocational training, a jewel that is often in demand abroad and that deserves careful attention: “In the German-speaking part of Switzerland, 63 percent of people first complete an apprenticeship, often followed by further tertiary education. And if Switzerland works, it’s thanks to people who have done an apprenticeship.” Strahm also points out in this context that because of this, “we have a comparatively good integration of foreigners into the employment market.” Unfortunately, the economic importance of vocational training, as well as its social importance and its role in strengthening domestic peace, is far too little appreciated today, even by his own party. Why? Like all Swiss parties, his own has become far too elitist.
Strahm is convinced that there ought to be a rethinking. Away from a misunderstood identity policy, towards a cooperation that appreciates the other side – and above all out of one’s own opinion bubbles: “The gender and colour and climate activists who come from the universities and emphasise diversity to the extreme don’t notice in their opinion bubble that they are mocked at the gym club’s regulars’ table”. But unfortunately, vice versa, “many skilled workers also have the feeling that only they themselves will perform.” Such “mental breaks” can be observed in many places – and they need to be countered, bridges need to be built. For example, by discussing the really relevant issues – instead of gender stars and dreadlocks, for example, the ubiquitous explosion in the cost of living. Strahm also takes the media to task for supporting the “symbolic politics” with their headlines, which function according to the motto “be wilfully obstructive, then you’re a somebody.” Strahm also refers to a painful chapter in Swiss history, which even led to a civil war that was fortunately only brief and mildly fought: the Sonderbund war. Today, he says, “we are dealing with an identity politics that Switzerland has perhaps only experienced once before: in the 19th century, when the liberals and the Catholic conservatives were at loggerheads with each other.” It was thanks to the prudent actions of personalities like General Dufour that the chasm did not become too deep, and an incredible achievement of our ancestors that the defeated were included in the young federal state, that they were accommodated with federalism and the later granting of a seat in the Federal Council. Strahm: “Today, identity and diversity are polarised to excess – and the social and other media reinforce this. Real economic and social problems get short shrift.”
This policy runs the risk of deepening a distrust of the state among broad sections of the population – they simply feel cut off. In the light of current events, Strahm adds: “That’s why I think it’s important that non-students are also represented in the Federal Council: People with practical intelligence, ‘common’ sense and understandable language, who can also offer these strata an identity.”
Strahm wouldn’t be Strahm if he didn’t tackle some very hot issues for his party. Keyword “migration”, keyword “polarisation in our party landscape”. How fast factual discussions on urgent questions are made impossible, because SVP proximity is assumed: “Since the beginning of the nineties, the motto in the SP has been: ‘Left is the opposite of Blocher’. This polarisation has prevented a pragmatic approach to delicate issues.” Thus, he said, “moderate concerns about migration have been silenced.” It’s always the same thing in the EU debate, where Strahm locates as elephants in the room the free movement of persons, including wage protection and European citizenship: “If a new agreement comes along that wants to submit these areas to the European Court of Justice, then you can forget it: That would be a no go!”
Who doesn’t know this from personal experience? Debates in the circle of rather urban work colleagues, friends, acquaintances, relatives, which often ended with the killer argument: “That’s Blocher, that’s SVP.” And how often was one then – nota bene as a non-SVP member – later whispered behind closed doors, “I agree with you, but I don’t want to get suspected to be too close with the SVP. As soon as the SVP puts its foot down on a topic, it is no longer debatable.”
Strahm’s call for a more objective debate on issues that affect us all, regardless of party affiliation, deserves to be taken up. Even and especially in these difficult times, even and especially when the Swiss population is once again increasingly dealing with the question of how we want to keep our neutrality. As one member of the initiative committee of the neutrality initiative, the non-party historian and head of the Research Institute for Direct Democracy (FIDD), René Roca, emphasised at the media conference of the initiators: It is not an SVP initiative. Even if the media were already busy distributing labels. He had also had the idea of an initiative, as a non-party member.
Objective rather than polarised opinion debates not only help to ensure peaceful coexistence even in the face of opposing points of view; they and the respective results of referendums have brought Switzerland, in a Europe-wide comparison, better and, from an economic point of view, more reasonable and sustainable results than decisions by so-called expert councils. A fact that the HSG St. Gallen, which is not exactly known for its closeness to the people, also had to state in a research paper that it had initiated, albeit almost somewhat contre coeur. •
Source: Interview with Rudolf Strahm, Neue Zürcher Zeitung of 18 November 2022
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